Claude Pepper and the Lend Lease Act of 1941

Committee to Defend America event flyer. Claude Pepper Papers, Series 204D.
Committee to Defend America event flyer. Claude Pepper Papers, Series 204D Box 4 Folder 17.

This year marks the 74th anniversary of the passing of the Lend Lease Bill, which allowed the sale of arms and material to the Allied Nations during the Second World War, aiding the fight against the Axis Nations until American involvement in the war helped to turn the tide fully. The President as well as like-minded Senators such as Pepper and others, knew that American involvement in the war was inevitable and that American Neutrality would last for only so long. It was to this end that President Roosevelt created the Lend Lease Act to “Further promote the defense of the United States” and it was vigorously promoted by Senator Pepper during 1940 and 1941 leading up to the act’s passage into law on March 111941 with aid lasting until September of 1945. In a press release put out on the third anniversary of the passing of Lend Lease on March 111944, Senator Pepper reflected on the benefits of its passage, which provided some $50 billion dollars in aid to Free France, Great Britain, China and the USSR:

“Secretary of War [Henry L.] Stimson has defined Lend Lease as the “program designed to hasten the day of victory by permitting us to put the weapons of victory into the hands of our allies with a flexibility based on strategic considerations.” All over the globe lend lease material and skills supplied by the United States are slowly but surely bringing the enemy to his knees preparatory to the final blow which will forever free the world from the crushing force of aggression. Everywhere that the Nazis and the Japanese are being defeated in battle, lend lease is playing a vital role.” (Claude Pepper Papers, Series 204D Box 4 Folder 17)

Telegram from Pepper to the US Senate urging aid to the Allies. Claude Pepper Papers, Series 431A.
Telegram from Pepper to the US Senate urging aid to the Allies. Claude Pepper Papers, Series 431A Box 14 Folder 18.

Up to this point, 21,000 aircraft had been furnished to the Allies along with 4,700 tanks and tank destroyers, 100,000 sub machine guns and over one million tons of steel and other metals.  Throughout the year of campaigning for the act, the young senator from Florida worked tirelessly for its eventual passage and routinely spoke at events put on by the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. During one such speech given on June 28, 1941, just a few months after the act passed, Pepper called attention to the dire need to continue American support for its allies abroad:

“They [isolationists] are those who said there would be no war in Europe, if Roosevelt did not cause it. They are those who denounced Roosevelt when he said, at Chicago, that the aggressors must be quarantined. They are those who refused to repeal the Arms Embargo and incited Hitler to unloose the dragons of war. They are those who opposed the Selective Service Act; those who fought against the Lend Lease Bill; who have thrown every possible obstacle in the path of the President, the Congress, and the people who have thus far made some contribution to the cause of stopping Hitler.” (Claude Pepper Papers, Series 203 Box 8 Folder 4)

Pepper hung in effigy, August 22, 1940. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.
Pepper hung in effigy, August 22, 1940. Image courtesy of the Washington Post. Claude Pepper Papers, Series 205 Box 1 Folder 15.

This vocal support of Lend Lease as well as the Selective Service Act earned Pepper the dislike of groups such as the Congress of American Mothers, who, fearing that their sons would be called off to fight, gathered in front of the halls of Congress and hung the Senator in effigy. The passing of the Lend Lease Bill is widely regarded as an important piece of legislation with regard to helping shorten the Second World War, which exacted a terrible cost on the world from 1939 to 1945. To learn more about Claude Pepper’s involvement during the War Years and beyond, please visit the Claude Pepper Library online, at our Facebook page or in person from 9 AM-5 PM Monday through Friday.

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