“We in America have wanted peace. We must now fight to uphold our national honor and make secure our freedom.”
On this day in 1941, the House of Representatives passed the Declaration of War against Japan in response to the December 7, 1941, attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. Days later, it also voted for war against Germany and Italy, fully bringing the United States into World War II. This month’s Edition for Educators focuses on votes on declarations of war in the House of Representatives.
The House’s First Declaration of War
June 4, 1812
On this date, the House adopted a war resolution against Great Britain and Ireland, marking the first time it exercised its constitutional power to declare war.
The House Recognition of Cuban Independence from Spain
April 18, 1898–April 19, 1898
On the legislative day spanning these dates, the conference report for House Resolution 233, recognizing Cuban independence from Spain, passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 311 to 6, leading to a declaration of war six days later.
The House Declaration of War against Germany in 1917
April 6, 1917
On this date, the House adopted a war resolution against Imperial Germany—formally committing the United States to intervention in the First World War.
The Declaration of War against Japan
December 8, 1941
On this date, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, addressing the nation in a Joint Session in the House Chamber, asked Congress to declare war against Japan in response to the surprise attack against American naval facilities in and around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, a day earlier.
A reading clerk with the House of Representatives for roughly a decade, Irving Swanson read the roll calls for the declarations of war against Japan and then Germany and Italy. In his interviews, he discusses these votes and the relationship between Members and floor staff. He also shares anecdotes about several Members of Congress who served during his tenure, including Montana Representative Jeannette Rankin’s vote against the declaration of war on Japan.
In his first term as Speaker of the House in the 12th Congress, Henry Clay of Kentucky broke with tradition and waded into debate and the legislative process with unusual fervor. Leading the faction known as the “War Hawks,” Speaker Clay rallied southern and western Members behind the very first vote in favor of war in the nation’s history. Eventually Mr. Clay would help end the war as well, when he was appointed to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent in 1814.
Declarations of War in 1941
View a documentary featuring former House Reading Clerk Irving Swanson remembering the U.S. declarations of war in 1941, accompanied by historical audio and video footage.
See more videos on the topic of World War II.
Declaration of War Against Germany and Italy
On December 11, 1941, just three days after declaring war against Japan, the House approved a declaration of war against Germany and Italy.
Declaration of War Gavel
Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn presented this gavel, used during the historic session declaring war on Germany and Italy, to reading clerk Irving Swanson in appreciation for reading President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s message and taking the roll call votes.
The War Fever at its Height – Stirring Scenes and Incidents in and About the House of Representatives at Washington
Two scenes of excitement in the U.S. Capitol regarding the imminent war with Spain were illustrated in this 1898 print from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly published only days after the declaration of war.
Tally Sheet for the Declaration of War with Japan
This tally sheet shows the votes for the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941, taken after President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his “day of infamy” speech. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in the House, is the only “nay” vote.
Edition for Educators – Congress in Wartime
The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war and maintain and fund the armed forces. From the harrowing night in August 1814 when war arrived on the Capitol’s doorstep to the war on terror, the House and its Members have been key players in wartime decisions.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory