The Arsenal of Democracy

After Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation of neutrality and ordered the suspension of munitions sales to all warring nations. Later he began to press Congress to repeal the arms embargo in order to help the countries fighting Germany. The Neutrality Act of 1939 ended the arms embargo and permitted the sales of munitions on a "cash and carry" basis.

On April 9, 1940, the German blitzkrieg moved into Denmark and Norway, and then advanced through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and into northern France. Britain was the only democracy in Europe to openly oppose Germany.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill desperately pleaded with President Roosevelt for assistance. In the summer of 1940, Hitler launched an all-out assault on the British mainland. The Royal Air Force of Britain battled the German Luftwaffe.

American public opinion began to shift toward helping the British. The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies launched a propaganda campaign to mobilize the American public. On the other hand, the America First Committee supported isolationism.

In September 1940, the United States agreed to transfer 50 old destroyers to the British fleet in exchange for naval bases in the Western Hemisphere. By directly aiding the Allies, America could no longer claim to be neutral. Congress authorized the construction of new planes to defend America's coast and enacted the first peacetime draft in the nation's history.

Britain simply did not have the financial reserves to pay for all the weapons they needed. Roosevelt feared another postwar debt crisis so he developed a new plan called Lend-Lease. The United States could simply lend Great Britain the materials it would need to fight the war. When the war was over, they would be returned. Hitler saw Lend-Lease as a war declaration and ordered attacks on American ships.

Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech spelled out the rights of citizens of the world and why it was important for America to lead the way. The four freedoms were:

  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom to worship God in one’s own way
  • Freedom from want, which means economic understandings that will secure a healthy peacetime life for every nation’s inhabitants
  • Freedom from fear, which means a world-wide reduction of arms so that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor

In summer of 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to the Atlantic Charter, a statement that outlined Anglo-American war aims. At this point, the United States was willing to commit almost everything to the Allied war machine — money, resources, and diplomacy.

Source: The Arsenal of Democracy
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