This fall in the War, September–November 1940: Heading for an election on the 5th of November

This evening (Tuesday 16 October) I watched the American presidential debate on CNN: Obama vs Romney. Politics in the USA are more interesting than any in any other country I can think of—and I’m speaking as outsider. The brilliantly-orchestrated party conventions (and I watched both of them) and the debates will focus discussion from now until 6 November. Election Day.

Remember that in the fall of 1940, two equally vigorous election campaigns were being waged by Democratic incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt (shown left signing the Lend-Lease bill) and Republican challenger Wendell Willkie.

There were conventions, but no debates, no internet, no television. FDR did not tweet, nor Wendell Willkie post to FaceBook. The equivalent of a video going viral on YouTube would have been really good coverage in a prominent newspaper. (Now that I think about it, one would need really really really good coverage in a newspaper that sold coast to coast).

An interesting collection of WWII front pages can be found in John Davison’s book Front Page: World War II History in the Headlines (Brown Reference Group, 2009):

‘Willkie would send no troops to war aboard’ is a prominent heading on the front page of the New York Sun (13 September 1940). [Roosevelt would later say the same thing].

‘Willkie tests effects of farm speech’ is the heading of a short column on the front page of the New York World-Telegram (27 September 1940), and describes the Democratic Party’s agricultural program.

And, closer to election day, the top headline of the New York Post (28 October 1940) declares: ‘City Roars Greeting to Roosevelt Today.’ He was scheduled to speak that night in Madison Square Gardens as part of his campaign for re-election.

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