Public Men in and out of Office

By J. T. Salter | Go to book overview

4
WENDELL WILLKIE "The Party's Embarrassing Conscience"

BY WILFRED E. BINKLEY

THE GREATEST JOY IN LIFE IS TO KEEP ONE'S THOUGHTS uncontrolled by formulas. I won't be dropped into a mould. I want to be a free spirit. If I wasn't one, I would still be sitting on a cracker box in Indiana." Strange words were these to fall from the lips of the president of a great holding company, The Commonwealth and Southern, as he sat in his New York office. But then Wendell Willkie was no conventional corporation executive. His whole career was that of a maverick --one that never could be caught and branded. The liberal publicists who, in 1940, showered him with righteous scorn on the assumption that he was only an errand boy of the "interests," had to eat thousands of their rash words before his career had closed.

Given the tribal history of the Willkies and the treasured traditions of the family, Wendell could scarce have been other than a free lance. One by one his four grandparents had reached America as refugees fleeing from German oppression. Such matters might soon be forgotten in some families. Not so with the history-minded Willkies. In this family they constituted persistent dynamic factors of personal motivation. Wendell said that his European ancestors had been in frequent conflict with their governments. "Those who did not observe the restrictions under which they were forced to live got into trouble; one had to flee his native land because he believed in the principles of the French Revolution. Still another was jailed for expressing his opinions."

It was the French Revolution of 1848, spreading into the

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