January 7, 2017

Churchill Collectables: Lend Lease Stewpot


This month’s Churchilliana offering is a slight departure from previously pictured items which portray the Great Man. However, its relevance is unquestionable. This American made pottery item measures four inches tall and depicts a taxpayer in a cauldron marked “Lend-Lease.”  This is a pro-American isolationism piece, serving to warn that the taxpayer will be “in the stew” if Lend-Lease becomes law and he has to foot the bill for a foreign war.

Prior to America’s entry into the Second World War following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the prevailing public mindset was one of isolationism. This sentiment was echoed by Republicans in Congress. Rallies for “America First” and chants of “No Foreign Wars” predominated. President Roosevelt, however, knew Britain needed foreign aid to survive. Following the fall of France in June 1940, the British Empire stood alone in war against Germany and Italy. Britain had been paying in gold for war necessities under the “cash and carry” policy mandated by the US Neutrality Acts of the 1930’s. By 1941, however, Britain had liquidated so many assets that it was running short of cash, thus running short of weapons and other necessary supplies.

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In response, Roosevelt proposed the “Lend-Lease” bill. If passed by Congress, it would permit the president to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of,” military aid to any foreign governments whose defense he deemed vital to the defense of the United States. In December 1940, FDR proclaimed the US the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Isolationists—particularly Congressional Republicans—were strongly opposed and warned the bill’s passage would lead to American involvement in a European conflict. Opinion began to shift, however, as the public began to see that America could assist Britain while not committing American troops. Public opinion was also turned by propaganda depicting Blitz devastation and popular images depicting Germans as savages.

On 9 February 1941, the House of Representatives approved Lend-Lease, with the vote essentially following party lines. The bill passed the Senate a month later. President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease bill into law on 11 March 1941. He then approved $1 billion in Lend-Lease aid to Britain at the end of October, 1941. This little ceramic pot is a rare memento of a tumultuous time in Britain’s wartime history, when there was  definite uncertainty as to whether the United States would provide vital and necessary assistance.

Brian Krapf formerly served as President of the American Political Items Collectors, which is devoted to the preservation and study of America’s political heritage. He has been honored with APIC’s highest award: induction into the organization’s Hall of Fame. Items from the Krapf collection have been featured in History Channel documentaries and also in major print media publications. He has also served as a national advisor to eBay in the areas of security and fraud detection, and he designed eBay’s current political memorabilia listing categories.

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