Lend-Lease Act - History of Business in the U.S.The Law: Federal law allowing the president of the United States to give material aid to the Allies before and after the United States entered World War II
Date: March 11, 1941-August 21, 1945
Significance: The Lend-Lease Act, which provided war material to Allied nations, created massive production for American industry and employment for labor.
When World War II began in Europe during the late 1930’s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that although the United States could remain neutral in deed, it could not remain neutral in spirit. His government was firmly committed to the side of the Allies and hoped to aid them by making the United States the arsenal of democracy and sending war materiel and other goods to the Allied nation while embargoing the same for the Axis. In June, 1940, Roosevelt announced his intentions. However, U.S. law demanded that only goods that were paid for in cash (the cash-and-carry policy) could be delivered, and Great Britain could not pay in advance.
In July, Roosevelt sent fifty destroyers to Britain in exchange for ninety-nine-year leases on bases for American ships and troops in the Caribbean and Newfoundland. In the 1940 presidential campaign, while running for an unprecedented third term, Roosevelt pledged to keep the United States out of the war. However, after the election, Roosevelt proposed on December 8, 1940, the Lend-Lease Bill, which provided that the United States could send material for the defense of any nation whose survival was vital to American interests. Payment could be made directly or indirectly in any manner that the president determined. Roosevelt used the analogy that if a neighbor’s house was burning, no one would refuse to lend that person a garden hose.
A great debate followed over whether the bill would bring about American involvement in the war. The administration, led by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, argued that providing Great Britain with the material would help the United States stay out of the conflict and, at the very least, give the United States time to build up its military strength.
Congress passed the bill in March, 1941. Although initially the act was intended to apply only to the United Kingdom, it soon was extended to other nations fighting the Axis. In April, it was extended to China and, in September, to the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the controversial action was in fact a violation of U.S.-declared neutrality, and during the period between the passage of the bill and December, when the United States entered the war, German submarines attacked U.S. ships delivering war material. OnOctober 31, 1941, a U-boat sank the famous destroyer the USS Reuben James as it escorted a convoy carrying lend-lease material.
Over forty nations had received aid by the end of the war. Great Britain (63 percent) and the Soviet Union (22 percent) received the most. The total amount was $49.1 billion in value.Muchof it was not repaid and counted as gifts. However, the Allied countries gave $8 billion in aid to American troops stationed in their countries, the so-called reverse lend-lease.
Frederick B. Chary
Dobson, Alan P. U.S. Wartime Aid to Britain, 1940- 1946. Dover, N.H.: Croom Helm, 1986.
Kimball, Warren F. The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939-1941. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969.
Weeks, Albert Loren. Russia Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004.
See also: military-industrial complex; War surplus.