Destroyer For Bases Agreement

When the war went from a “false war” to a full-blown war on the Western Front, Britain`s need for help continued to grow. President Roosevelt had no problem selling arms, ammunition and aircraft to the United Kingdom (because the United States produced these resources in sufficient numbers). Churchill insisted, however, that his greatest need was to protect British convoys from submarine attacks. For Roosevelt, supplying destroyers to Britain was a particularly unfortunate problem. The United States had stockpiled 200 First World War destroyers, 176 of which had just been renovated and returned to service. Certainly, the United States could spare 50 ships. However, the last draft budget contained a clause stating that weapons could only be delivered if the head of the department could say that U.S. forces did not need them. Since the Chief of Naval Operations recently testified to the importance of these destructive ships in obtaining money to re-educate them. The chief of the navy clearly could not characterize these vessels as surpluses. A private group met at the Century Club in New York to help. The group warned the nation of the dangers of a German victory and stressed the urgency of finding every opportunity to help the British.

The group included Henry Luce of Time magazine, the presidents of Harvard University and Dartmouth, as well as many other prestigious Americans. After strategization, they came up with the idea that the United States could trade bases for destroyers. Britain accepted as long as the bases could be leased for 99 years, which worked well for the needs of the United States. Roosevelt was thrilled. But the question remained whether the F.D.R. needed the support of Congress – something that would take time. Dean Acheson wrote a letter on the New York Times editorial page in which he suggested that the president could act unilaterally as commander-in-chief. After the attorney general`s review and formal agreement, President Roosevelt did so. The move was very popular. Even the most ardent isolationist could not argue that this was a good deal for the defence of the United States. The eight British bases in the Western Hemisphere that the United States received were far more valuable to American defence than 50 aging destroyers. But for Britain, the destroyers were decisive in keeping the lake road open in the face of submarine attacks.

Roosevelt responded by transferring 10 cutters from Lake Coast Guard to the Royal Navy in 1941. These U.S. Coast Guard vessels were ten years newer than destroyers and had a greater range, making them more useful than escorts of anti-submarine convoys. [8] When non-interventionists in Congress were looking for ways to prevent the FDR from involving the country in war, a group of prominent Americans, including Time editor Henry Luce and columnist Joseph Alsop, were looking for a way to help the British president in one way or another. At a dinner at a New York country club in mid-July, the idea was widespread that the United States, instead of simply giving the destroyers to the Royal Navy, should try to exchange ships for access to British bases in the Western Hemisphere. Such an exchange would allow the FDR to have a politically attractive argument: it acted to strengthen american continental defence and thus help keep the country out of war. In the seven decades since the conclusion of the base destruction agreement, critics of the presidential foreign policy prerogative have argued that the FDR has seized the powers of Congress and put the country on the path to an imperial presidency. On the other hand, supporters of the favourable presidential powers insisted that the FDR acted intelligently on its constitutional powers as commander-in-chief. Neither side has yet to convince the other side.

Jackson writes in his oral history that “the notice contained a simple and legal interpretation which, had it not been in the context of a war, would not even have been very important.

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