Roosevelt and Hopkins, an Intimate History

By Robert E. Sherwood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
The Common-Law Alliance

Although debate over the Lend-Lease Bill created considerable uproar for two months—and although so distinguished a citizen as President Robert M. Hutchins of the University of Chicago predicted that with its passage "the American people are about to commit suicide" —there was little serious argument over the essential principle of giving aid to Britain, Greece or China. The big sticking point was over the provision that Lend Lease could be extended to "any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States." That put the decision entirely in the President's hands; it meant that, if he so decided (as he eventually did), aid could be rendered to the Soviet Union. That was what the isolationists feared most; even those who grudgingly conceded that perhaps Britain might be deserving of some charity were horrified at the thought that American taxpayers might be called upon to pay for supplies for the Red Army. There was a determined fight on this provision, and some of Roosevelt's more timid friends urged him to compromise on terms that would exclude the Soviet Union; but he was firm on this point, for it then seemed possible if not probable that Russia would be attacked by Germany or Japan or both and would be desperately in need of American help. The Administration leaders in the Senate, of whom James F. Byrnes was the most vigorous and the shrewdest strategist, waged the battle on the President's lines, and on Saturday night, March 8, the Bill finally passed the upper house by a vote of 60 to 31. This was a historic victory for Roosevelt. Churchill called it The Third Climacteric of the Second World War. (The first two were the fall of France and the Battle of Britain, the fourth was the attack on Russia and the fifth Pearl Harbor.) When word of the vote was sent from the Capitol to the White House, Hopkins immediately picked up the telephone and put through a call to Chequers. Because of the time difference, it was past even Churchill's

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