Washington, D.C. • January 6, 1941
Three days after Adolf Hitler had sent his Wehrmacht (German armed forces) into neighboring Poland on September 1, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany. Nine months later, following France’s surrender to the Wehrmacht in June 1940, the British government, which since 1939 had been paying for arms and other goods to fight the Nazi juggernaut using its gold reserves under the U.S. “cash and carry” program, had liquidated so many of its assets that the Nazi holdout was running short of cash. (The “cash and carry” revision to the U.S. Neutrality Acts of of the 1930s permitted the sale of war material to belligerent nations as long as they arranged for its transport in their own bottoms and paid cash on the barrelhead.)
On this date in 1941, in his annual State of the Union address to members of the U.S. Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed Lend-Lease assistance to the Allies fighting the Axis scourge: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. The proposal followed on Roosevelt’s December 29, 1940, radio address during which he proclaimed the U.S. would be the “arsenal of democracy,” arming and supporting the Western democracies in Europe and to a lesser extent the Nationalist Chinese in their fight-to-the-death against the forces of tyranny and enslavement. Enacted on March 11, 1941, Lend-Lease was a program under which the United States supplied military aid (warships, warplanes, tanks, and other weapons) as well as aid of an economic nature (food, oil, railway equipment, trucks and jeeps, and clothing) to countries whose defense the president deemed vital to the U.S. The act established the Office of Lend-Lease Administration, which disburse monies from 1941 to the conclusion of the war against Japan in August 1945. In general the aid was free. In return the U.S. was given 99-year, rent-free leases on naval and air bases in British and Commonwealth territories during the war.
Over $50 billion (equivalent to $656 billion today) worth of supplies were shipped to U.S. allies, equivalent to 17 percent of total U.S. war expenditures following initial Congressional authorization of $7 billion. In all, $31.4 billion went to hard-pressed Great Britain (“the spearhead of resistance to world conquest,” as Roosevelt called that country in December 1940) followed by $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union. Some $3.2 billion went to France, $1.6 billion to Nationalist China, and the remaining $2.6 billion to other Allies. Lend-Lease effectively ended the United States’ pretense of neutrality vis-à-vis the Axis and was a decisive retreat from the policy of noninterventionism that had been characteristic of U.S. foreign policy since the early Thirties.
Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, Oil on Canvas, 1943
In his State of the Union Address to the U.S. Congress on January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt outlined his desire for a world based, not on a “new order of tyranny”—an allusion to the “new European order” championed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but on four essential human rights: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The illustrator Norman Rockwell created a quartet of paintings depicting these Four Freedoms that was first published in the Saturday Evening Post. In 1943 the Office of War Information printed 240,000 copies of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms to be used as an incentive for war bond purchasers.
Top Row (L–R): Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship
Bottom Row (L–R): Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear
Listen to President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech
Roosevelt Proposes the Lend-Lease Program to the U.S. Congress, Urging Americans to Become the “Arsenal of Democracy”