President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Broadcast to Canadians Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, this radio address both praises the service of Canadians in the ongoing war effort and underscores the long-standing ties between the United States and Canada, asking Canadians to continue to defend their borders and to serve the cause. The Roosevelts had deep personal and professional relationships with Canada and its people. Throughout Roosevelt's life, he and his family had summered at Campobello Island off the coast of New Brunswick, and he had worked closely with Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to move materials to Great Britain and to ensure the defense of the United States' northern border. The United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Already at war with Germany and Italy, Canada declared war with Japan on the same day. Canada's contribution to the war effort was enormous. In a nation of eleven million people, nearly one million Canadians served in the military, and the nation contributed significant raw materials (including the uranium that made the first atomic bomb), provided pilot training centers, and gave significant naval support to the Allies. The United States and Canada continued to work closely together throughout the war, though as a Commonwealth nation (one formerly ruled by and with close political and cultural ties to Great Britain), Canada took a supporting role to the United States, the Soviet Union, and England in the planning and implementation of the war.

Summary Overview

Delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, this radio address both praises the service of Canadians in the ongoing war effort and underscores the long-standing ties between the United States and Canada, asking Canadians to continue to defend their borders and to serve the cause. The Roosevelts had deep personal and professional relationships with Canada and its people. Throughout Roosevelt's life, he and his family had summered at Campobello Island off the coast of New Brunswick, and he had worked closely with Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to move materials to Great Britain and to ensure the defense of the United States' northern border. The United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Already at war with Germany and Italy, Canada declared war with Japan on the same day. Canada's contribution to the war effort was enormous. In a nation of eleven million people, nearly one million Canadians served in the military, and the nation contributed significant raw materials (including the uranium that made the first atomic bomb), provided pilot training centers, and gave significant naval support to the Allies. The United States and Canada continued to work closely together throughout the war, though as a Commonwealth nation (one formerly ruled by and with close political and cultural ties to Great Britain), Canada took a supporting role to the United States, the Soviet Union, and England in the planning and implementation of the war.

Defining Moment

Canada's direct involvement in World War II began in 1939. It was over two years later when the United States joined the Allied campaign. Small and ill-prepared for war in 1939, Canada's military was offered to the service of the Allies. Canada's armed forces mobilized rapidly as volunteers swelled their ranks. Initially, Canada played a supporting role, providing food, raw materials, and training, with very limited overseas presence. In December 1939, Canada signed onto the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, in which Canada agreed to be the headquarters for flight training for pilots from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. This aviation program was one of the largest in history and was responsible for training over 130,000 personnel.

Canada's military initially relied on volunteers. In fact, even before the war, Prime Minister Mackenzie King had promised that there would be no draft. In 1940, Canadian officials amended this policy after the shocking collapse of France, and Canada allowed for a “home defense” draft. The policy was amended again in 1942, just months after Roosevelt's speech was given, to draft Canadians into overseas combat roles.

Despite being reluctant to draft its citizens to serve on the front lines, Canada had sent forces to England to join in the defense of France. When France fell in 1940, Canadian forces remained in England to assist in defending Great Britain. Canadian forces were also involved in the defense of Hong Kong, alongside the British. Hong Kong fell on Christmas 1940, and over a quarter of the Canadians involved died either in battle or as prisoners of war. Canadian soldiers distinguished themselves around the globe, fighting in Italy, at Juno Beach on D-Day, and throughout France as the Germans retreated.

While supporting the Canadian involvement overseas, the United States was equally concerned with defending itself and its northern neighbor against attack. In 1940, England seemed on the verge of collapse, and Canada, with its plentiful natural resources and small population, seemed a rich prize for Germany. The capture of Canada also would have made an invasion of the United States extremely likely. In August 1940, Prime Minister Mackenzie King and President Roosevelt met along the border in Ogdensburg, New York. They created a joint board to oversee the defense of both nations. The Permanent Joint Board on Defense detailed plans both for the Canadian military to be turned over to the United States in the event that England was captured by Germany and for the common defense of the North American continent. The United States initially asked for more control of the defense of Canada than was eventually agreed upon, but overall, the agreement formalized the understanding that an invasion anywhere on the continent would require the defense of both nations.

Author Biography

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905. He studied law and entered politics in 1910 as a state senator. In 1912, Roosevelt supported Woodrow Wilson's presidential candidacy at the Democratic National Convention, and when Wilson was elected, he appointed Roosevelt as assistant secretary of the navy, a position he held from 1913 to 1920. Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Despite this hardship, Roosevelt was determined to return to public life and, through the use of locking braces, was able to stand and even walk, though always with difficulty. Roosevelt held the governorship of New York from 1928 to 1932, when he was elected president of the United States. He led the United States through the Great Depression and greatly expanded the power of the federal government through a series of reforms known as the New Deal. In 1940, with war raging in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Roosevelt ran for and won an unprecedented third term as president. He won a fourth term in 1944, when the United States was at war, and held the position until his death in office in 1945.

Historical Document

I am speaking to my neighbors of Canada this evening-in regard to something that is a Canadian matter-only because of a personal relationship, which goes back fifty-eight long years, when my family began taking me every Summer to spend several months on a delightful Island off the coast of New Brunswick. I hope that my privilege of free and intimate discourse across our border will always continue. I trust that it will always be appreciated as sincerely as I appreciate it tonight.

It is not merely as good neighbors that we speak to each other in these eventful days, but as partners in a great enterprise which concerns us equally and in which we are equally pledged to the uttermost sacrifice and effort.

In an atmosphere of peace, four years ago, I offered you the assurance that the people of this country would not stand idly by if domination of Canadian soil were ever threatened by an aggressor. Your Prime Minister responded with an intimation that Canada, whose vast territories flank our entire northern border, would man that border against any attack upon us. These mutual pledges are now being implemented. Instead of defending merely our shores and our territories we now are joined with the other free peoples of the world against an armed conspiracy to wipe out free institutions wherever they exist.

Freedom-our freedom and yours-is under attack on many fronts. You and we together are engaged to resist the attack on any front where our strength can best be brought to bear.

The part that Canada is playing in this fight for the liberty of man is worthy of your traditions and ours. We, your neighbors, have been profoundly impressed by reports that have come to us setting forth the magnitude and nature of your effort as well as the valiant spirit which supports it. If that effort is to be measured in dollars, then you already have paid out, in two years, more than twice as much as you spent in the whole four years of the last war.

Moreover, these reports show that one Canadian in every twenty-one of your entire population is now in the fighting forces and that one in every twenty-nine is a volunteer for service anywhere in the world. It should give us all new strength and new courage to learn that in the swift mobilization your Army has increased nearly ten-fold, your Navy fifteen-fold, your Air Force twenty-five-fold. We rejoice to know that the Air Training Plan which you commenced to organize two years ago is now the main source of reinforcements for Britain's air force and that its graduates are fighting on almost every front in the world. Other reports disclose in equally impressive terms an all-out effort which Canada is making in the common cause of liberty.

Yours are the achievements of a great nation. They require no praise from me-but they get that praise from me nevertheless. I understate the case when I say that we, in this country, contemplating what you have done, and the spirit in which you have done it, are proud to be your neighbors.

From the outset you have had our friendship and understanding, and our collaboration on an increasing scale. We have gone forward together with increasing understanding and mutual sympathy and good will.

More recent events have brought us into even closer alignment; and at Washington a few weeks ago, with the assistance of Britain's Prime Minister and your own, we arrived at understandings which mean that the United Nations will fight and work and endure together until our common purpose is accomplished and the sun shines down once more upon a world where the weak will be safe; and the strong will be just.

There is peril ahead for us all, and sorrow for many. But our cause is right, our goal is worthy, our strength is great and growing. Let us then march forward together, facing danger, bearing sacrifice, competing only in the effort to share even more fully in the great task laid upon us all. Let us, remembering the price that some have paid for our survival, make our own contribution worthy to lie beside theirs upon the altar of man's faith.

Glossary

intimation: the act of intimating or making known indirectly; a hint; suggestion

Document Analysis

President Roosevelt's February 15, 1942, radio address to the Canadians begins with an acknowledgement of Roosevelt's long-standing connection with Canada, dating back to his early childhood. This personal relationship has given him, in his role as president, the “privilege of free and intimate discourse across our border,” one that he appreciates and sincerely hopes will continue. Roosevelt attests that the two nations have become “partners in a great enterprise” that are “equally pledged to the uttermost sacrifice and effort.” Roosevelt reminds the Canadians that the United States pledged to defend them, even before the outbreak of war, and that Canada promised the same. Roosevelt asserts that the time has come to act upon those promises, defending not only North America but the free world as well. He emphasizes the threat against both Canada and the United States, as well as their mutual defense efforts to protect themselves and others threatened by “an armed conspiracy to wipe out free institutions.”

Roosevelt spends considerable time praising Canada's contributions to the Allied war effort. Roosevelt notes that, measured in money, Canada has “paid out, in two years, more than twice as much as [it] spent in the whole four years of the last war.” In terms of manpower, the result was even more impressive: Roosevelt says that “one Canadian in every twenty-one… is now in the fighting forces” and that “one in every twenty-nine is a volunteer for service anywhere in the world.” By the end of the war, this number would rise to about one in ten. Roosevelt also praises the mobilization of Canada's armed forces: “Your Army has increased nearly ten-fold, your Navy fifteen-fold, your Air Force twenty-five-fold,” and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan had been training pilots for duty on battlefronts the world over for two years. He then notes that the “United Nations” will fight together against their common enemy. (However, the modern multinational institution known as the United Nations would not be formally established for another three years.) Roosevelt ends the address with a rousing call to continued bravery and self-sacrifice in the cause of freedom, assuring his Canadian listeners that the United States is by their side.

Essential Themes

Roosevelt's address to the Canadians was intended both to further reinforce the relationship between the two nations in a time of international crisis and to encourage the Canadians to continue to work for their mutual defense. Because of this, much of Roosevelt's speech praises contributions already made by Canada, which had been directly involved in the war for two years. The defense of the borders of North America was critical, and Roosevelt's desire to work closely with Canada to defend its border, but also to fight and defeat the enemy, is the primary theme of this speech.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Beevor, Antony. The Second World War. New York: Little, Brown, 2012. Digital file.
  • Keery, Paul. Canada at War: A Graphic History of World War II. Illus. Michael Wyatt. Madeira Park: Douglas, 2012. Print.
  • “A Real Companion and Friend: The Diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King.” Collections Canada. Library and Archives, Canada, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.
  • Rose, Larry D. Mobilize! Why Canada Was Unprepared for the Second World War. Toronto: Dundern, 2013. Digital file.
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