Book Review: 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm

1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm

1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm by Susan Dunn is an examination of the events surrounding 1940 presidential elections and world events that helped shape the election. Susan Dunn is Professor of Literature and the History of Ideas at Williams College and Senior Scholar and the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. She earned her PhD from Harvard in 1973 and is also the author of several books on American history. 

The stage is set for the presidential elections of 1940. Franklin D. Roosevelt is finishing his second term as president. He had won both of his previous elections by a landslides but now his court packing plan has overwhelmingly failed and his New Deal programs are stalling. To help keep employment up FDR has begun production of war material in preparation for war. FDR’s domestic programs, increased military spending, and aid to the allies created opposition in the United States. Republicans and isolationists wanted to keep America out of the war. Charles Lindbergh was a very vocal isolationist and supported Wilkie. His support was not because he believed Willkie was great leader, but more so, because he was not FDR. In June of 1940, Hitler would be dancing a celebratory jig in Paris. The stage was set. 

Dunn does an excellent job of explaining the political process of from the Republican selection of Willke to justifying a third term for FDR. Charges of socialism were leveled at FDR and the Republicans reversed Wilson’s claim of “He kept us out of war.” to “We kept HIM out of war.” FDRs third term run for the presidency is discussed from the contemporary views of the time and the views of the the founding fathers and the Federalist Papers.

1940 covers in detail the campaign process including Roosevelt being “drafted” to run a third term. It is interesting reading that campaigns back in the 1940s were not much different from today. There were gaffs, and possible “romantic involvements” of some candidates, accusations of being a socialist, and even Ohio’s role as the barometer of the campaign. Claims of ruining the country and gutting the military could easily have been written about the last several presidential elections just as well as it was in 1940. Willkie makes the claim that the Democratic Party was kidnapped by a few people who wanted power (shades of a few hijacking a religion of the 21st century) and to upset the two-term tradition. He then followed it with quotes from Lincoln and Washington. 

The election results and the on coming involvement in Europe takes it toll on America and the politicians. Lend-Lease and England become important issues and alliances form and break. The Nazi threat to America becomes real as the USS Greer is attacked at sea (after giving a British Bomber the location of the sub). Willkie turns his support to the president. Lindbergh becomes more radical, after being call a “Copperhead”, he resigns his commission in the Reserve Air Corps. Texas passes a resolution informing Lindbergh that he was not welcome in the state. Lindbergh moves to the fringe. Willkie goes on to ally himself with the president to the point of being to progressive for the Republicans. 

An enlightening book about a very important time in American history filled with issues and events that changed America and the world. America was on the surface very black and white with the issues, but underneath, most Americans could put away their differences when the country need it. Dunn’s book is well written and supported with eighty pages of notes. 1940 presents a clear picture of American national politics in the pre-war years as well as examines the lives of the major players adding a human touch to the history. A very worthwhile read.

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