Election 1940: Willkie Urges U.S. to Unite, End Prejudice (10-8-40)


The Pittsburgh Press (October 8, 1940)


America Is Threatened by Totalitarianism, He Tells Garment Workers

By William H. Lawrence, United Press Staff Writer

New York, Oct. 8 –

Wendell Willkie in a drizzling rain told a throng of workers in the New York garment district today that:

If we do not become unified through love, someone will unify us through power.

His audience, most of them members of Garment Workers’ Unions, heard his speech during their lunch hour. Declaring that “a new force called totalitarianism” threatened America, the Republican presidential candidate pleaded for an end of class and racial prejudice.

Three Things Essential

He told the massed thousands jammed on 7th Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets that three things were essential for the preservation of “our way of life”.

Those three things, Mr. Willkie said, are:

  • America must build an effective defense.

  • We must rehabilitate American domestic economy so there will be more jobs for more people.

  • We must secure the unity of our people.

The crowd pressed so strongly against police lines that mounted and foot police were engaged in a continual struggle with it.

Waves to Thousands

Frequently, there were undercurrents of booing which were occasionally drowned out by shouts of “Attaboy, Willkie!”

Mr. Willkie rode down 5th Avenue from 42nd Street to Madison Square, his head bared to the shower of rain and confetti and then up 7th Avenue to the garment district. He stood up all the way, waving to the thousands on the sidewalks and now and then wiping the rain from his head. Mrs. Willkie did not go along.

Of the three points he made in outlining what the country would have to do to match the efficiency of dictator nations, Mr. Willkie said that unity was the most important. He pleaded with the crowds to keep “open minds” and not to let themselves be swayed by prejudice.

You will never trace to me any prejudicial remark about any candidate or about any race or religion.

In all my private life I have stood up completely for the freedom of Americans from any type of prejudice.

The person who attempts to stir up prejudice about others will try to stir up prejudice about you. If we start that in America, our lives here will be torn to pieces.

I don’t ask you to vote for me. I don’t ask you to be for me. I ask you to keep your minds open; I ask you to vote as your conscience and best judgment dictate.

Six Speeches Planned

Reiterating that “there should be no divisions among Americans,” Mr. Willkie thanked the garment workers for their attention.

Mr. Willkie planned six speeches today in the territory of two more Democratic political machines – Tammany Hall and the Bronx organization of Edward J. Flynn, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

It was the second day he had centered his attack on the big urban political organizations. Yesterday in Jersey City and Hudson City, N.J., he assailed Mayor Frank Hague, Democratic chief in that city and county.

From the garment district, Mr. Willkie went to Manhattan and Harlem, center of the metropolis’ Negro population, to Bronx borough, the bailiwick of the Flynn machine which has supported the New Deal from its inception, even while its traditionally ally, Tammany, was lukewarm or opposed.

Tonight, Mr. Willkie will speak in the Bronx borough and on a nationwide network.

WCAE will broadcast Mr. Willkie’s speech at 10:30 tonight.

In his Newark speech last night, Mr. Willkie asserted that Mr. Roosevelt is seeking to “perpetuate his power through petty Hitlers right here in our own land.”

Names Bosses

He named Mayor Edward J. Kelly of Chicago, Mr. Flynn and Mayor Hague as “bosses” in the New Deal campaign, and asserted:

The New Deal relies on political bosses; the Republican Party relies on the people.

The nominee said “it is a tragedy” that President Roosevelt, as leader of the liberal Democratic movement which swept the country in 1932, “should have among his closest lieutenants a man whose machine had to burn the voting records in order to hide crimes.”

Assails Roosevelt

As Mr. Willkie asked the crowd who had burned the poll books; who suppressed civil liberties; whose leadership had corrupted democracy in Jersey City – the audience answered each time with “Hague” and then booed vigorously.

Attacking Mr. Roosevelt’s position as a national leader at a time “when the world is aflame; democracy is crushed upon the continent of Europe; the men and women and children of Britain are defending democracy with their lives,” Mr. Willkie charged:

He (Mr. Roosevelt) tells us that he, and he alone, represents democracy. But I say that he cannot represent the democracy that I stand for while he seeks to perpetuate his power through petty Hitlers right here in our own land.

We are ranged in battle against threatening forces. We are fighting against the forces of federal spending, federal patronage, corrupt city machines and smear propaganda.

’We Have Faith’

But we are not afraid of these things because we have faith in the American people.

Likening conditions in Germany with bossism in America, he said:

Those personages in Germany who correspond to labor leaders here, or to labor delegates, or to business agents, do not represent labor. They obey the party, the political machine. They do not take orders from the workers. They take orders from the political boss.

Believe me, these principles are no different on this side of the Atlantic, than on the other side. If we commit the same errors here we shall get similar results.

Roosevelt Policies Defended by Jones
Washington, Oct. 8 (UP) –

Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones defended the Administration’s business policies last night and said that President Roosevelt’s long experience in dealing with public problems “is an invaluable asset at this particular time when the world is on fire and dictators are on the march.”


So Willkie was really positioning himself as a Progressive


Willkie was definitely a liberal Republican, but Progressive? I don’t know, if you’re talking about Progressives (with a capital P), Wallace may like to have a word with you.

I also have to add: being an egalitarian was not too “forward thinking” for 1940. Sure, in some areas, it was, but the more news articles from 1940 I read, the less alien the society of the time becomes (unless it’s Jim Crow. Also, the idea that something was “forward thinking for the times” is honestly a pet peeve of mine when doing history).

This, by the way, is one of my favorite Willkie quotes:

The person who attempts to stir up prejudice about others will try to stir up prejudice about you. If we start that in America, our lives here will be torn to pieces.


I wouldn’t have taken anything Henry Wallace said too seriously because I suspect he was sympathetic to Stalin.


Sick burn, pally. Sick burn.

Now, to get off that, I just posted Dorothy Thompson’s column expressing her opinion on this election. What did you think? Election 1940: Dorothy Thompson — The Presidency (10-9-40)

For something completely different, here’s something I thought was a fun article: Candidly Speaking — 'Women Fight' (10-7-40)