(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
By November 1940, Britain and the Commonwealth had “stood alone” for five months while Soviet Russia and America stayed neutral. London was enduring it third month of the Blitz.
On the fifth of November America had just re-elected President Roosevelt for an unprecedented third term, after a tough campaign which some people thought his Republican challenger, Wendell Willkie, would win.
In London, Harold Nicolson, a Member of Parliament and junior member of Churchill’s government, had been keeping a diary for more than a decade. Here’s his entry for November 6:
I pause outside the tube-station and buy a wet copy of the Daily Express. “Roosevelt leading”, it says. I get [home] in time for the 8 am. News and the first words are, “Roosevelt is in”.I’ll say more about Nicolson's diary entry tomorrow.
Our later news tells us that he is not only in, but in by a huge majority and that he has also got a Congress to back him.
Now this is odd. I try to be absolutely frank with myself and with my diary. Yet my delight at Roosevelt’s victory shows me that underneath I had been anxious about Willkie. I should have said, if asked, that it did not really matter to us if Willkie won, since he was also pledged to our assistance.
True it is that there would have been some confidence caused by the change of administration. On the other hand we should, with Willkie’s help, have had Big Business solid on our side.
Yet my heart leapt like a young salmon when I heard that Roosevelt had won so triumphantly, which showed me that underneath I had been longing for his victory.
In the last week, the Germans, the Italians and occupied France have made it clear that they would regard the defeat of Roosevelt as a triumph for themselves. It would mean the U.S.A. felt our eventual victory to be impossible.
Thus the moral effect of his sweeping the board will be very great.
It is the best thing that has happened to us since the outbreak of the war.
I thank God!
Harold Nicolson, The War Years, 1939-1945: Diaries and Letters, v. II (Atheneum, 1967) (p. 125)