At the time of the Canberra air crash the government members in the 74 member House of Representatives totalled 42 including 25 United Australia Party, 16 United Country party and 1 Independent Country party. On the Labor side, Federal Labor and the non Communist Labor party went into the election with a total of 32 seats (27 federal Labor and 5 non Communist Labor), three more than their combined total in 1937 as a consequence of the federal party’s successes in three by elections since 1937—in December 1938 in the normally safe non-Labor South Australian seat of Wakefield; in May 1939 (by less than 100 votes) in the Tasmanian seat of Wilmot following the death of prime minister Joseph Lyons; and in March 1941 in the Victorian seat of Corio left vacant with the appointment of Richard Casey as Australia’s first minister to the United States. These gains, and especially the success in Corio, would have buoyed Labor’s hopes considerably and under Curtin Labor entered the 1940 election campaign requiring a net gain of only six seats to secure a Lower house majority in its own right.
TALKING TO MYSELF 20 Sept 2014 Like many Americans, Ernie and I have been engrossed this week in the Ken Burns' PBS documentary, "The Roosevelts." We've learned new things about our history as well as thought more deeply about that which we already knew. Having grown up with grandparents and parents who lived through this particular stretch of American history and talked about it incessantly, I have been fascinated to see their stories come to cinematic life on our TV screen. On Thursday night (episode 5?) when Burns noted that FDR outranked God as the most popular man in a New York poll and that thousands of Americans hung pictures of him in their homes, I laughed out loud. Those of you who have heard me read my old story, "The 1940 Election" will understand why. It's one of my go-to read aloud pieces when I speak to groups across the state, not only because it's funny, but because the point it makes is an important one I think we should not forget.
The 1940 presidential election is arguably the most important election in American history. The first American President, George Washington, retired after two 4-year terms. This set a precedent that every other president had followed. FDR because of the international crisis decided to run for a third term which became a campaign issue. The national debate over neutrality and isolationism that had been raging since the mid-1930s reached its height. There were powerful spokesmen on both sides. Isolationist groups, such as the American Fist Committee, opposed any risks that could lead to war and shaply attacked the President's policies. International groups and an increasing number of average citizens demanded more active aid to Britain. His Republican opponent was a surprise choice, Wendell Willkie, a wealty busniessman who had swept the Republican primaries. Willkie did not crticise FDR's support for the democracies, by the time of the camapign only England. His nomination was an indication of the shift in public opinion toward intervention. Willkie instead pledged "all aid to the Democracies short of war". He attacked the New Deal on domestic issues, what he referred to as the socialistic policies of the Administration. Roosevelt's foreign policy was, however, an issue in the campaign. The isolationists led by the American First Committee accused FDR of trying to drag America into the war. Speaking in Boston on October 30, the President assured his audinence, "I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." Usually the phrase was "foreign wars" and usually the President added, "unless we are attacked". The election was another victory for FDR, but not the landslide of previous camapigns. Still FDR carried 39 of the 48 states. The election, however, was much closer than suggested by the results. FDR saw his re-election as strong pupblic support for a program of military preparedness and aid to Britain.