Excerpt from "The President Proclaims That an Unlimited National Emergency Confronts the Country, Proclamation No. 2487," delivered on May 27, 1941
Reprinted from The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 Volume.
Published in 1950.
"I call upon all the loyal citizens engaged in production for defense to give precedence to the needs of the Nation …."
In the spring of 1941 German dictator Adolf Hitler continued his aggression in Europe. By mid-April Yugoslavia had fallen under German occupation. By the end of April German and Italian forces had subdued Greece. Meanwhile Japanese military forces threatened to expand into the Southeast Asian nations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and appeared to cast an eye upon the U.S. territories of Guam and the Philippines. The United States became concerned about its economic interests in those regions.
President Roosevelt's "Arsenal of Democracy" speech in December 1940, in which he called for voluntary mobilization to manufacture more war materials, had produced considerably less action than he had hoped. Although leaders from industry, labor, and agriculture had made progress, much more needed to be done—and at a much faster pace. Roosevelt and his advisers believed that if U.S. business leaders continued their sluggish, foot-dragging approach to mobilization, America's own shores might soon come under Axis attack. In May 1941, as Axis expansion continued,
President Roosevelt felt it necessary to proclaim an "unlimited national emergency." His proclamation was brief, firm, and to the point. Roosevelt stated that Axis powers were bent on dominating the world, and he demanded the authorization to strengthen the U.S. military for defense against foreign attack. Military and civil defenses (civilian programs designed to protect U.S. citizens from enemy attack on the home front) were put on notice to be ready to turn back any aggression in the Western Hemisphere. President Roosevelt then called upon private businesses to put production of much needed war materials ahead of all domestic production wants or needs. He called upon workers and employers to put aside their differences for the sake of uninterrupted production. Finally Roosevelt directed all state and local government officials to work with civil defense agencies to protect the home front of the United States.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "Proclamation No. 2487" …
- President Roosevelt first called for U.S. mobilization to build up America's defense capabilities in September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. His call had largely been ignored; most Americans saw no reason to be involved in another European war. In late December 1940, in his "Arsenal of Democracy" speech, Roosevelt again urged U.S. industry to mobilize and convert to war armament production.
- In Proclamation No. 2487 Roosevelt specifically addressed workers and employers, because their utmost cooperation with each other was vital to the war production effort. In the late 1930s membership in labor unions increased as worker dissatisfaction with wages and work conditions increased. The union supported many strikes (work stoppages) to press their demands for improved conditions. In some cases the confrontations led to violent clashes between union members and management's security guards.
- Many industry leaders had continued to balk at switching from production of civilian consumer goods to war armaments. They wanted assurances from the government and the military that the production of war materials would be profitable. Manufacturers were also reluctant to build war production plants, fearing that these would become useless when the war ended.
Excerpt from "Proclamation No. 2487"
WHEREAS on September 8, 1939, because of the outbreak of war in Europe a proclamation was issued declaring a limited national emergency and directing measures "for the purpose of strengthening our national defense within the limits of peacetime authorizations."
WHEREAS a succession of events makes plain that the objectives of the Axis belligerents in such war are not confined to those avowed at its commencement, but include overthrow throughout the world of existing democratic order, and a worldwide domination of peoples and economies through the destruction of all resistance on land and sea and in the air, AND
WHEREAS indifference on the part of the United States to the increasing menace would be perilous, and common prudence requires that for the security of this Nation and of this hemisphere we should pass from peacetime authorizations of military strength to such a basis as will enable us to cope instantly and decisively with any attempt at hostile encirclement of this hemisphere, or the establishment of any base for aggression against it, as well as to repel the threat of predatory incursion by foreign agents into our territory and society,
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do proclaim that an unlimited national emergency confronts this country, which requires that its military, naval, air, and civilian defenses be put on the basis of readiness to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere.
I call upon all the loyal citizens engaged in production for defense to give precedence to the needs of the Nation ….
I call upon all our loyal workmen as well as employers to merge their lesser differences in the larger effort to insure the survival of the only kind of government which recognizes the rights of labor or of capital.
I call upon loyal State and local leaders and officials to cooperate with the civilian defense agencies of the United States to assure our internal security against foreign directed subversion….
I call upon all loyal citizens to place the Nation's needs first in mind and in action to the end that we may mobilize and have ready for instant defensive use all of the physical powers, all of the moral strength, and all of the material resources of this Nation.
What happened next …
After delivering "Proclamation No. 2487" to a group of foreign diplomats, President Roosevelt addressed the nation that same evening in a radio broadcast titled "We Choose
Human Freedom." In this address, published in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 Volume, he explained in detail the world situation. According to Roosevelt, German dictator Adolf Hitler planned "to strangle the United States of America and the Dominion of Canada." Roosevelt described what American life might be like in a world dominated by Hitler, stating that "American labor would have to compete with slave labor in the rest of the world …wages and hours would be fixed by Hitler …the American farmer would get for his products exactly what Hitler wanted to give …the whole fabric of working life as we know it—business and manufacturing, mining and agriculture—all would be mangled and crippled under such a system."
Roosevelt's call for mobilization inspired a modest increase in defense spending and a slow but steady conversion of industry to the production of war materials. These changes created many new jobs for Americans. More and more people began to migrate to urban industrial centers, where war production jobs were plentiful. Nevertheless, a full and massive mobilization effort did not occur until late 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval installation in Hawaii. Approximately twenty-seven hundred U.S. soldiers and sailors were killed in the attack. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans changed their attitude toward mobilization; they were outraged by the incident and ready to defend their nation against further harm. Industry leaders and everyday workers realized they would have to move into high gear to reach the level of mobilization that President Roosevelt had been asking for since his "Arsenal of Democracy" speech a year earlier.
Did you know …
- Proclamation No. 2487 was broadcast over radio in the United States. It was also translated into fourteen languages and transmitted worldwide by shortwave radio.
- President Roosevelt broadcast his address from the historic East Room in the White House. Representatives from twenty Latin American countries and Canada were present for the speech. They were attending a meeting on Western Hemisphere security; the subject of the proclamation.
- A few months after Roosevelt's proclamation of an unlimited national emergency, a Gallup Poll showed that 85 percent of Americans thought the United States would be drawn into the war in Europe. By late fall of 1941, in another Gallup Poll, 68 percent of Americans said it was more important to defeat Germany than for the United States to stay out of the war.
Consider the following …
- Review the text surrounding the first excerpt (the "Arsenal of Democracy" speech) and the commentary on this excerpt to find reasons why U.S. industry was slow to heed President Roosevelt's requests for mobilization.
- In fall of 1941, even though most Americans had come to believe that the United States would be drawn into the war, the general population was not particularly serious about preparing for war. Think about human nature as you understand it and offer reasons for this lack of concern. Also remember that Americans were just emerging from the economic hard times of the Great Depression (1929–41).
For More Information
Lingeman, Richard R. Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front, 1941–1945. New York: Putnam, 1970.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 Volume. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950.
Wiltz, John E. From Isolation to War, 1931–1941. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1968.