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Historical Highlights

The Declaration of War Against Japan

December 08, 1941
The Declaration of War Against Japan Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gift of Irving Swanson
About this object
Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn used this gavel pictured above during proceedings that led to the House's declaration of war against Germany and Italy on December 11, 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. With much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet still smoldering, Roosevelt assured Members of Congress and the American people, “With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.” Irving Swanson, then a 29-year-old reading clerk, took the roll call vote as the House swiftly adopted a war resolution after FDR’s address. Swanson recalled watching as Representative Everett Dirksen of Illinois sat next to Jeannette Rankin of Montana, unsuccessfully pleading with the pacifist to vote “Present” rather than “No.” Rankin’s was the lone dissenting vote against the war. In the days before electronic voting, voice roll call votes were a long and laborious process complicated by the commotion and chaos of daily floor proceedings. In that respect, Swanson noted that the events of December 8 were unique: “You could hear the drop of a pin…Easy to take the roll call, I can tell you. Everybody was quiet. Very serious.”

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