Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Less than one year after congressional passage of the Lend-Lease Act to aid Great Britain and other countries fighting the Axis Powers, the United States declared war against Japan, Germany, and Italy in December 1941.
On this date, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Lend-Lease Act—authorizing the President to sell, lease, or lend military hardware to any country he designated as vital to American national security. In December 1940, British leaders informed American officials that the war against the Axis Powers had nearly bankrupted the country. Great Britain no longer would be able to pay cash for arms as U.S. law required. In his January 6, 1941, annual message, Roosevelt asked Congress for the authority to supply arms to Great Britain and other nations: “We cannot, and we will not, tell them that they must surrender, merely because of present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have.” Congressional internationalists supported Roosevelt while isolationists, such as Hamilton Fish
of New York, Dewey Short
of Missouri, and Karl Mundt
of South Dakota, opposed Lend-Lease because they believed it ceded congressional prerogatives and might directly embroil the country in war. Representative James Wadsworth
of New York declared Roosevelt’s plan to be “startling. We have never been asked to consider anything like it. The powers proposed to give to him by congress are enormous.” After weeks of intense debate, including testimony against Lend-Lease by aviation hero Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House voted 265 to 165 to approve the measure (H.R. 1776) on February 8, 1941.