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Wendell Lewis Willkie (February 18, 1892 – October 8, 1944) was the 33rd President of the United States. A corporate lawyer, Willkie was the dark horse Republican Party nominee for the 1940 presidential election, where he crusaded against the inefficiency and anti-business policies of the New Deal, and ran as a peace-through-strength candidate on the issue of intervention in World War Two. He narrowly defeated his opponent, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with 51% of the popular vote and 53% of the electoral vote. As President, Willkie abolished the Tennessee Valley Authority, pushed through Congress FDR's Lend-Lease program (greatly alienating isolationist Republicans in the process), authorized the United States Navy to escort Allied convoys across the Atlantic and sink German U-Boats in the process, extended the Selective Service Act, and repealed the Neutrality Act.
On the foreign policy front, Willkie staunchly supported British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He also tried to maintain peace with Japan through the Vandenberg Note (named after Secretary of State Arthur Vandenberg). Had Japan accepted the agreement, the United States would have completely lifted the embargo placed on Japan during the Roosevelt Administration and recognized the Japanese Empire in return for Japan halting her military expansion. However, Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo rejected the idea of an Asian status quo and went to war with the United States and Great Britain instead. On February 15th, 1942, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, surprising and angering the Americans. The next day, Willkie asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan - which was granted with only one "nay" vote. Within days, Japan's Axis allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
As Commander-in-Chief, Willkie sent Douglas MacArthur into the Pacific to push the Japanese back and sent Dwight D. Eisenhower into North Africa to throw the Italians out. He refused to recognize the Free French leadership of Charles de Gaulle, straining American-Franco relations. In the summer of 1942, the United States Navy crippled the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of Wake Island. At the same time, former President Herbert Hoover was recruited by Willkie to direct economic mobilization. The President, an ardent supporter of civil rights, ordered the complete desegregation of the United States military and refused to lock up Japanese-Americans in relocation camps.
After kicking the Axis out of North Africa, the Allies invaded Europe in 1943 - starting with Sicily. Willkie met regularly with Churchill, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and other Allied leaders to plan strategy. Agreeing with Churchill that Italy was the soft underbelly of Europe, Willkie ruled out the idea of an Allied invasion across the English Channel. Instead, the Allies worked their way up Italy and then turned west into France. That summer, Willkie unveiled his vision of a "One World" freed from imperialism and colonialism - which didn't sit well with Britain and France.
On February 25th, 1944, Vice President Charles McNary died at the age of sixty-nine due to ill health - creating a vacancy. At FDR's urging, 1940 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Henry Wallace sought his party's Presidential nomination - triggering a nasty feud within the Democratic Party. At their bitter National Convention in Chicago, Wallace was nominated on the thirteenth ballot. By contrast, Willkie was easily nominated by the Republican National Convention to run for a second term. New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey was selected to be his new running mate. On July 20th, following the American capture of Berlin, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was killed in a coup and Germany surrendered to the Allies - ending the war in Europe. Meanwhile in the Pacific, MacArthur finished the liberation of the Philippines and invaded Japanese-held Formosa (also known as Taiwan).
Willkie campaigned against Wallace, painting his opponent as being too liberal and inexperienced to lead the nation while advocating four more years of his leadership. After signing the G.I. Bill into law, the President complained of experiencing intense chest pains. On October 8th, while visiting Hartford, Connecticut, Willkie suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of fifty-two. According to the order of Presidential succession at the time, Secretary of State Vandenberg was then sworn-in as the 34th President. Following national mourning, Willkie was buried in his hometown of Elwood, Indiana. A month later, Dewey defeated Wallace to become the 35th President at the age of forty-two. Today, historians consider Willkie to be a good and capable President who laid the foundation for postwar peace in Europe and Asia.