740.0011 European War 1939/14149½

The French Chief of State (Pétain) to President Roosevelt 76


Mr. President and Dear Friend: I thank you most sincerely for having been good enough to explain to me, with all the clarity permissible in a personal communication, the position of the United States Government and the American people with regard to the question of the integrity of the French Empire.

I was particularly happy to find in your letter that spirit of true candor and friendly understanding which, in the tragic events through which the world is passing, should make it possible to prevent any misunderstanding between our two countries, equally dedicated to the maintenance of the relations by which they are traditionally united.

I am, therefore, very sincerely gratified to note the desire of the American Government that there should be no change in or encroachment upon the present French sovereignty in North Africa or in any French colony as long as France exercises sovereign and absolute control over those territories. This affirmation happily puts an end to certain rumors, which are undoubtedly of tendentious origin but have been echoed publicly in the statements of prominent Americans, regarding alleged strategic needs that may bring into question the situation in French overseas territories.

As regards the maintenance by France of the exercise of all her sovereign rights over the territories of French North Africa and over all French colonies, I repeat most categorically that the French Government has always been and is still determined to ensure respect for [Page 433] those rights against any attack. Its determination to do this is still as firm and it has given indisputable proof thereof in many instances.

Allow me to observe, however, that the only attacks which the territories subject to the authority or sovereignty of France have had to suffer were made by British armed forces or by French rebels openly supported by those forces, unjustified attacks which in certain cases resulted in military occupation and which, in spite of their obviously violent character, gave rise to no condemnation or even censure in American governing circles.

These acts of aggression can only confirm the French Government in its determination to strengthen all the means of defense at its disposal to ensure respect for its rights; and I can assure you that the Government considers it its first duty to oppose with all its force anything that might imperil the maintenance of its sovereignty over the territories in its charge.

But, as you yourself point out, France is at present bound by two armistice conventions which impose upon her certain obligations limiting her freedom of action, especially as regards the disposition of her military forces. In this connection, she must suffer the presence in North Africa of control commissions whose authorization is required before undertaking any strengthening of the means of military defense. The presence of these commissions cannot be invoked to cast doubt on the sincerity of the efforts which the French Government is supporting to increase, more particularly in Africa, its means of resistance against any attempted attack on its sovereignty and its rights.

However, since you are good enough to adapt an attitude of complete candor, allow me in turn to express myself freely. I shall not bring up again the sad chapter, referred to above, of the English attacks of which France has been the victim. But I wish to call your personal attention to the tragic situation in which England’s hostile, not to say inhuman, lack of understanding places our unfortunate European and native populations in Djibouti; I refuse to believe that the American Government and people can remain indifferent to the fate of this handful of men, whose heroic loyalty to their country cannot threaten any British interest.

I desire even more deeply, on the occasion of this free exchange of views, which I thank you for having initiated, to protest most indignantly against the odious efforts being made more relentlessly every day by British propaganda to disorder in France. I shall not dwell on the gross insults which the British Government has allowed to be circulated about me and my colleagues. But it is my duty to resist with all my force everything that might divide the French at a time when misfortune compels us to be more united than in any other period of our history. It is my duty to denounce to the President of [Page 434] the great friendly American Republic a systematically hostile campaign which may affect not only the French internal situation but also basic American interests. The outbreak of disorders in France would without any doubt cause, in a form and within limits impossible to foresee, the intervention of the German armed forces and an extension of the occupation which would run directly counter to the basic American interests so clearly defined in your letter.

I have replied to your letter of August 21, as you asked me to do, with complete frankness and complete sincerity. This reply will, I hope, give you all the assurances that you expected. Rest assured that it is inspired solely by my very high esteem for you personally and by fidelity to the bonds of traditional friendship that unite our two peoples. I am happy to entrust my reply to the care of Admiral Leahy, who is serving here with such devotion the cause of Franco-American friendship and who will always be sure of receiving from Admiral Darlan and me the consideration due him for his sure judgment and the extent of his knowledge alone, even if I did not know the special confidence with which you honor him.

I beg you to accept [etc.]

P. Pétain
  1. Transmitted to the Under Secretary of State by Ambassador Leahy in a letter dated September 18, 1941; received October 27.