Franklin D. Roosevelt - Key Events
Roosevelt is inaugurated as the thirty-second President of the United States. He also appoints Francis Perkins as secretary of labor, making her the first woman hold a cabinet post.
Roosevelt declares a four-day “bank holiday” in order to stop the panic “run” on the nation's banks. He also summons Congress to a special session on March 9.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt holds the first First Lady press conference where only female reporters are invited to attend.
Congress meets beginning what is later known as Roosevelt's “Hundred Days.” During this period, Congress enacts many of the principal programs of FDR's “New Deal.” It passes the Emergency Banking Act on March 9, allowing banks to reopen as soon as they can prove they are solvent; within three days, more than 1,000 banks will reopen, helping to raise the nation's confidence almost overnight.
FDR delivers his first “fireside chat” radio address to the nation.
Congress passes the Reforestation Relief Act, which provides for the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC offers immediate work to some 250,000 young men (ages 18-25) through a national reforestation program; by its conclusion in 1941, it will have employed more than 2 million young men.
FDR, by presidential proclamation, takes the United States off the gold standard. While the value of the dollar declines internationally, the policy also allows more money to become available to Americans, stimulating the economy.
With unemployment hovering at around 14 million, Congress passes the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA). It provides immediate grants to states for relief project, unlike Hoover's earlier proposals, which only provided loans. The legislature also passes the Agricultural Adjustment Act, establishing the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), which restricts the production of certain crops and pays farmers not to till their land. Roosevelt hopes that the AAA will reduce agricultural production, raise prices, and aid suffering farmers.
Congress passes the Tennessee Valley Act, establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), to control flooding in the Tennessee River Valley and provide for rural electrification in the seven states comprising the region. The goal is to raise the social and economic standards of the residents of this relatively remote section of the country; critics view the TVA as dangerously socialistic, while admirers will view it as one of the nation's most successful social projects.
Congress passes the Federal Securities Act, requiring all issues of stocks and bonds to be registered and approved by the federal government.
On this, the final day of FDR's “Hundred Days,” Congress passes a number of bills. The most important of these is the National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA), the centerpiece of Roosevelt's efforts to revive American industry. It establishes two of the early key agencies of the New Deal: the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The PWA focuses on providing jobs through the construction of roads, public buildings, and other projects, while the NRA's goal is to stimulate competition to aid both consumers and producers. In addition to the NIRA, Congress passes the Banking Act of 1933, which establishes the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Farm Credit Act.
The London Economic Conference meets to discuss the international depression, but accomplishes little, mainly because the United States disagrees with most other nations on the correct course of action. Most countries stress the need for currency stabilization, while the United States focuses on stimulating trade.
FDR establishes the National Labor Board, with Senator Robert Wagner of New York as its head. The NLB is created to enforce the right of organized labor to bargain collectively. Its existence marks a sharp change in the federal government's stance toward labor.
The American Federation of Labor votes to boycott all German-made products to protest the Nazi party's antagonism towards organized labor in Germany. The next day, Germany withdraws from the Disarmament Conference in Geneva and announces that it will terminate membership in the League of Nations in two years' time.
FDR, by executive order, establishes the Civil Works Administration. Headed by Harry Hopkins, the CWA hopes to provide work for 4 million unemployed Americans.
After meeting with Soviet commissar for foreign affairs Maxim Litvinov at the White House, Roosevelt announces that the United States will establish diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R.
Utah becomes the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Twenty-First Amendment, officially ending the “noble experiment” of prohibition in the United States.
Federal Judge John M. Woolsey lifts the ban on James Joyce's Ulysses, a major decision against the censorship of books.
Congress passes the Gold Reserve Act, allowing the President to fix the value of the U.S. dollar at between 50 to 60 cents in terms of gold. The next day, FDR signs the Farm Mortgage Refinancing Act, establishing the Federal Farm Mortgage Corporation, designed to help farmers pay their mortgages by granting them easier terms of credit. Both efforts illustrate the federal government's increasing control over the nation's currency.
By executive order, FDR establishes the Export-Import Bank to encourage commerce between the United States and foreign nations, especially Latin America.
In a show of confidence in the nation's economic recovery, Henry Ford restores his $5 per day minimum wage to 47,000 of his 70,000 workers.
Congress passes the Tydings-McDuffie Act, guaranteeing Philippine independence ten years after the Philippine legislature meets the terms of the act. Independence does not come formally until July 4, 1946.
The Senate establishes a committee to investigate the extent to which manufacturers of munitions influenced and profited from U.S. involvement in the Great War. Known as the Nye Hearings, for committee chairman Gerald Nye of North Dakota, the findings reinforce the isolationist-neutralist beliefs of many Americans who view international war as profiting only the business elite.
FDR signs the Home Owners Loan Act, a bill designed to promote home construction.
A severe dust storm hits the central and southern plains, blowing an estimated 300,000,000 tons of topsoil from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Colorado as far east as the Atlantic Ocean. It is only one of a number of such storms ravaging a region which becomes known as “the Dust Bowl.” In large part, the conditions are due to the improper plowing and farming practices used to squeeze yields and profits out of the land during the Depression. Many inhabitants, some of whom are known as “Okies” and “Arkies,” pack up their belongings and move to California.
The United States and Cuba sign a treaty releasing Cuba from the Platt Amendment, which had made Cuba a U.S. protectorate following the Spanish-American War in 1903.
FDR signs the Securities Exchange Act, creating the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), which will license stock exchanges and determine the legality of certain speculative market practices. The following day, Congress will pass the Corporate Bankruptcy Act, allowing corporations facing bankruptcy to reorganize if two-thirds of its creditors agree. Efforts at both prevention and prescription, the bills address some of the factors which led to the severity of the Great Depression.
Congress passes the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act, allowing the President to cut tariffs by as much as 50 percent--without the consent of the Senate--for those nations granting the U.S. most-favored-nation trading status.
Congress passes the Communications Act, creating the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate radio, telegraph, and telephone communications. The FCC replaces the much narrower focused Federal Radio Commission, established in 1927 under Coolidge.
In his continued efforts to rejuvenate the economy, FDR signs two bills into law. The Federal Farm Bankruptcy Act places a moratorium on all farm mortgage foreclosures; the National Housing Act creates the Federal Housing Administration, designed to further stimulate homebuilding.
Organized labor calls for a “general strike”--the first ever in U.S. history--after 12,000 members of the International Longshoremen's Association have already walked out in San Francisco. Numerous strikes will occur across the nation during the summer.
John Dillinger, listed as “Public Enemy No. 1” by the FBI, is shot and killed by federal agents outside a Chicago theater.
In midterm elections, the Democrats gain spots in both the House and the Senate, picking up nine seats in each body. The gains serve as a public endorsement of FDR's New Deal programs.
Japan denounces the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930; it will declare its complete withdrawal from each by December 1936.
In his third State of the Union Address, FDR effectively announces the beginning of a second stage of his New Deal. This new phase will focus on long-term gains such as a system of social security--for the aged, the unemployed, the ill--and for improved housing and tax reform. In general, Roosevelt seeks to move away from purely relief programs toward more sustained measures for the nation's most vulnerable citizens.
Continuing to shun formal involvement in international organizations, the Senate rejects American participation in the World Court by a vote of 52 to 36.
Congress passes the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act. The bill authorizes nearly $5 billion to establish federal programs in line with FDR's goals. The first of these, the Resettlement Administration (RA), will be created less than a month later and will help rural, and some urban, families relocate to more productive regions of the country.
Congress establishes the Soil Conservation Service within the Department of Agriculture to promote better use of farmlands and to prevent a recurrence of the “Dust Bowl” of the previous spring.
With funds from the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, FDR issues an executive order establishing the Works Progress Administration (WPA); the new agency falls under the direction of Harry Hopkins, ex-head of the CWA. Perhaps the best known and most successful of Roosevelt's New Deal programs, the WPA provides work and income for millions of Americans through the construction and repair of roads, bridges, public schools, post offices, parks and airfields. The WPA will also establish projects to employ artists and scholars. Critics view it as the symbol of federal waste and inefficiency under the Roosevelt administration.
Continuing the new phase of programs, FDR establishes the Rural Electrification Administration to provide loans for the construction of power plants and lines to those regions that private companies deemed unprofitable. Public utilities will come under federal regulation following the passage of the Public Utilities Act in August.
The Supreme Court rules in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States that the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 is unconstitutional. The decision is an obvious setback for FDR and his New Deal programs. The National Recovery Administration, established under the NIRA, will be officially terminated at the end of the year.
In a major victory for organized labor, Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act, creating the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB ensures the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively.
FDR signs the Social Security Act, which establishes the Social Security Board (SSB), one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in the country's history. The act guarantees pensions to Americans over the age of 65, establishes a system of unemployment insurance, and assists states in aiding dependent children, the blind, and the aged who do not already qualify for Social Security.
Roosevelt Signs Social Security Act
On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, which established a Social Security Board to coordinate the payment of old-age benefits to Americans over the age of 65.
After the crash of the stock market in 1929, the United States sunk into the Great Depression. With high rates of poverty among the elderly, many people felt the government needed to do something to protect its citizens. In June 1934, President Roosevelt had created the Commission on Economic Security, which studied economic security, social insurance, and long-term relief programs. It then proposed a social security program that could help people who were retired, disabled, widowed, or unemployed. Its recommendations were to serve as the basis for legislation to be considered by Congress. The Commission formally presented its recommendations to the President in January 1935.
The act that Roosevelt signed included programs such as Old Age Assistance (Title I), Old Age Insurance (Title II), Unemployment Insurance (Title III), Aid to Dependent Children (Title IV), Grants for Maternal and Child Welfare (Title V) and Aid to the Blind (Title X). Taken together, these programs represented a significant commitment to developing a welfare state in the United States. Subsequent amendments to the original act added many benefits, including survivor benefits if a covered worker died prematurely, disability coverage and medical benefits.
The Social Security Act financed its programs through deductions from workers' paychecks, which actually stunted economic growth by muting consumer purchasing power. Moreover, the programs and benefits of the Social Security Act were not distributed evenly among all Americans. Agricultural workers (who were likely to be African Americans or Mexican Americans of both sexes) and domestic servants (often African American women) were not eligible for old-age insurance. Likewise, farm laborers were ineligible for unemployment insurance. And since state governments administered many of the Social Security programs, the size of benefits varied widely, especially between the North and the South. Still the act that Roosevelt signed in 1935 created a basis of social insurance that still exists to this day.
Congress passes the Revenue Act, increasing taxes on inheritances and gifts, as well as on higher incomes and corporations. The bill reverses long-standing revenue laws that had favored America's wealthiest elite.
FDR signs the Neutrality Act, forbidding the shipment of arms and munitions to belligerents during a state of war. Just more than a month later, the bill is put into effect when Roosevelt announces that “a state of war unhappily exists” between Ethiopia and Italy. While the League of Nations declares Italy the aggressor, it is unable to muster meaningful intervention.
Senator Huey Long of Louisiana falls to an assassin's bullet. Although Long never found a national constituency for his populist politics, he enjoyed wide regional political power, enabling him to push for various national reforms.
Illustrating the growing divide within organized labor, John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, becomes chairman of the newly formed Committee for Industrial Organization within the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Within two years, this faction will be expelled, changing its name to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) after mounting continued challenges to the AFL's more conservative leadership and goals.
In U.S. v. Butler, the Supreme Court rules the Agricultural Adjustment Act to be unconstitutional. The dissenting justices accuse the majority of ruling on personal belief since the AAA enjoyed wide public support. Within two months, Congress will pass the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, providing services similar to that of the AAA through slightly different means.
Ending a more than decade-long battle, Congress passes the Adjusted Compensation Act over Roosevelt's veto. The bill provides immediate cash redemption of the bonus certificates first issued to veterans in 1924. The certificates were due to mature in 1944 but, due to the recent economic downturn--dubbed the “Roosevelt Recession”--Congress finally gathered enough support to override FDR's veto.
Ethiopia succumbs to Italy after its capital falls and Emperor Haile Selassie flees. The inability of democratic nations to counter fascist aggression encourages Mussolini and Hitler to pursue further gains.
The various political parties meet to nominate presidential candidates for the upcoming election. In Cleveland, the Republicans nominate Kansas governor Alfred M. Landon for President, with Frank Knox of Illinois as his running mate. The Union Party, a splinter party from the Republicans hoping to continue in the populist tradition of Huey Long, nominates William Lemke, a Republican representative from North Dakota. In Philadelphia, the Democrats re-nominate Roosevelt and Garner for a second term.
Units of the Spanish Army in Morocco proclaim a revolution against the government in Madrid, headed by the leftist Popular Front that has been unable to consolidate its control over Spain. General Francisco Franco emerges as the leader of this reactionary force in a conflict that will foreshadow World War II in terms of weapons, tactics, and ideologies. Again, the United States and other countries announce their neutrality in the conflict.
At the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Hitler's hope to use the games to demonstrate his country's national and racial superiority is dashed as African American Jesse Owens steals the spotlight, winning a historic four gold medals in track and field.
The presidential campaigns heat up, with Roosevelt being criticized from multiple sides for his New Deal policies. Nearly 80 percent of American newspapers endorse the Republican candidate Alf Landon, with many predicting a heavy defeat for the incumbent.
Roosevelt wins reelection to the presidency in stunning fashion, gaining 523 electoral votes (27,750,000 popular) to Landon's 8 (16,680,000 popular). The Union Party candidate, William Lemke, garners just under 900,000 popular votes, while Communist Party candidate Earl Browder wins only 80,000. The overwhelming public support for FDR's New Deal is mirrored in the congressional elections as the Democrats retain their majorities in both houses of Congress.
The NAACP wins its case, Gibbs v. Board of Education, against the state of Maryland, ensuring that white and black teachers are paid equally.
FDR is inaugurated for his second term. In his Inaugural Address, he promises to continue his fight to return the nation to economic health, stating, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”
Emboldened by his sweeping electoral victory, FDR sends his “court packing” scheme to Congress. He does so in a bill calling for the reorganization of the federal judiciary system, allegedly to make it more efficient at all levels. Frustrated by recent Supreme Court decisions against some of his New Deal policies, the bill calls for adding as many as six justices to the Court should any of the current members over age seventy--namely those that oppose his programs--refuse to retire. Within a month, Congress will pass the Supreme Court Retirement Act, a compromise of sorts, which permits justices to retire at seventy with full pay. The move fails to prompt any immediate resignations, and FDR takes a lot of criticism for the ploy, losing many long-time supporters.
In a surprising victory for organized labor, CIO head John L. Lewis and the chairman of the board of U.S. Steel jointly announce that the U.S. Steel Corp. will recognize the United Steel Workers as the legitimate bargaining authority for its work force. The other major steel companies will follow suit, though they will do so over the course of several years.
William H. Hastie becomes the first black federal judge.
Overturning its 1923 ruling in Adkins v. Children's Hospital, the Supreme Court, in Coast Hotel v. Parrish, upholds the constitutionality of a minimum wage law for women.
By a narrow 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court finds the National Labor Relations Act to be constitutional. Along with a decision the following month which upholds the legality of the Social Security Act, these rulings help to deflate some of the antagonism between the Court and FDR.
FDR signs the third Neutrality Act, extending for another year the prohibitions against exporting arms and munitions to belligerents. Unlike the previous acts, this one also requires belligerents to pay with cash for certain non-military goods purchased in the United States and to provide for transport in their own ships, giving the act its name, “the cash-and-carry law.”
The German dirigible Hindenburg explodes outside Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing thirty-six.
Boxer Joe Louis becomes World Heavyweight Champion after knocking out James J. Braddock in the eighth round. He is second African American to win the title and will remain the champ until he retires in 1949.
World-famous American aviator Amelia Earhart vanishes over the Pacific Ocean during her round-the-world flight after radio contact with her comes to a sudden stop. No trace her or her plane is ever found.
Congress passes the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenancy Act, establishing the Farm Securities Administration (FSA), which provides low-interest loans to struggling farmers.
FDR appoints liberal Hugo L. Black of Alabama to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Willis Van Devanter. As a senator, Black was a strong supporter of the New Deal, although his membership in the Klu Klux Klan during his youth generates a good deal of controversy.
Congress passes the National Housing Act. The bill establishes the U.S. Housing Authority, which is charged with administering loans for rural and urban home construction.
International relations continue to sour as Italy withdraws from the League of Nations following criticism of its actions toward Ethiopia. The following day, the Japanese Air Force attacks the U.S. gunboat Panay in China's Yangtze River. FDR had earlier declared American neutrality in the ongoing conflict between China and Japan. Japan apologizes for the incident two days later.
In his State of the Union Address, FDR, while focusing on the nation's continuing economic and social problems, also cites the necessity to be “adequately strong in self-defense.” By the end of the month, he will submit to Congress a recommendation for increased appropriations to build up the armed forces, especially the Navy. Congress will agree five months later, appropriating more than $1 billion dollars over a ten-year period for the improvement of the U.S. Navy.
FDR signs the second Agricultural Adjustment Act as part of a continuing effort to stabilize agricultural prices and farmers' incomes. To these ends, his administration establishes the Federal Crop Insurance Corp, an agency which will accept wheat as payment for crop insurance taken out against the same crops.
German troops move into Austria, allegedly to bring order to that country. Hitler, however, will fuse Austria to Germany, an act he terms Anschluss, and describes the annexation as a peaceful.
Mexico nationalizes all oil properties of the United States and other foreign-owned companies.
The House of Representatives forms the Committee to Investigate Un- American Activities. Headed by Martin Dies of Texas, its purpose is to investigate all groupsóon both the Right and Left of the political spectrumódeemed un-American.
Over FDR's veto, Congress passes the Revenue Act of 1938, reducing corporate income taxes for the purpose of stimulating the economy.
Congress continues to enact policies enlarging the federal government's role in regulating American commerce and industry. It passes the Chandler Act, amending the 1898 Federal Bankruptcy Act, setting forth procedures under Chapter XI by which persons or businesses can avoid liquidation and settle their debts. The Civil Aeronautics Act targets the rapidly expanding civilian air traffic industry by licensing pilots and standardizing the rules, airways, and equipment for flight. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act replaces earlier legislation, introducing stricter regulation of ingredient disclosure, misbranding, and false advertising.
FDR signs the Fair Labor Standards Act; raising the minimum wage and setting the maximum work week at 40 hours, though only for businesses engaged in interstate commerce.
In a private message to the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, FDR urges that they find a peaceful settlement to the growing crisis over the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia inhabited by a large number of ethnic Germans who, motivated by Hitler, are asking for autonomy.
At the Munich Conference, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Eduard Daladier agree to allow Germany to annex the Sudetenland. Upon his return to England, Chamberlain announces that the Munich Pact guarantees “peace in our time.” While this policy of appeasement will soon be proven futile, many observers agree with Chamberlain; a U.S. poll taken in October shows most Americans approve of the pact.
Orson Welles' radio play, “War of the Worlds,” is so convincing that large numbers of listeners take to the highways in panic.
Hugh Wilson, American ambassador to Germany, is called backed to the United States for “report and consultation” on anti-Jewish activities there. Four days later, the German ambassador to the United States is also recalled.
The WPA announces that the number of Americans receiving federal relief has dropped to just over 2.1 million, down from nearly 3.2 million the previous year.
FDR formally submits his budget to Congress, requesting more than $1.3 billion for defense out of a total of $9 billion.
Justice Louis Brandeis retires from the Supreme Court at age eighty-two. Appointed by President Wilson in 1916, Brandeis was the first Jew to sit on the Court and was generally one of its more liberal justices.
The Supreme Court declares the sit-down strike, one of organized labor's most powerful tactics, unconstitutional.
The German Army invades Czechoslovakia, five-and-a-half months after gaining the Sudetenland peacefully through the Munich pact. By the end of March, the entire country will be under German control.
As the Spanish Civil War effectively comes to an end, the United States recognizes the government headed by General Francisco Franco.
Italy invades the small country of Albania, located just across the Adriatic Sea. One week later, FDR writes to both Hitler and Mussolini requesting that they offer a ten-year guarantee of peace in Europe and the Middle East in return for U.S. cooperation in international trade and armament talks. Neither leader acknowledges the offer; in fact, Hitler revokes the German non-aggression pact with Poland and the naval agreement with Britain.
Transatlantic passenger air service begins a with Pan American Airways flight from Long Island, New York, to Lisbon, Portugal. With twenty-tow passengers, the Dixie Clipper makes the trip in just under twenty-four hours.
FDR works to cement the U.S. alliance with Britain against the looming Fascist-totalitarian threat. Over these two weeks, he will ask Congress to repeal the arms embargo, revise the neutrality law, and end the trade agreement with Japan.
Germany and the U.S.S.R. sign a non-aggression pact in Moscow. The world learns of the agreement the next day, creating disruption and dismay in both Communist and non-Communist circles as it seems to reveal Hitler's intentions to move launch war on Poland.
Germany launches a major invasion of Poland, starting the Second World War.
France and Britain declare war on Germany. With limited domestic support for war, FDR declares U.S. neutrality.
As an informal part of the non-aggression pact signed a month earlier, Germany and the U.S.S.R. divide up Poland between them; the Russians had invaded the country from the east eleven days earlier.
FDR declares all American ports and waters closed to submarines of belligerents.
FDR signs the Neutrality Act of 1939, repealing the general embargo on arms and allowing the sale of arms to belligerents on a “cash and carry” basis. Ostensibly a neutral plan, it is clearly designed to allow the United States to aid Britain and France while retaining their official stance of neutrality.
The U.S.S.R. invades Finland, bombing its capital, Helsinki.
The Allies take heavy losses in the Battle of the Atlantic. Waged largely by German subs, or U-Boats, against the British Navy, the Allies lose about 440,000 tons of shipping during these two months alone.
Finland signs an armistice and treaty with the U.S.S.R., ending the Russo-Finnish War and ceding territory to the Russians. Importantly, both Germany and the Allies are aware of the heavy casualties the Russians sustained in battling the seemingly overmatched Finns, a factor which will later influence both Hitler's decision to invade the U.S.S.R. as well as the Allies' hesitation in sending aid to the Russians.
The German Army invades Norway and Denmark in preparation for its invasion of France. Copenhagen falls in twelve hours, while the Norwegians resist for two months with British and French aid before succumbing to the Germans.
Continuing its sweep toward France, Germany invades Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Winston Churchill also becomes the Prime Minister of Britain on this day, replacing the discredited Neville Chamberlain. Five days later, Churchill will send Roosevelt the first of many personal telegrams requesting American aid and participation in the war.
FDR establishes the Office for Emergency Management, illustrating his belief in the increasing inevitability of U.S. involvement in the war.
As the German Army sweeps across France, thousands of British and French troops converge on Dunkirk, a coastal town in France, in preparation for evacuation of the country. By the time the Germans reach the beach to stop the operation, more than 330,000 troops have been evacuated. On June 4, Churchill delivers his most famous radio address, framing the retreat from Dunkirk as a symbol of the Allies' determination to win the war. Paris will fall ten days later, and on June 22, the government there will capitulate to the Germans.
In a speech at the University of Virginia, Roosevelt announces that the American stance toward the war is changing from “neutrality” to “non-belligerency.” In effect, this means that the United States will now openly support the Allies without actually going to war against the Axis. Generally well received, it is still criticized by some isolationists who understand that such a posture will eventually lead to outright war against the Axis powers.
FDR appoints two prominent Republicans to his cabinet: Henry L. Stimson as secretary of war, and Frank Knox as secretary of the Navy. A political move, the decision is designed to form a “coalition government,” intended to present a unified front to both the world and to American voters as the 1940 election approaches.
Congress passes the Alien Registration Act, requiring the registration and finger-printing of all aliens. The bill also prohibits individuals or organizations from advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force.
The political parties convene to nominate their candidates for the upcoming election. The Republicans nominate Wendell L. Willkie for President and Senator Charles McNary of Oregon for vice president. Willkie, a popular candidate despite having never held elective office, supports most of FDR's policies and will find it hard to convince voters to “change horses in mid-stream.” In Chicago, the Democrats nominate Roosevelt in an unprecedented bid for a third term. His former secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, will be his running-mate, replacing two-time Vice President John Garner.
The Battle of Britain begins with the first bombing raids by the German Air Force. Outnumbered, the British will retain control of British airspace, finally forcing the Germans to end the onslaught in October. Although the bombing raids will continue throughout the war, Hitler is forced to abandon any hope of invading Britain. Also on this day, FDR submits a request to Congress for a defense budget of $4.8 billion; ten days later, Congress will appropriate $4 billion to provide the United States with a two-ocean Navy.
The United States trades fifty outdated destroyers to Britain in exchange for the right to construct air and naval bases on British holdings in the Western Hemisphere.
FDR signs the Selective Training and Service Act, authorizing the first peace-time military draft in U.S. history and requiring all men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five to register for military training.
In a closer than expected election, FDR wins an unprecedented third-term as President of the United States. While he easily defeats Willkie in the electoral college (449 to 82), Roosevelt wins only a slim margin in the popular vote (27.2 million to 22.3 million). Even so, it is a powerful statement of the public's support for FDR as it looks past the unwritten rule, established by George Washington, of limiting Presidents to two terms.
In his end-of-the-year fireside chat, FDR declares that the United States must be the “arsenal of democracy.” A nation-wide poll taken earlier in the month shows that only 39 percent of Americans think that U.S. participation in World War I was a mistake, down from 64 percent in 1937.
In his State of the Union Address, FDR stresses the need for congressional support for his program to help the Allies defend the “four essential freedoms” (freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) against the Axis powers. The “four freedoms” will serve as a motto once the United States enters the war.
FDR is inaugurated for his third term as President.
The United Service Organizations (USO) is formed by six national groups to serve the social, educational, welfare, and religious needs of those in the armed forces and defense industries.
FDR signs the Lend-Lease Act, empowering the President to lend arms and other war material to any country deemed vital to U.S. interests. It is more or less an extension of formal and informal U.S. policy to aid Britain and the Allies without officially declaring war on the Axis. The initial appropriation will be $7 billion; by the program's end in September 1946, the United States will have doled out $50.6 billion in aid.
The Office of Price Administration (OPA) is established to control and stabilize prices during wartime.
Following German victories over Greece and Yugoslavia, Roosevelt issues a proclamation declaring unlimited national emergency. The announcement comes six weeks after the first sinking of an American merchant ship, the Robin Moor, by a German U-Boat just off the coast of Brazil.
FDR orders the closing of all German consulates in the United States; Germany and Italy respond by closing all U.S. consulates in their countries.
Germany breaks the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 when it invades the U.S.S.R. Two days later, Roosevelt promises U.S. aid to the Soviet Union.
Roosevelt establishes the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) by executive order, preventing discrimination due to race, creed, or color in the hiring and treatment practices of the ever-growing defense industry.
Roosevelt establishes the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) by executive order, with Vannevar Bush as its chairman. The OSRD will coordinate the development of defense-related technology including radar, sonar, and early stages of atomic research.
FDR nationalizes the armed forces of the Philippines, a U.S. dependency at the time, and names General Douglas MacArthur commander in chief of all U.S. forces in the Far East. This comes one day after Roosevelt freezes all Japanese assets in the United States and halts all trade, as relations between the two countries continues to deteriorate.
After three days of secret meetings on U.S. and British warships off the coast of Newfoundland, FDR and Churchill issue the Atlantic Charter. The document sets forth eight goals for the world; by September 24, fifteen other countries, including the U.S.S.R., will endorse these maxims. The Atlantic Charter will serve as a blueprint, of sorts, for the United Nations.
In response to the growing number of attacks on U.S. ships, FDR orders U.S. Navy planes to shoot on sight any Axis ships found operating in U.S. defensive waters.
FDR signs the largest tax bill in American history, as the Revenue Act of 1941 provides for sharply increased taxes to collect more than $3 billion for the defense effort.
Ten days after a German U-boat torpedoes the U.S. destroyer Kearney, FDR announces to the nation that “America has been attacked, the shooting has started.” He stops short of declaring war on Germany, however, as many Americans are still reluctant to enter into open war, even after another U-boat sinks the U.S. destroyer Reuben James just three days later with the loss of 100 American lives.
Japan's ambassador to the United States, along with a special envoy, begin negotiations with the State Department in the nation's capital. They propose that the United States remove the trade restrictions on Japan and refrain from involving itself with Japan's activities in China. On November 26, Secretary of State Cordell Hull rejects these proposals, stating that the Japanese must first withdraw from China and Indochina before the trade restrictions can be lifted.
Japanese bombers attack Pearl Harbor, the major U.S. naval base in Hawaii. The attack kills 2,400 soldiers, sailors, and civilians, and wounds nearly 1,200 others. In addition, the U.S. Pacific fleet is significantly weakened by the loss of eight battleships and 150 planes. That evening, Japan will officially declare war on the United States. The next day, Roosevelt appears before a special joint session of Congress, calling December 7 “a date which will live in infamy,” and asking for a declaration of war against Japan; Congress does so the same day.
Pearl Harbor Attacked
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the United States at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States quickly entered World War II, declaring war against Japan the next day.
After Japan attacked China in 1937, the United States worked with other Western nations to try to contain and isolate Japan economically and politically although it had not yet entered World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt thought this strategy would let him deal with what he saw as the more pressing German problem. He also knew that it would be difficult for the United States to prepare for and fight wars simultaneously in Asia and Europe.
The strategy, however, turned out to have significant drawbacks. By isolating Japan, the United States and its allies exacerbated Japan's fears of being denied access to the resources it needed to prosecute its war in China. By the summer of 1941, Japan's leaders felt increasingly hemmed in by a coalition of America, Britain, China, and the Dutch (the ABCD powers) and adopted overtly aggressive foreign and military policies. The Japanese planned the Pearl Harbor attack in the hopes of destroying the U.S. Naval Fleet in the Pacific to prevent it from hindering Japanese advances in Asia.
The attack on Pearl Harbor began shortly before 8 o'clock in the morning on December 7 when Japanese planes and submarines began bombing the naval base. The attack lasted little more than two hours, and the Japanese sunk or badly damaged eight battleships, thirteen other naval vessels, and more than 150 planes. The attack killed 2,400 soldiers, sailors, and civilians, and wounded nearly 1,200 others.
The next day, President Roosevelt appeared before a special joint session of Congress. He called December 7 “a date which will live in infamy,” and asked for a declaration of war against Japan, which Congress supported. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States had finally entered World War II as a participant, following several years as an interested and active bystander. The country would never be the same.
Read President Roosevelt's Address to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War on December 8, 1941.
Japan invades the Philippines, landing at Luzon.
Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; Congress, in turn, declares war on Germany and Italy.
In a show of support for the war effort, the executive council of the American Federation of Labor adopts a “no strike” policy for the duration of the conflict.
Admiral Chester Nimitz is given command of the Pacific fleet, replacing Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was found derelict in taking the necessary precautions for thwarting the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Office of Censorship is established by executive order to control all matters involving information deemed vital to the war effort.
The Office of Price Administration announces rubber rationing; beginning on New Year's Day, the sale of new cars and trucks will be temporarily banned.
Japan takes Wake Island, an American territory in the Pacific. Two days later, Hong Kong, a British colony, also falls to the Japanese.
Representatives of twenty-six nations, including the United States, sign the Declaration of United Nations, affirming their cooperation against the Axis powers.
Manila falls to the Japanese, forcing Philippine and U.S. forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula.
By executive order, FDR creates the War Labor Board (WLB), charged with maintaining the flow of war materials through the arbitration of labor disputes. Four days later, the Office of Production Management (OPM) will be replaced by the War Production Board (WPB).
By proclamation, FDR orders all aliens in the United States to register with the federal government. The order is significant for Italian, German, and Japanese immigrants--American citizens who are now viewed with suspicion, although most fears will focus on Japanese-Americans residing on the West Coast. They will soon be moved to internment camps under the pretense that they might provide aid to the enemy.
The Emergency Price Control Act goes into effect, authorizing the Office of Price Administration to place ceilings on all prices except those for agricultural products.
The U.S. War Department announces that the United States and Britain have formed a combined chiefs of staff to coordinate their war efforts.
FDR formally authorizes a program to remove Japanese-Americans living in the Pacific Coast states to internment camps in Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas. Most Americans are undisturbed by the policy as some 100,000 people are “relocated” over the next month.
At the Battle of Java Sea, the Japanese Navy inflicts heavy losses on Allied forces.
General MacArthur is forced to move his command base from the Philippines as Japanese forces approach. Before he leaves for Australia, he famously declares, “I shall return!” One month later, the 75,000 Philippine and American troops that remained to defend the island surrender to the Japanese on Bataan Peninsula. These men will be taken prisoner and forced to march one hundred miles to a prison camp; with poor rations and ill treatment, thousands will die on the so-called Bataan Death March.
Major General James Doolittle leads sixteen U.S. bombers in a surprise raid on Tokyo. Not only does the attack provide a morale boost for the Allies, it serves to divert Japanese defenses.
A nightly “dim-out” or “black-out” goes into effect along a fifteen-mile strip of the Atlantic coast to counter German submarine activity in the area.
The U.S. Navy inflicts heavy losses on the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Coral Sea. It is the first naval battle in history in which surface ships did not engage one another directly, with planes attacking each other and the ships.
General Jonathan Wainwright is captured by the Japanese and forced to surrender Fort Corregidor and ask all U.S. forces in the Philippines to surrender as well.
FDR signs the congressional act establishing the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, later to be renamed the Women's Army Corps (WAC). A similar group, known as the WAVES, will be assembled for the Navy. Gasoline rationing also goes into effect in seventeen states in the eastern United States; by the end of the year, it will be extended to the entire country.
At the Battle of Midway, the U.S. Navy loses the carrier Yorktown, but not before sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers. While the war is far from over, the victory at Midway establishes U.S. naval superiority as the Japanese also lose a significant number of their best pilots.
The Office of War Information (OWI) is established by executive order to control the disclosure of official news and propaganda.
Americans join in a great nationwide drive to collect the increasingly rare rubber scraps essential to the war effort. In September, the United States will be forced to purchase Mexico's entire rubber supply for the next four years. Ultimately, it is the rise of the synthetic rubber industry that will meet the country's fighting needs.
FDR meets with Winston Churchill in Washington, D.C., to plan the invasion of North Africa. On November 8, 400,000 Allied troops will land in Morocco and Algeria, under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the newly appointed commander of U.S. forces in the European theater.
U.S. Marines land on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. It is the first offensive in the long road to Tokyo.
The Germans, having won major gains in their offensive against Russia over the summer, launch a massive assault on Stalingrad in an effort to complete the conquest. Before the year is out, the Germans will find themselves overextended and mired in the mud and harsh cold of winter; it marks the turning point on the Eastern Front.
The Revenue Act of 1942 is passed, calling for taxes to be increased by $9 billion; included is the so-called Victory Tax, a five-percent tax on all income over $624, in effect until the war's end.
Scientists at the University of Chicago demonstrate the first sustained nuclear chain reaction.
At the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, FDR, Churchill, and other Allied representatives agree to the following: they will demand that the Axis powers surrender unconditionally; they will invade Europe initially through Sicily and Italy; they will launch a combined bomber offensive on Germany; they will step up aid to Russia; and they will prosecute the Battle of the Atlantic with greater vigor.
The first all-American bombing raid on Germany takes place during the day over Wilhelmshaven.
Shoe rationing begins in the United States; each civilian is limited to three pairs of leather shoes per year.
The rationing of canned goods begins; customers are required to use coupon books of varying points to purchase these items. One month later, meats, fats, and cheese will also be rationed in this way.
At the Battle of the Bismarck Sea off New Guinea, U.S. and Australian planes score a major victory in the Pacific, sinking eight Japanese transports and four destroyers, and shooting down at least twenty-five enemy planes, costing the lives of nearly 3,500 men.
FDR freezes prices, wages, and salaries in an effort to stem inflation.
During the course of this week, Allied forces remove the Axis from North Africa through the forced surrender of German and Italian commanders. The two-year effort by the Axis to control North Africa, and specifically the Suez Canal, comes to an end.
At the Trident Conference in Washington, D.C., Churchill, Roosevelt, and their top military planners meet and formulate a general strategy for the planned invasions of Europe, and for the commitment of forces to the European and the Pacific theaters.
In Poland, German troops finally subdue an uprising by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto that had begun the previous month. The Jews had been forcibly relocated to the ghetto when the Germans began their occupation of the country nearly four years earlier. The Germans will move the Warsaw Jews to concentration camps and level the ghetto.
By executive order, FDR establishes the Office of War Mobilization to coordinate the nation's efforts at home, and he orders that all government contracts with private industries forbid racial discrimination.
The Current Tax Payment Act goes into effect, introducing the withholding of federal income taxes on wages and salaries. Also known as the “Pay-As-You-Go-Act,” it will become a cornerstone of U.S. tax policy and government finance.
The Supreme Court rules in West Virginia Board of Education v. Bernette that it is unconstitutional for a state to require children to salute the flag if doing so runs counter their religious beliefs.
In Detroit, Michigan, whites protesting the employment of blacks in formerly “white-only” jobs start a clash that leads to two days of rioting and rampage, leaving thirty-four dead before federal troops intervene.
Germans launch a massive attack on the Russian city of Kursk in what will become the largest tank battle in history and the German's last significant effort at conquering the U.S.S.R.
Allied forces invade Sicily, which falls five weeks later. The island off the “toe” of Italy will provide safer passage to Allied shipping in the Mediterranean and aid the invasion of the Italian mainland.
Three days after dropping leaflets urging the Italian people to surrender, 500 U.S. bombers carry out an air raid on Rome. The city had previously been spared because of its unique historical, religious, and artistic significance.
King Victor Emmanuel of Italy forces Benito Mussolini to resign after more than two decades as Il Duce, effectively ending Italy's role as an Axis power. Allied forces will invade the country five weeks later; Italy will surrender unconditionally on September 8, although German troops will pour into the country, continuing the fight.
At the Quadrant Conference in Quebec, Roosevelt, Churchill and others agree on, among other items, a plan for the invasion of France, set for the spring of 1944.
In Moscow, the foreign ministers of the U.S.S.R., Britain, and the United States, along with the Chinese ambassador to Russia, meet to discuss matters relating to the end of the war. They will issue a statement declaring their intentions to treat the Axis powers fairly once the war is over, and to create an international organization for peace.
FDR, Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek meet at the Sextant Conference in Cairo, Egypt, and demand the unconditional surrender of Japan according to the following terms: it must restore Chinese territory; give Korea its independence; and give up all Pacific islands seized after 1914.
Flying from Cairo, FDR and Churchill meet Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference in Iran. At this, the first ever meeting of the “Big Three” leaders, the timing of the invasion of Europe is finally settled.
Roosevelt Attends the Tehran Conference
On November 28, President Franklin Roosevelt attended the first day of a conference in Tehran, Iran, with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It was the first meeting of the three leaders together.
At the Tehran Conference, the three leaders discussed World War II and post-war plans. They decided on the Allied invasion into Europe to open a second European front, and Stalin agreed to launch a major offensive on Eastern front at the same time. They also discussed the Pacific Theater of the war, and Stalin pledged that Russia would join the fight against Japan once the war against Germany was completed. The leaders also touched on the status of Poland and the Baltic nations.
The conference ran until December 1, 1943. At the end of the meetings, the “Big Three,” as they became known, issued a joint declaration. In it, they pledged their support to one another and noted that they had reached an agreement for the military operations against Germany. They concluded the declaration by stating: “We came here with hope and determination. We leave here, friends in fact, in spirit, and in purpose.”
To read the Tehran Declaration, issued on December 1, 1943, click here.
Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Acts passed during the late- nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries which banned Chinese immigration to the United States.
FDR announces in his end-of-the-year radio address that General Eisenhower will be Supreme Commander of the forces that will soon invade Europe.
U.S. forces invade the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. On February 2, Roi Island becomes the first to fall, marking the first territory captured from the Japanese that Japan had occupied before the war began. All of the islands fall within three weeks.
In what is termed “Big Week,” the United States suffers heavy losses during a series of massive air raids on German aircraft production that significantly weakens Germany's air capacity.
Congress approves a joint resolution appropriating up to $1.35 billion for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, looking toward postwar efforts to aid the millions of people devastated by the war.
In Smith v. Allwright, the Supreme Court rules that the white-only primary, sponsored by the Democratic Party in Texas, is unconstitutional.
The Office of Price Administration (OPA) ends the rationing of meat, except on steak and other choice cuts of beef.
Allied forces enter Rome after German troops evacuate the city in retreat; it marks the beginning of the end of German resistance in Italy.
On D-Day, Operation Overlord begins just after midnight, with some 4,000 invasion ships, 600 warships, 10,000 planes, and about 176,000 Allied troops. The invasion of the continent takes place at a series of beaches in Normandy. By the end of the day, and despite heavy casualties, around 150,000 Allied troops have safely reached the beach and are dug in.
The Germans make use of the first V-1 flying bombs, jet-propelled pilotless bombs launched from France and Belgium toward Britain; only one of these “buzz bombs” reaches London.
The B-29 Superfortresses, based in China, begin the first air raids on the Japanese main island. On the same day, U.S. forces land on Saipan; when the island falls on July 9, the United States will have lost 3,400 lives; the Japanese, 27,000.
In the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the United States wins one of the more decisive air-naval battles of the war as the Japanese lose at least 400 planes and three carriers.
FDR signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, which provides financial aid to veterans for education, housing, and other needs; it will be widely known as the G. I. Bill of Rights.
At their national convention in Chicago, the Republican Party nominates New York governor Thomas E. Dewey for President and Ohio governor John Bricker for vice president. Wendell Willkie, the popular 1940 nominee, had already lost during the primary season earlier that spring, as he underestimated the extent to which his support for the war alienated many of his party members. The Democrats nominate FDR for an unprecedented fourth term, despite insider concerns for his failing health. Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri is nominated for vice president; he is FDR's third different running mate in four elections.
Representatives from forty-four nations meet at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, for a monetary and financial conference. They agree to establish an International Money Fund (IMF) and an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, also known as the World Bank. Both institutions will be central to international economic policy following the war.
In a failed assassination attempt, a bomb explodes near Hitler in his headquarters in East Prussia, leaving him relatively unscathed but psychologically shaken and increasingly paranoid. Before the day is over, several high-level officers and politicians will be executed for their role--active or merely alleged--in the conspiracy.
U.S. forces under General Omar Bradley begin Operation Cobra, a coordinated offensive to cut off German forces in Brittany and collapse the German defensive line in northwestern Germany. Brittany will fall to the Allies two weeks later.
The island of Guam is retaken by U.S. forces after twenty days of fighting, leaving 17,000 Japanese casualties and more than 7,000 American casualties. It is of special significance for the United States as Guam fell to the Japanese just a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The War Production Board allows the resumption of various consumer goods, such as vacuums, electric ranges, and cooking utensils.
The Dumbarton Oaks Conference begins in Washington, D.C., attended by representatives of the United States, Britain, China, and the U.S.S.R. It lays the groundwork for the United Nations, an international organization for promoting peaceful and legal solutions to international problems.
Allied forces liberate Paris, France.
The first of the German V-2 rockets land in England; they are much faster and more powerful than the V-1 rockets, and will take a toll on the British people in the waning months on the war.
At the Octagon Conference in Quebec, FDR and Churchill discuss strategies for pursuing the Germans and Japanese and their treatment following the war.
American forces engage German troops on German soil for the first time in the war.
U.S. forces invade Leyte Island in the Philippines. They are led by General MacArthur, who broadcasts to the Philippine people that he has fulfilled his promise of returning to the country. Three days later, the Japanese send a major naval force to disrupt the invasion. These forces meet in the Battle of the Leyte Gulf where the Japanese suffer a major defeat, losing twenty-four large ships; it is the largest naval engagement of the war and hereafter, the Japanese Navy is limited largely to suicide engagements in the form of Kamikaze fighter pilots.
FDR wins an unprecedented fourth term as President over the Republican challenger Dewey; while the electoral vote is a landslide--432 to 99--the popular vote is much closer, 25.6 million to 22 million.
Germany launches its final offensive of the war, counterattacking Allied defenses in the Ardennes Forest in an engagement known as the Battle of the Bulge. It will take two weeks for the Allies to regroup from the surprise attack and launch their own counterattack.
Despite efforts by the federal government to control wages and prices, the cost of living registers a 30-percent increase since the United States formally entered the war.
FDR is inaugurated for his fourth term as President.
U.S. troops complete the capture of Manila, the capital of the Philippine islands.
At the Yalta Conference in the Crimea, FDR, Churchill, and Stalin meet to discuss the final assault on Germany and the treatment of that country following the war. They sign a “Declaration on Liberated Europe,” discuss the providing for democratic governance of European nations, and agree to meet in San Francisco that April to establish an international peace organization.
In one of the hardest-fought battles of the war, U.S. Marines capture the island of Iwo Jima. The engagement leaves 4,000 Americans and 20,000 Japanese dead.
Nearing the mainland islands of Japan, the U.S. Army wins a fierce battle to capture the island of Okinawa; in the process the United States will lose 80,000 in casualties and Japan 120,000.
In a national poll, 81 percent of Americans say that they favor the creation of an international peace organization, a sharp contrast to the 26 percent who supported a similar body in 1937.
While vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies following a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Vice President Harry S. Truman is immediately sworn in, becoming the thirty-third President of the United States.