"Arsenal of Democracy" Primary Source

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Primary Source

(American Decades Primary Sources: 1940-1949)

Radio address

By: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Date: December 29, 1940

Source: Roosevelt, Franklin D. "Arsenal of Democracy" Fireside Chat on national security, December 29, 1940. Reprinted in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 Volume: War—and Aid to Democracies. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941, 633–36, 640–43.

About the Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was born at Hyde Park, New York. Educated at Harvard, Roosevelt was elected to the New York Senate in 1910, and served as assistant secretary of the navy from 1913 to 1920. After losing a bid for vice president in 1920, Roosevelt contracted polio, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed. Returning to politics, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1928, and he defeated Herbert Hoover for the presidency in 1932. Roosevelt was reelected in 1936, 1940, and 1944. The only president to serve more than two terms, Roosevelt led the nation through the Great Depression and during World War II.


World War II began in Europe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, bringing the Allies, most notably Great Britain and France, to Poland's aid. American popular opinion was against involvement in the war, and officially the United States was neutral in the conflict until after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Prior to Pearl Harbor, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had effectively aligned the nation with the Allied cause. Believing the Nazis and their allies, the Axis powers, to be a long-term threat to the United States, the Roosevelt administration actively sought to aid England and France against Hitler's Germany. After France fell to Germany in June 1940, Roosevelt made the decision to swap "destroyers for bases" with beleaguered England in September 1940.

American public opinion forced Roosevelt to stop well short of his private desire to bring about actual American participation in the war. This precise issue surfaced during his 1940 reelection campaign against Republican challenger, Wendell Willkie. FDR repeatedly reassured jittery voters that the United States did not entertain plans to send American soldiers into any "foreign wars." Most Americans undoubtedly desired a British victory over Nazi Germany, and they were eager to assist the British by providing materiel and financial backing. But Americans drew the line at committing American soldiers to combat. In the words of a popular slogan at the time, the United States should render to England, "All aid short of war."

Roosevelt was an excellent political communicator. He frequently spoke directly to nationwide radio audiences, something no president before him had done. These addresses, called "fireside chats" because of their feel of intimacy with Roosevelt, covered a wide array of topics, and were an important method of communicating policy initiatives during the Roosevelt administration. After winning reelection for a third term, Roosevelt used his fireside chat on December 29, 1940 to outline an ambitious new initiative for 1941. He explained in the radio address that the United States would significantly increase its defense outlays and set unprecedented industrial production targets. By accomplishing these goals, the United States would become the mighty "Arsenal of Democracy" that England and its allies needed to resist Nazi aggression. The following month, Roosevelt sent legislation to Congress greatly increasing military spending and establishing a program of material aid to the Allies that became known as the Lend-Lease program.

This strategy, as with other Roosevelt foreign policy initiatives during the early stages of World War II, was presented to a skeptical public as a means of avoiding active American military intervention in the war. This theory held that by providing the Allies with the supplies necessary to defeat Germany, America could avoid sending its troops into combat. Roosevelt, a veteran of President Woodrow Wilson's...

(The entire section is 2,392 words.)