FDR Ensures Fired, and Fired Up, Isolationist Secretary of War: No War Unless Monroe Doctrine is Breached

June 20, 1940

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FDR Ensures Fired, and Fired Up, Isolationist Secretary of War: No War Unless Monroe Doctrine is Breached
Typed Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 1376

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      He had, just the day before, fired the man, for cause; he had had, that same day, received from him a blistering letter, in reply: but nothing fazed Franklin Roosevelt. Here his famous “first class temperament” - easy, confident, poised – takes a star turn in this remarkable letter to freshly-minted ex -Secretary of War.

      In the past twenty-four  hours, Woodring had twice thwarted the President - by refusing, first, an order to give England a dozen B-17 “Flying Fortresses,” and then, by declining to serve as the Governor of Puerto Rico. Worse, he had done so, as he explained in his June 20th letter to FDR, because he felt the President was provoking a war that the country could not win. “I feel, Mr. President, that I cannot retire… without most respectfully urging you to maintain your pronounced non-intervention policy,” he wrote. “We are not prepared for a major conflict.” To which, with gay sang froid, Roosevelt responded:

      That is a mighty nice letter of yours and I greatly appreciate it. I wish though that you and Helen could have gone to Porto Rico, if only for a few months… because I wish that you could continue as a part of the Administration as long as it lasts. Don't worry about maintaining the non-intervention policy. We are most certainly going to do just that - barring, of course, an attack on the validity of the Monroe Doctrine… When all is said and done, I think you and I have a pretty good record in preparedness because there has never been a peace-time period when as much was accomplished for the Army as during the past few years…

      With Woodring’s dismissal, however, came the furor that Roosevelt had long wanted to avoid – a showdown with the Isolationists in Congress. The Topeka Daily Capitol carried a story the very next day, reporting that “a small clique of international financiers” were behind Woodring’s ouster. They’d wanted him out, the account claimed, because he was opposed to “stripping our own defenses” to aid the Allies. This canard, with its barely-veiled anti-Semitism, was picked up on the floors of the House and Senate; soon resolutions calling for an investigation into Woodring’s dismissal, and summoning him to appear before their respective Military Affairs Committees, were put forward. Woodring, however, asked that his resignation not become a political issue, and the brouhaha subsided. But the issue of aid to the Allies would not go away until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor – an attack, as it happened, outside the purview of the Monroe Doctrine.

      Typed Letter Signed, as President, marked “Private” in autograph, 1 page, quarto, The White House, Washington, June 20, 1940. To Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring. With transmittal envelope.
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