The United States and the Second World War: New Perspectives on Diplomacy, War, and the Home Front

By G. Kurt Piehler; Sidney Pash | Go to book overview

chapter one
ROOSEVELT AT THE RUBICON:
THE GREAT CONVOY DEBATE
OF 1941

J. Garry Clifford and Robert H. Ferrell

In early June 1941, the former Republican presidential candidate and exgovernor of Kansas Alfred M. (“Alf “) Landon received a confidential communication from his erstwhile running mate, Frank M. Knox. At that time Secretary of the Navy in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Knox wrote of his recent meeting with John G. Winant, the U.S. ambassador to England, “who gave me the very latest news of the situation in London. Frankly and confidentially, the situation is that we must get in or see England go down with Hitler dominating the world.” Knox pleaded with his old friend to “subordinate everything else to national unity” and fully support the Roosevelt administration’s policy of all-out aid to Britain even if it led to war with Nazi Germany.1

Landon replied politely but negatively. He had been willing to close ranks after the president’s announcement of an unlimited national emergency on May 27, but FDR had seemingly reversed himself at his press conference the following day by saying there were no plans to have the U.S. Navy convoy Lend-Lease supplies to Britain. Only the incumbent in the White House, according to Landon, could bring about national unity by furnishing “the kind and degree of information to the Congress and to the people that [Prime Minister Winston S.] Churchill furnishes the English.” Such candor was simply not FDR’s style. “When the President really crosses the Rubicon [a reference to Julius Caesar’s decision to march on Rome in 49 B.C.],” Landon promised, “I will of course rally around him. But I won’t break any ice for him to cross the Rubicon.”2 Much to Knox’s disappointment, Alf Landon continued to oppose formal American participation in the war until Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.3

-10-

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