Franklin Roosevelt and the End of American Isolationism

July 15, 2021
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Harry Woodring

In June 1940, Franklin Roosevelt fired his Secretary of War, Harry Woodring. On a personal level, the two men were friendly. But professionally, they failed to find common ground about how to best defend the United States. With the outbreak of World War II, Roosevelt and Woodring could agree on one point – the need to defend the Panama Canal. But for matters outside of the Americas, Woodring – like most Americans – wanted to do anything possible to prevent the United States from joining another brutal European war. He pushed hard for a noninterventionist policy. But Roosevelt recognized adroitly that a Nazi-dominated Europe would seriously undermine U.S. interests abroad. After Woodring refused to release B-17 bombers to assist the British, Roosevelt asked for his resignation. The resulting transitions and changes in policy marked the end of American isolationism. Woodring’s successor, Henry Stimson, pivoted away from the non-interventionist policy to one that trained 13 million soldiers and airmen, dedicated a third of the national GDP for war-related spending, and oversaw the development of the atomic bomb.

In this collection of manuscripts, Roosevelt and Woodring move from exchanging barbs in June 1940 to mending fences after Roosevelt’s inauguration to a third term in 1941. A particularly intriguing document is Woodring’s actual resignation letter. Roosevelt, fearful of political backlash, refused to publish the letter for public consumption. Members of the press speculated about its contents, while legislators fired back and forth on the House and Senate floors about the mysterious memo. Ultimately, Roosevelt never publicized this controversial letter. But now, more than 81 years removed, the Shapell Manuscript Foundation is doing what Roosevelt refused to do – releasing Woodring’s resignation to the public.

Manuscripts Related To Harry Woodring