Student Activity

FDR & the Lend-Lease Act

FDR and the Lend-Lease Act

Activity 1 | Activity 2

Activity One: Expansion of Executive Power

Read the following letter, written by Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg 10 months before Congress began deliberations on the Lend-Lease legislation. Make a note of each noting each fear or objection Vandenburg raised to the prospect of America joining the war against Germany. Categorize each objection as either relating to money or to loss of freedom.

Senator Vandenberg letter to constituent, April 16, 1940, from C. David Tompkins, Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: The Evolution of a Modern Republican, 1884-1945 (Michigan State University Press, 1970).

In my opinion, if we are drawn into the world war—whether through Atlantic or Pacific hazards—we shall swiftly surrender to the equivalent of military dictatorship ourselves and we shall come from the conflict (no matter how victorious) into bankruptcy. No one can study the mobilization plans which are ready and waiting in the event of our entry into war—no one can study the vast emergency powers which the President can immediately exercise—without shuddering at their net effect upon American freedom. Meanwhile, no one can contemplate what it would mean in terms of money—if we were to add the pyramid cost of even a little war to our present debt burden which already crowds the statutory limit—without realizing that national bankruptcy would follow in the gloomy wake of our participation in any of these conflicts. All of this, furthermore, is entirely secondary and subordinate to the fact that an overwhelming percentage of the American People (regardless of their sympathies) insist that we shall never export another American soldier. I am opposed to American participation—directly or indirectly—in any of these wars; and since I do not intend to take "the last step" in this bloody direction, I also do not propose to take the "first step" or any other step which would lead in this direction—unless and until the American national interest has to fight for its own existence.


Nine months after Senator Vandenberg expressed his concerns about federal, and particularly executive, power growing out of American involvement in a war, America moved closer to involvement in the European conflict. President Roosevelt proposed helping out Britain and other foes of Germany and Italy by lending them the weapons they needed to fight the war. Here, in this press conference, he introduces what became known as the "Lend-Lease" program. Read the following excerpt from the press conference and answer the questions below it.

Excerpt from FDR press conference, December 17th, 1940:

Well, let me give you an illustration: Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose 400 or 500 feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire. Now, what do I do? I don't say to him before that operation, "Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it." What is the transaction that goes on? I don't want $15—I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. All right. If it goes through the fire all right, intact, without any damage to it, he gives it back to me and thanks me very much for the use of it. But suppose it gets smashed up--holes in it—during the fire; we don't have to have too much formality about it, but I say to him, "I was glad to lend you that hose; I see I can't use it any more, it's all smashed up." He says, "How many feet of it were there?" I tell him, "There were 150 feet of it." He says, "All right, I will replace it." Now, if I get a nice garden hose back, I am in pretty good shape.

In other words, if you lend certain munitions and get the munitions back at the end of the war, if they are intact—haven't been hurt—you are all right; if they have been damaged or have deteriorated or have been lost completely, it seems to me you come out pretty well if you have them replaced by the fellow to whom you have lent them.

I can't go into details; and there is no use asking legal questions about how you would do it . . .


  • In FDR's analogy, he owns the garden hose. Who is his neighbor? What is the fire? What is the fire hose? Why might it get smashed up? How well does this analogy fit? What does it explain well? Does it hide anything?
  • Can you think of other analogies for sending tanks and battleships to England without getting money or an immediate debt agreement?
  • What was President Roosevelt trying to convey with his garden hose analogy?


Activity Two: FDR's Fireside Chat on the "Arsenal of Democracy"

Read FDR's "Arsenal of Democracy" Fireside Chat. Answer the first set of questions that follow the text. Create a list of all the things FDR says America will do, and mark any item on the list that suggests an expansion of federal power with an "E." With your class, discuss what it meant for America to become the "Arsenal of Democracy" and what role would America play in the world. Answer the second set of questions below.

First set of questions (to answer individually):

  • Who threatens America and the world?
  • Who is fighting to hold off and defeat that threat?
  • What do the people who are defending themselves ask of the United States?
  • How can the United States aid the defenders of Democracy?
  • Why should management and labor get along without strikes or lockouts?
  • Who will decide if the production of consumer or luxury goods needs to yield to defense production?
  • What alternative does Roosevelt pose to arming Britain and other democracies?

Second set of questions (to answer during group discussion):

  • What would the role of the U.S. as an "Arsenal of Democracy" mean for Americans in general? For workers? For factory owners? For consumers?
  • What might it have cost to become the arsenal of democracy and who would pay for it?
  • What were the implications of Roosevelt's speech for an expansion of federal power?