Lend-Lease Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

From the outbreak of World War II, the United States had maintained a formal policy of neutrality, in keeping with its isolationist stance since the conclusion of World War I. However, the Lend-Lease Act, passed in March 1941, marked a key step in the nation's steady shift from isolationism to direct involvement in the war. Lend-lease allowed the United States to provide supplies such as weapons, airplanes, and food to selected allies without requiring the recipients to pay for the goods as long as the president deemed the transactions beneficial for US national security. Proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in late 1940, the Lend-Lease Act primarily allowed the United States to provide vital economic and military support to Great Britain, which by that time stood as the greatest remaining challenger to the spread of Nazi domination in Europe.

Summary Overview

From the outbreak of World War II, the United States had maintained a formal policy of neutrality, in keeping with its isolationist stance since the conclusion of World War I. However, the Lend-Lease Act, passed in March 1941, marked a key step in the nation's steady shift from isolationism to direct involvement in the war. Lend-lease allowed the United States to provide supplies such as weapons, airplanes, and food to selected allies without requiring the recipients to pay for the goods as long as the president deemed the transactions beneficial for US national security. Proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in late 1940, the Lend-Lease Act primarily allowed the United States to provide vital economic and military support to Great Britain, which by that time stood as the greatest remaining challenger to the spread of Nazi domination in Europe.

Defining Moment

After World War I, the United States returned to its traditional isolationist foreign policy. The economic struggles of the Great Depression reinforced popular opinion that the nation should use its resources internally rather than spend money and expend effort on conflicts abroad. During the 1930s, rising fascist and militant governments in countries such as Spain, Germany, Italy, and Japan heightened the threat of another world war, spurring the passage of a series of Neutrality Acts beginning in 1935. The first of these laws banned certain economic activities between Americans and warring nations, including the sale or transport of weapons and the lending of money. Many believed that such activities had factored into the United States choosing to enter World War I.

Subsequent Neutrality Acts loosened the tight limits. In the Neutrality Act of 1937, Roosevelt successfully argued for the inclusion of a “cash-and-carry” policy on sales of nonwar goods, including raw materials such as oil, to warring nations. All sales had to take place on a strictly cash basis, and any belligerent nation purchasing US goods was required to collect and transport them at its own expense and risk. Although cash-and-carry was broadly written, in practice, the policy was in place to sell goods to Great Britain and France.

Germany's rapid, aggressive advance through Europe in 1939 spurred further aid to the troubled Allies even as the American public opposed entering the conflict. The Neutrality Act of 1939 expanded the existing cash-and-carry policy to allow the sale of US weapons and other war goods to belligerent nations. Direct aid in the form of loans remained forbidden, however, and US ships were barred from transporting war matériel.

As 1940 progressed, however, Great Britain's ability to pay for the war goods it needed began to flag. Prime Minister Winston Churchill appealed to Roosevelt to institute a new policy under which the United States could provide goods to Britain without demanding immediate payments. Offering this type of direct aid presented clear challenges for US policy makers. Showing obvious support for the British risked drawing German ire and a declaration of war on the neutral United States, and US public opinion remained opposed to entering the war. Isolationists argued that using US tax dollars and weapons to help the British took away from reserves needed in case of attack. On the other hand, neither the American public nor its leaders wanted to see Great Britain defeated. The two nations had long-standing cultural ties, and they had been close military and political allies for decades. Therefore, whether the Lend-Lease bill would be made law was a question of not only economics but also national priorities and sentiment.

Author Biography

The Lend-Lease Act was passed by Congress in early 1941, but the idea of lend-lease began with Roosevelt, who had served as president since 1933, dedicating much of his administration's energy to the federal programs of the New Deal that sought to jumpstart the nation's troubled economy during the Great Depression. Beginning in the mid-1930s, however, Roosevelt began to develop a foreign-policy stance in response to the rise of fascist regimes in Europe that diverged from the isolationist policies favored by Congress. Roosevelt saw a German victory in all of Europe as a stepping stone to Nazi attempts to conquer the United States, and as president he developed a close political relationship with British prime minister Churchill. Roosevelt's interventionist sentiments helped push overall US public opinion to support the Allied cause and, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, to support direct US involvement in the war.

Historical Document

AN ACT

Further to promote the defense of the United States, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States”.

SEC. 2. As used in this Act -

(a) The term “defense article” means --

(1) Any weapon, munition. aircraft, vessel, or boat;

(2) Any machinery, facility, tool, material, or supply necessary for the manufacture, production, processing, repair, servicing, or operation of any article described in this subsection;

(3) Any component material or part of or equipment for any article described in this subsection;

(4) Any agricultural, industrial or other commodity or article for defense.

Such term “defense article” includes any article described in this subsection: Manufactured or procured pursuant to section 3, or to which the United States or any foreign government has or hereafter acquires title, possession, or control.

(b) The term “defense information” means any plan, specification, design, prototype, or information pertaining to any defense article.

SEC. 3. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, the President may, from time to time. when he deems it in the interest of national defense, authorize the Secretary Of War, the Secretary of the Navy, or the bead of any other department or agency of the Government --

(1) To manufacture in arsenals, factories, and shipyards under their jurisdiction, or otherwise procure, to the extent to which funds are made available therefor, or contracts are authorized from time to time by the Congress, or both, any defense article for the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.

(2) To sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government any defense article, but no defense article not manufactured or procured under paragraph (1) shall in any way be disposed of under this paragraph, except after consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army or the Chief of Naval Operations of the Navy, or both. The value of defense articles disposed of in any way under authority of this paragraph, and procured from funds heretofore appropriated, shall not exceed $1,300,000,000. The value of such defense articles shall be determined by the head of the department or agency concerned or such other department, agency or officer as shall be designated in the manner provided in the rules and regulations issued hereunder. Defense articles procured from funds hereafter appropriated to any department or agency of the Government, other than from funds authorized to he appropriated under this Act. shall not be disposed of in any way under authority of this paragraph except to the extent hereafter authorized by the Congress in the Acts appropriating such funds or otherwise.

(3) To test, inspect, prove, repair, outfit, recondition, or otherwise to place in good working order, to the extent to which funds are made available therefor, or contracts are authorized from time to time by the Congress, or both, any defense article for any such government, or to procure any or all such services by private contract.

(4) To communicate to any such government any defense information pertaining to any defense article furnished to such government under paragraph (2) of this subsection.

(5) To release for export any defense article disposed of in any way under this subsection to any such government.

(b) The terms and conditions upon which any such foreign government receives any aid authorized under subsection (a) shall be those which the President deems satisfactory, and the benefit to the United States may he payment or repayment in kind or property, or any other direct or indirect benefit which the President deems satisfactory.

(c) After June 30, 1943, or after the passage of a concurrent resolution by the two Houses before June 30, 1943, which declares that the powers conferred by or pursuant to subsection (a) are no longer necessary to promote the defense of the United States, neither the President nor the head of any department or agency shall exercise any of the powers conferred by or pursuant to subsection (a) except that until July 1, 1946, any of such powers may be exercised to the extent necessary to carry out a contract or agreement with such a foreign government made before July 1,1943, or before the passage of such concurrent resolution, whichever is the earlier.

(d) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or to permit the authorization of convoying vessels by naval vessels of the United States.

(e) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or to permit the authorization of the entry of any American vessel into a combat area in violation of section 3 of the neutrality Act of 1939.

SEC. 4 All contracts or agreements made for the disposition of any defense article or defense information pursuant to section 3 shall contain a clause by which the foreign government undertakes that it will not, without the consent of the President, transfer title to or possession of such defense article or defense information by gift, sale, or otherwise, or permit its use by anyone not an officer, employee, or agent of such foreign government.

SEC. 5. (a) The Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, or the head of any other department or agency of the Government involved shall when any such defense article or defense information is exported, immediately inform the department or agency designated by the President to administer section 6 of the Act of July 2, 1940 (54 Stat. 714). of the quantities, character, value, terms of disposition and destination of the article and information so exported.

(b) The President from time to time, but not less frequently than once every ninety days, shall transmit to the Congress a report of operations under this Act except such information as he deems incompatible with the public interest to disclose. Reports provided for under this subsection shall be transmitted to the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House of representatives, as the case may be, if the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, is not in session.

SEC. 6. (a) There is hereby authorized to be appropriated from time to time, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, such amounts as may be necessary to carry out the provisions and accomplish the purposes of this Act.

(b) All money and all property which is converted into money received under section 3 from any government shall, with the approval of the Director of the Budget. revert to the respective appropriation or appropriations out of which funds were expended with respect to the defense article or defense information for which such consideration is received, and shall be available for expenditure for the purpose for which such expended funds were appropriated by law, during the fiscal year in which such funds are received and the ensuing fiscal year; but in no event shall any funds so received be available for expenditure after June 30, 1946.

SEC. 7. The Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, and the head of the department or agency shall in all contracts or agreements for the disposition of any defense article or defense information fully protect the rights of all citizens of the United States who have patent rights in and to any such article or information which is hereby authorized to he disposed of and the payments collected for royalties on such patents shall be paid to the owners and holders of such patents.

SEC. 8. The Secretaries of War and of the Navy are hereby authorized to purchase or otherwise acquire arms, ammunition, and implements of war produced within the jurisdiction of any country to which section 3 is applicable, whenever the President deems such purchase or acquisition to be necessary in the interests of the defense of the United States.

SEC. 9. The President may, from time to time, promulgate such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper to carry out any of the provisions of this Act; and he may exercise any power or authority conferred on him by this Act through such department, agency, or officer as he shall direct.

SEC. 10. Nothing in this Act shall be construed to change existing law relating to the use of the land and naval forces of the United States, except insofar as such use relates to the manufacture, procurement, and repair of defense articles, the communication of information and other noncombatant purposes enumerated in this Act.

SEC 11. If any provision of this Act or the application of such provision to any circumstance shall be held invalid, the validity of the remainder of the Act and the applicability of such provision to other circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

Approved, March 11, 1941.

Glossary

convoy: to accompany or escort, usually for protection

munition: usually in the plural; materials used in war, especially weapons and ammunition

promulgate: to make known by open declaration; proclaim formally, such as a law or decree

prototype: the original or model on which something is based or formed

Document Analysis

The Lend-Lease Act established several key foreign policy points as the United States balanced its neutrality with support for Allied resistance of German aggression in the early years of World War II. Proposed by Roosevelt primarily as a way to help Great Britain, the act seeks to carefully address isolationist concerns while granting the president great authority to provide economic and military aid. Lend-lease seeks to meet these dual purposes by closely linking US national defense with the security of other countries identified by the president, reinforcing Roosevelt's claims that lend-lease was a necessary policy but acknowledging the majority's desire for formal neutrality.

From the beginning, the act announces its intent “to promote the defense of the United States,” and continues to use language presenting a broadly defined range of arms and armaments as tools of defense rather than tools of intervention. The continued emphasis on lend-lease as a method of defense sought to win the votes of members of Congress with isolationist leanings by shaping the policy as a defensive measure that aligned with the ideals of the America First Committee, a prominent anti-interventionist group, rather than an interventionist one meant to shape the outcome of the conflict in Europe. Portions of sections 3 and 10 reinforce US neutrality by barring US ships from transporting belligerent vessels or entering disputed seas and by asserting that lend-lease “shall [not] be construed to change existing law relating to the use of the land and naval forces of the United States.” Section 6 authorizes use of US tax dollars to fund lend-lease activities, but it does not call for the levying of new taxes to support the policy.

Lend-lease invests a great deal of power in the president by allowing him “when he deems it in the interest of national defense” (section 3) to order the manufacture, sale, or transfer of military goods and plans to any recipient considered vital to national security. The law also allows the chief executive to make additional orders and policies as necessary to carry out the law. However, section 5 of the law requires the president to report on the implementation of lend-lease to Congress unless providing details about the process would endanger national security. The law does not, however, give the president authority to place any US personnel or military goods into the conflict in the name of the United States.

Essential Themes

The passage of the Lend-Lease Act came on the heels of Roosevelt's reelection to an unprecedented third term as president and after months of debate over open support for the British. Carefully crafted not only to placate those reluctant to engage in warfare but also to permit useful US aid to belligerents, the Lend-Lease Act reflected Roosevelt's political savvy and great influence. Taken together, Roosevelt's third inaugural address and the lend-lease provisions seemed to interventionists to be a mandate to increase US involvement in World War II, stopping just shy of a declaration of war.

Lend-lease clearly showed the US support—albeit unofficial—for the Allied cause. Initially, the policy sought to increase US aid to Great Britain, but over time, it expanded to give considerable economic and military aid to other Allied nations, particularly the Soviet Union and China. In the short term, lend-lease aided both the recipients of US aid and the United States itself. The increased demand for war matériel created by the implementation of lend-lease provided a boost for US industries and began to shift the economy from the weak years of the Great Depression into the boom of World War II. The construction of “liberty ships” and other goods intended for export helped prepare the US economy to produce the goods it would need after entering the conflict in 1941.

President Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt's successor, abolished lend-lease in August 1945, a few months after the end of hostilities in Europe. The Allied economies of Europe remained in tatters, however, and the decision elicited criticism from British leaders who saw the aid as vital to the postwar recovery. Despite its relatively short duration, lend-lease helped set the stage for the emergence of the United States as a superpower in the postwar era and reinvigorated public support for intervention as a tool to promote US security. In both intent and practice, therefore, lend-lease rejected the early twentieth-century policy of isolationism and announced the US belief that its own national interests were bound up with those of its global partners, a notion that informed later policies from the Truman Doctrine to the War on Terror.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • “American Isolationism in the 1930s.” Milestones. US Dept. of State Office of the Hist., 2013. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.
  • Berinksey, Adam. In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Print.
  • Capet, Antoine. “Lend-Lease Act.” Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History—A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. Ed. Will Kaufman and Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Print.
  • Zheng, Guoqiang. “Lend-Lease Act (1941).” The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia. Rev. ed. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print.
Categories: History Content