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Historical Highlights

The House Declarations of War Against the Axis Powers

December 11, 1941
The House Declarations of War Against the Axis Powers Image courtesy of the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives In this 2005 image, former House Reading Clerk Irving Swanson holds the gavel given to him by Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas after the U.S. declared war on Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941.
On this date, the House approved declarations of war against Axis Powers Germany and Italy—just three days after Congress had declared war against Japan. On the morning of December 11, during a rambling speech at the German Reichstag, Adolph Hitler declared war on the United States in accord with the Tripartite Pact of September 27, 1940; Italy followed suit. President Roosevelt’s swift rejoinder requesting a declaration of war against both Axis nations was read to the House by reading clerk Irving Swanson. “The forces endeavoring to enslave the entire world now are moving toward this hemisphere,” Roosevelt wrote. “Rapid and united effort by all of the peoples of the world who are determined to remain free will insure a world victory of the forces of justice and of righteousness over the forces of savagery and of barbarism.” The House first adopted the war resolution against Germany 393–0, followed moments later by a 399–0 vote to declare war on Italy. In both instances, Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who had voted against the declaration of war on Japan, answered “Present.” Shortly afterward, Frances Bolton of Ohio, who had earlier opposed U.S. intervention in the European conflict, summed up congressional resolve as isolationist sentiment melted away. Bolton told colleagues, “all that is passed. We are at war and there is no place in our lives for anything that will not build up our strength and power, and build it quickly.” After the conclusion of the session, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn of Texas presented the gavel to reading clerk Swanson in appreciation for having read Roosevelt’s message and taken the roll calls. That gavel is now on display in the Capitol Visitor Center.

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