Ogdensburg Agreement Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United States and Canada entered into an agreement on hemispheric defense.

Summary of Event

After only slight hesitation, Canada followed the mother country, Great Britain, in going to war against Germany in 1939. Canada’s southern neighbor, the United States, was sympathetic to Great Britain and its allies but vowed to remain neutral. [kw]Ogdensburg Agreement (Aug. 16, 1940) [kw]Agreement, Ogdensburg (Aug. 16, 1940) Ogdensburg Agreement Defense agreements, Canada-U.S. [g]United States;Aug. 16, 1940: Ogdensburg Agreement[10280] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 16, 1940: Ogdensburg Agreement[10280] Churchill, Winston King, William Lyon Mackenzie Ralston, James Layton Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin D.;lend-lease policy

The situation changed drastically after the Germans conquered France in June, 1940. The German armies seemed invincible, and there was a real threat that they might cross the English Channel and conquer Great Britain. The United States, realizing the gravity of the world situation, became more concerned about its security and that of the Western Hemisphere. The prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, developed a contingency plan to have the British royal family, in the event of a German takeover, flee Britain and take sanctuary in Canada. Clearly, the Atlantic Ocean was no longer a barrier to world conflict.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, was worried about both Western Hemisphere security and Great Britain’s ability to stay in the war. He wanted to help Great Britain and prepare his own country for the war he knew it would one day enter, but he believed that the U.S. public was not ready for full-fledged participation. Roosevelt therefore conceived the lend-lease policy [p]Lend-lease policy[Lend lease policy] to address both issues. Under lend-lease, Great Britain would lease certain military bases in the Western Hemisphere (in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and elsewhere) to the United States for ninety-nine years. In return, the United States would lend surplus aircraft and other military equipment to Great Britain. Thus the British military would be strengthened and the United States would gain control of bases that would help it defend the Western Hemisphere against potential German aggression.

Canada was not consulted under this agreement. Although a close ally and associate of Great Britain, Canada had been a sovereign nation since the Statute of Westminster in 1931. The Canadian prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had been slow to recognize the threat posed by Nazi Germany. King, indeed, was ambivalent about his country’s entry into the European war until the very last moment. There were many political pressures on King not to enter the war; the voices raised in opposition ranged from those of Francophones in Quebec, whose fierce opposition to Britain made them reluctant to enter the war even though their own mother country, France, was on the British side, to those of isolationist farmers in the Prairie Provinces who saw no apparent need for Canada to intervene in foreign disputes. Most Canadians, however, supported King when he decided to commit Canada to the war effort at the side of Great Britain.

Once engaged in the war, King shared the concerns of Roosevelt and Churchill regarding Western Hemisphere security. He was heartened by the lend-lease agreement, but he was concerned about Canadian national sovereignty as affected by the accord, especially in the case of Newfoundland. Newfoundland’s close geographic proximity to Canada put it in the natural Canadian sphere of influence. Newfoundland had been an independent, self-governing dominion for sixty years, until the 1930’s, when, because of its inability to handle the economic depression of that era, it had been taken over by Great Britain. King and the majority of the Canadian public expected that one day Newfoundland would join the rest of Canada (as, in fact, it did in 1949). King was thus unwilling to accept the permanent transfer of bases in Newfoundland to U.S. sovereignty.

Roosevelt was friendly toward Canada and knew the country well from his summer visits to the Canadian island of Campobello. Recognizing King’s concern over the situation, Roosevelt advised the Canadian leader that he would be reviewing troops in the town of Ogdensburg, located in northern New York State, close to the Canadian border, on August 16, 1940. King decided that it would be to Canada’s advantage for him to meet Roosevelt at Ogdensburg. In deference to Canadian public opinion, he made no public announcement of the visit, fearing that it would be seen as an act of submission or surrender to the United States.

King did his best to keep the meeting a secret. Even James Layton Ralston, the Canadian minister of defense, whose responsibilities were vitally concerned with the situation, learned of the meeting only through reading the next day’s newspapers. On the morning of August 16, Roosevelt arrived in Ogdensburg, accompanied by the U.S. ambassador to Canada, J. Pierrepont Moffat. Roosevelt met King, and the two men together reviewed U.S. troops. Roosevelt and King then repaired to a railway carriage, where the substantive discussions were held. The two men were very different. King was a mystic who regularly attended séances in order to communicate with the spirit of his dead mother. Roosevelt, on the other hand, was regarded by many as the ultimate political opportunist, although his fierce commitment to democracy and liberalism never wavered. Nevertheless, the two men, who knew each other from previous meetings, established a good working rapport, and they quickly reached a broad consensus.

The centerpiece of this consensus was the so-called Continental System, Continental System which provided that Canada and the United States would regularly consult each other about military conditions. It also stipulated that the two countries would prepare themselves to mount a common defense of the Western Hemisphere. It even allowed for the possibility of temporary establishment of U.S. bases on Canadian soil. This was the aspect of the Continental System most disagreeable to Canadian nationalists. The U.S. bases, however, were only in the context of Canadian involvement in the lend-lease policy. Although King and Canada had not been involved in the formulation of this policy, Roosevelt’s briefing apprised the Canadian prime minister of the lend-lease initiative, of which King wholeheartedly approved. King and Roosevelt also reached agreement on the status of Newfoundland. Roosevelt abjured any possible U.S. intent to control or annex Newfoundland permanently and stated that the future status of Newfoundland was up to the inhabitants of the island themselves, in consultation with the Canadian and British governments.


The most important achievements of the Ogdensburg meeting were not in the precise terms hammered out between Roosevelt and King but in the general spirit of understanding and mutual support built between the two men. Canada and the United States had enjoyed friendly relations for many years, but the two countries had never really been allies. The Ogdensburg Agreement prepared Canada and the United States for the alliance that would exist between them when the United States entered World War II in 1941 and that would continue through the postwar years.

The Ogdensburg Agreement also represented a shift on the part of Canadian military and defense policy from a primary orientation toward Great Britain to a similar orientation toward the United States. By 1940, Canadian independence had been fully achieved. Canada, large in area but small in population, would inevitably have to engage in cooperation and alliance with another, more powerful country. Canada previously had been wary of the United States because the latter country was so much larger in population. The dominance of the United States on the North American continent had caused observers periodically to wonder if Canada might eventually be annexed by the United States. Although the Ogdensburg Agreement might have seemed to subordinate Canada to U.S. defense policy, it had the countervailing effect of firmly enshrining the interests of an independent Canada within a North American defense context. This reaffirmation of Canadian independence substantially assisted U.S.-Canadian cooperation after the United States entered the war. It also smoothed the way for eventual Canadian participation in two postwar defense alliances led by the United States: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the North American Air Defense Pact (NORAD).

Predictably, King faced considerable outcry in the Canadian nationalist press once he returned to Ottawa and his meeting with Roosevelt was revealed to the public. However, his achievement in the Ogdensburg meeting was considerable, helping to cement Allied cooperation in the long and determined struggle against Nazi Germany and its threat to democracy and freedom. Ogdensburg Agreement Defense agreements, Canada-U.S.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gibson, Frederick, and Jonathan G. Rossie, eds. The Road to Ogdensburg. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1993. Collection of essays on developments in Canadian-U.S. relations leading up to the Ogdensburg Agreement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kimball, W. F. The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939-1941. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969. Provides background on British-U.S. relations in the period when the Ogdensburg Agreement was formulated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Perras, Galen Roger. Franklin Roosevelt and the Origins of the Canadian-American Security Alliance, 1933-1945: Necessary, but Not Necessary Enough. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998. Focuses on Roosevelt’s role in encouraging Canada to establish a defense pact with the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pickersgill, J. W. The Mackenzie King Record. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960. A comprehensive archive of the events of King’s tenure as prime minister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riendeau, Roger. A Brief History of Canada. 2d rev. ed. New York: Facts On File, 2006. Concise history includes discussion of King’s government and the World War II years in Canada.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sokolsky, Joel J., and Joseph T. Jockel, eds. Fifty Years of Canada-United States Defense Cooperation: The Road from Ogdensburg. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. Collection of essays by noted American and Canadian scholars discusses cooperation between the two nations in the years following the Ogdensburg Agreement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stacey, C. P. Arms, Men, and Governments: The War Policies of Canada, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Queen’s Printers, 1970. Discusses Canadian defense policy in the World War II period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Teatero, William. Mackenzie King: Man of Mission. Don Mills, Ont.: Nelson, 1979. Brief biography of the prime minister.

King Era in Canada

Halibut Treaty

Formation of the British Commonwealth of Nations

St. Lawrence Seaway Treaty

King Returns to Power in Canada

Canada Enters World War II

Categories: History