“We are buying . . . not lending. We are buying our own security while we prepare. By our delay during the past six years, while Germany was preparing, we find ourselves unprepared and unarmed, facing a thoroughly prepared and armed potential enemy.” So said War Secretary Henry L. Stimson when debating the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 in committee.
The Lend-Lease Act, passed by Congress on March 11, 1941, really had its beginnings nearly a year earlier. In July 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt responded to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s request for assistance by giving Britain 50 U.S. Destroyers in return for basing rights. And he did so without consulting Congress.
The political fallout was immediate as two sides of the issue began an intense debate. There were those believed that the United States should maintain a stance of strict neutrality, while others, like Stimson, felt strongly that giving aid to England was in the best security interests of the country. In January 1941, the President proposed Lend-Lease as a way to aid the British while, at the same time, reiterating his commitment to keep the country neutral. Congress debated for two months before passing the bill.
And the assistance went out, primarily to England, to the Soviet Union, to China, and to France. Over the course of the war, aid totalling more than $50 billion was given. And one could make a pretty strong argument that Lend-Lease most helped the U.S. itself. When war finally did come at the end of the year, the country was already at a very high level of war production. It took very little time to ramp up to full speed.