By the end of 1939, Germany had invaded a number of European nations including Great Britain. At the same time, Japan was expanding their war in Asia and the Pacific. Many in Congress and America made it known that they wanted the United States to remain neutral and stay out of the wars in Europe and Asia.
In July 1940, the war in Europe escalated to the Atlantic Ocean when Germany sank 11 British destroyers in a ten-day period. Winston Churchill, the newly elected Prime Minister, turned to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt for help.
In September 1940, responding to Churchill’s request, Roosevelt agreed to give Great Britain 50 surplus US destroyers in exchange for rent-free 99-year leases to British military bases in Newfoundland and the Caribbean.
This action by Roosevelt stirred up a hornets’ nest in Congress over the issue of America’s involvement in the war in Europe. Many considered supplying Great Britain with US destroyers as our being involved in the war and an action against our neutrality. To ease the concern of Americans and try to win re-election to the White House, Roosevelt told the nation:
“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.”
In November, 1940, Roosevelt won his unprecedented third presidential election and he won it largely by his promise to keep America out of World War II in Europe and Asia. However, Great Britain, one of our strongest allies, continued to come under attack by Germany and Churchill continued to reach out to Roosevelt for help.
Roosevelt helped to provide bases here in the US for British training and ship repairs. In addition, Roosevelt pushed Congress to pass a Lend-Lease Act in which Roosevelt could help support Great Britain in their war effort without direct US involvement in the war.
On March 11, 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act. Passage of the act gave Roosevelt the authority to:
“…sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government [whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States] any defense article.”
Roosevelt tried to squelch growing concern by comparing the Lend-Lease Act to helping a neighbor whose house was on fire by lending them your garden home. He explained:
“What do I do in such a crisis? I don’t say… ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it’ – I don’t want $15 — I want my garden hose back after the fire is over.”
Between the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941 through October 1941, Roosevelt provided over $1 billion in aid. Additionally, he extended aid to China to help their war with Japan.
The war in Europe was expanding into the Atlantic Ocean and Roosevelt began to fear that any further expansion would bring the war to American shores. This is one of the reasons he gave for Lend-Lease Act, but even with our aid, Great Britain was still losing the battle in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
On this day, May 27, 1941, President Roosevelt took the radio microphone for what everyone expected to be his usual fire side chat. However, this day was different. Roosevelt announced that he was proclaiming an unlimited national emergency. The official title of his proclamation was:
Proclaiming That an Unlimited National Emergency Confronts This Country, Which Requires That Its Military, Naval, Air and Civilian Defenses Be Put on the Basis of Readiness to Repel Any and All Acts or Threats of Aggression Directed Toward Any Part of the Western Hemisphere
In his proclamation, Roosevelt told the nation:
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, do proclaim that an unlimited national emergency confronts this country, which requires that its military, naval, air and civilian defences be put on the basis of readiness to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere.
I call upon all the loyal citizens engaged in production for defense to give precedence to the needs of the nation to the end that a system of government that makes private enterprise possible may survive.
I call upon all our loyal workmen as well as employers to merge their lesser differences in the larger effort to insure the survival of the only kind of government which recognizes the rights of labor or of capital.
I call upon loyal state and local leaders and officials to cooperate with the civilian defense agencies of the United States to assure our internal security against foreign directed subversion and to put every community in order for maximum productive effort and minimum of waste and unnecessary frictions.
I call upon all loyal citizens to place the nation’s needs first in mind and in action to the end that we may mobilize and have ready for instant defensive use all of the physical powers, all of the moral strength and all of the material resources of this nation.”
Roosevelt justified his action by stating that an attack against America could begin by Germany’s possible conquest in other countries such as Canada, Brazil or Trinidad. It didn’t need to start with bombs falling on New York but allowing Germany to expand its reach would be inherently dangerous to our security here at home.
To accomplish his plan, he explained that the US would continue to extend military and humanitarian aid to Great Britain and that the US would work to protect shipping lanes in the Atlantic without committing US troops. He also spoke about a civil defense system to watch for and seek out possible saboteurs, German and communist.
Finally, Roosevelt told the nation that America needed to prepare for war in the event we were attacked. That very thing happened less than seven months later when Japan attacked Pearl harbor.
Sources for the above includes: Lend-Lease Act; Proclamation of Unlimited National Emergency; FDR Proclaims an Unlimited National Emergency; Today in History: FDR Declares a National Emergency; Unlimited Emergency Gives F.D.R. Wide-Range Powers; WWII: Roosevelt Declares “National Emergency”; Lend-Lease Act (1941); Lend-Lease and Military Aid to the Allies in the Early Years of World War II; The Lend-Lease Program, 1941-1945; The Lend-Lease Act: Background.