Memorandum by President Roosevelt69

At Cabinet meeting, in afternoon, long discussion in regard to devising ways and means to sell directly or indirectly fifty or sixty World War old destroyers to Great Britain. It was the general opinion, without any dissenting voice, that the survival of the British Isles under German attack might very possibly depend on their getting these destroyers.

It was agreed that legislation to accomplish this is necessary.

It was agreed that such legislation if asked for by me without any preliminaries would meet with defeat or interminable delay in reaching a vote.

It was agreed that the British be approached through Lord Lothian to find out if they would agree to give positive assurance that the British Navy, in the event of German success in Great Britain, would not under any conceivable circumstances fall into the hands of the Germans and that if such assurances could be received and made public, the opposition in the Congress would be greatly lessened. I suggested [Page 59] that we try to get further assurance from the British that the ships of their Navy would not be sunk, but would sail for North America or British Empire ports where they would remain afloat and available.

It was agreed that I would call up William Allen White,70 who has recently talked with Willkie71 on this subject; ask White to come to Washington at once to see Hull, Knox72 and Stimson73 and after that to see me; then returning to see Willkie and seek to get, with Willkie’s approval, the support of Joe Martin74 and Charlie McNary75 for such a plan. It was agreed that if this procedure went through successfully that I would, at once, send a definite request to the Congress for the necessary legislation.

I stressed the point that in all probability the legislation would fail if it had substantially unanimous Republican opposition—and that the crux of the matter lay in the vote of the Republican minority in each house. I stressed the importance of having the issue acted on without regard to party politics in any way.

At 8:30 P.M., I talked with William Allen White, who was in Estes Park, Colorado; explained the above to him and asked him to come East.

He told me that he was sure that Willkie’s attitude in the matter was the same as mine. I explained to him that that was wholly insufficient, and that the Republican policy in Congress was the one essential.

White told me he would get in touch with Willkie and let me know at the earliest possible moment.

F[rankun] D. R[oosevelt]
  1. Photostatic copy obtained from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N. Y.
  2. Editor, Emporia Gazette.
  3. Wendell Willkie, Republican Presidential candidate in 1940.
  4. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy.
  5. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War.
  6. Joseph W. Martin, Jr., Representative from Massachusetts; Minority Leader of the House.
  7. Charles L. McNary, Senator from Oregon; Minority Leader of the Senate.