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1940 by Susan Dunn

1940

FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election Amid the Storm

By Susan Dunn

Pub Date: June 18th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-300-19086-1
Publisher: Yale Univ.

A warmly characterized study of Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie as they battled for the presidency of 1940 within a yawning national chasm over the war.

Dunn (Humanities/Williams Coll.; Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party, 2010, etc.) explores an array of wildly colorful newsmakers who helped sway the historical tide, from the GOP’s Willkie, Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft to Joseph Kennedy and Roosevelt’s speechwriter Robert Sherwood. The year would be dominated by the president’s decision to run or not to run for re-election to an unprecedented third term, and the country’s mood largely depended on whether the Nazi assault would resolve the public to stick with the experienced leader they already knew or risk a change that might, as Alexander Hamilton warned about term limits decades prior in Federalist No. 72, “unhinge and set afloat the already settled train of the administration.” Dunn paints a lively portrait of the many currents during the year, which culminated in Roosevelt’s victory in November. She looks at the alarming rogue statements of Charles Lindbergh and Joe Kennedy; the GOP’s odd choice of Willkie, who was as much of an interventionist as Roosevelt; and Roosevelt’s brilliant political maneuvering in choosing the two prominent Republicans Henry Stimson and Frank Knox to his Cabinet and the Broadway playwright Sherwood as his scribe for his patriotic stump speeches. Essentially, all Roosevelt had to do was sit back while the isolationists and pro-German elements like Lindbergh imploded. “In the end,” writes Dunn, “Roosevelt and Willkie, the two former antagonists, were almost a team.”

A sympathetic, entertaining portrayal of two presidential opponents and ultimate colleagues—a nice complement to Lynne Olson’s more comprehensive, sweeping Those Angry Days (2013).