War, Peace, and Democracy in America

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War, Peace, and Democracy

in America

Series 2

Fight for Freedom, Inc. Archives, 1922-1942

Part 1: Correspondence and Subject Files

Part 2: State and Local Organizations, Administrative Records, and Press Series

Primary Source Microfilm

An imprint of Thomson Gale

War, Peace, and Democracy in America

Fight for Freedom, Inc. Archives, 1922-1942

Part 1: Correspondence and Subject Files

Part 2: State and Local Organizations, Administrative Records, and Press Series

Filmed from the holdings of the

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library,

Princeton University

Primary Source Microfilm

An imprint of Thomson Gale

Primary Source Microfilm,

An Imprint of Thomson Gale

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All rights reserved, including those to

reproduce this book or any parts

thereof in any form

Printed and bound in the

United States of America



Collection Overview …………………………………………………………….………………..v

Introduction to the Collection …………………………………………………………………....vi

Editorial Note …………………….…….....……………………………………………….…..xvii

Reel Index …………………………………………………………………………………......xviii

Acknowledgments ………………………………………………………………………..…...xxiii

Fight for Freedom, Inc. Archives, 1922-1942:

Part 1, Correspondence and Subject Files……………………………………………………..…1

Part 2, State and Local Organizations, Administrative Records, and Press Series…………......26

Collection Overview

Fight for Freedom, Inc. (FFF), a national citizen’s organization established in April 1941, was a leading proponent of full American participation in World War II. Believing that the war was a threat to American freedom and security, FFF boldly and vehemently championed the interventionist cause, advocating that all necessary measures be taken to insure the defeat of Hitler. In addition, FFF worked to preserve fundamental American freedoms at home. An offshoot of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, FFF was supported by average citizens, as well as prominent educators, labor leaders, authors and playwrights, clergy, stage and screen actors, newspaper men, and politicians. Acting as a clearinghouse for information related to American intervention into World War II, FFF monitored the activities of the leading isolationist organization America First and many of its key individuals such as Charles Lindbergh, Burton Wheeler and Gerald Nye. From its headquarters in New York City, FFF spread its message through a vast network of state and local branches, as well as an extensive reliance upon local newspaper editors supportive of the interventionist cause. Pearl Harbor effectively ended the isolationist-interventionist debate, and by early 1942 FFF disbanded.

Items in this collection consist of correspondence, subject files, memoranda, financial records, state and local organization materials, membership and contributor rosters, press releases and speeches, and printed ephemera such as posters, advertisements and display items. The correspondence files contain letters related to the workings of FFF. Several correspondence files relate to key FFF leaders such as Herbert Agar, William Agar, Ulric Bell, Reverend Henry Hobson, Francis Miller, Henry Van Dusen and James Warburg. Contained in the subject files is information related to many of the broad issues in the swirling isolationist-interventionist debate of 1940–1941, including America First, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, the Hoover Food Plan, Lend-Lease, convoys, France, England, the occupied countries and Wendell Willkie. Additional material within the subject files describes the role of labor organizations and the activities of the Women’s Division and the Youth Division of FFF. The subject files also provide an account of specific FFF events such as the Continental Congress for Freedom, the “Fun to be Free” Rally, the “V for Victory” campaign, and numerous radio programs and broadcasts. Records from the state and local organizations outline the importance of small town leadership, as well as the contributions of newspaper editors.

Introduction to the Collection

American Involvement in the Early Years of World War II, 1939-1941

World War II broke out on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Within two days, Britain and France responded by declaring war on the government of Adolf Hitler. The Soviet Union stood on the sidelines, having signed a nonaggression pact with Germany in late August 1939. This gave Germany carte blanche to annex eastern Poland, the small Baltic states, and strategic parts of Finland. In September 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan formed the Tripartite Pact, an agreement that provided for a ten-year military and economic alliance. Each nation pledged mutual assistance in the event that one of the others was attacked by a party not currently engaged in the conflict--a provision obviously aimed at the United States. By April 1941, Germany had conquered much of Western Europe, including France, Norway, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Only Britain and its empire continued to offer armed resistance, though the British Isles were subjected to major ship sinkings and bombing raids.

During this time, the United States was far from inactive. In September 1939, Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939, which permitted the United States to ship arms to the warring nations, provided that purchases were made in cash. This “cash-and-carry” policy specified that belligerents must transport their goods in their own ships--a provision that favored such seagoing nations as Britain over relatively land-bound powers such as Germany. Furthermore, American ships were banned from war zones specified by the president.

In the wake of France’s surrender in June 1940, the United States undertook more radical measures. On August 2, it established a joint board of defense with Canada. Exactly a month later, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and British ambassador Lord Lothian signed papers transferring fifty American destroyers of World War I vintage to Britain. To avoid a bitter congressional debate, President Franklin D. Roosevelt arranged for the delivery by executive order. In return, the United States acquired ninety-nine-year leases for American bases at such diverse British locales as Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and British Guiana. Conscription was next on the agenda. On September 16, the president signed a bill instituting the first peacetime draft in American history. Introduced by two staunch conservatives, Senator Edward R. Burke (Dem.-Nebraska) and Representative James S. Wadsworth (Rep.-New York), the bill required some 16.5 million American males to register; those inducted would serve in the armed forces for a year, then enter the reserves. Congressional support was two-to-one for the draft, while the polls showed strong support for both the destroyer-bases deal and conscription.

Within four days of the signing of the Tripartite Pact in September 1940, the United States levied an embargo on scrap iron, a material Japan used heavily in making munitions. In March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act; one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in American history, it enabled the United States to send unlimited military supplies to any nation whose defense the president deemed vital to U.S. security.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1941, there was an ongoing and passionate debate over whether the United States should provide naval convoys to conduct the delivery of military supplies. Interventionists claimed that it was pointless to ship materiel to the Allies (primarily to the British, at first) without ensuring the safe arrival of the goods. Foes of the Roosevelt administration feared that convoys would be sunk by German U-boats, thereby forcing the United States, unprepared, into full-scale warfare. In the spring of 1941, without ever conceding that he was paving the way for convoys, Roosevelt began a series of incremental steps; these included arranging to occupy Greenland on April 9, proclaiming a “Western Hemisphere Neutrality Patrol” in the western Atlantic on April 18, and sending troops to Iceland on July 7. Furthermore, on April 14, secret presidential orders went into effect instructing U.S. naval units in the western Atlantic to report the locale of Axis submarines to the British. The U.S. Navy was also ordered to attack any raiders found within twenty-five miles of any British possessions on which the United States had bases.

On May 27, Roosevelt proclaimed an unlimited national emergency, though he did not yet advocate full-scale convoys or the repeal of “cash-and-carry.” On June 10, it was announced that a German submarine had sunk the Robin Moor--a merchant vessel flying the U.S. flag--in the South Atlantic some twenty days earlier. However, no lives were lost. Although Roosevelt accused Germany of “piracy,” he did not use the incident to take more strident measures. Moreover, the administration almost met with defeat when, on August 18, the House of Representatives voted by only a one-vote margin to approve a bill extending the term of draftees from a year to eighteen months. Had the legislation not passed, much of the newly created army would have been in jeopardy.

On June 22, immediately after conquering Yugoslavia and Greece, Hitler aimed for the biggest prize of all--the Soviet Union. Josef Stalin had been caught off guard; his unready army faced some 3.2 million Wehrmacht troops organized into 148 divisions over a battlefield that spread from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea. Though many military experts and much of the American public remained skeptical about the chances for Soviet survival, Roosevelt immediately ruled that the Soviets qualified for lend-lease. In October, Congress approved supplemental shipments.

Later that summer, off the coast of Newfoundland, Roosevelt met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, thus strengthening the U.S. alliance with Britain. On August 14, the two men prepared a manifesto of broad postwar aims later called the Atlantic Charter. Provisions included self-government for “all peoples,” equal access to the world’s trade and raw materials, and “a permanent system of general security”--said system to be established when the war ended. During the conference, respective military subordinates engaged in informal strategic planning.

In the fall of 1941, German U-boats sank three American destroyers--the Greer on September 4, the Kearny on October 17, and the Reuben James on October 30. On September 11, Roosevelt announced that U.S. naval forces would “shoot-on-sight” hostile craft and would escort British convoys three quarters of the way across the Atlantic. Within the month, Roosevelt sought modification of the Neutrality Act of 1939 in order to arm American merchantmen crossing the Atlantic and to permit them to enter belligerent ports. On November 7, the Senate approved the revised act by a vote of 50-27, as did the House six days later by a vote of 212-94. Fifty-nine percent of poll respondents approved of Congress’s action. In spite of his victory, Roosevelt remained cautious and declined to take the initiative.

Relations between the United States and Japan had grown increasingly tense during the summer and fall of 1941. On July 24, Japan occupied Indochina; Roosevelt immediately retaliated by freezing all Japanese credits, thereby bringing trade to a complete halt and cutting Japan off from petroleum, which was essential to its war machine. Early in August, Roosevelt refused a summit meeting with Japanese premier Konoye Fumimaro. In November, Kurusu Saburo--a special envoy from Japan--proposed a three-month cooling-off period, but negotiations remained deadlocked; Japan’s continued occupation of China was a major sticking point for the United States. Finally, on December 7, Japan attacked various American and Allied bases, including those at Pearl Harbor, Manila, Hong Kong, and Malaya. One day later, Congress declared war on Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, thereby propelling the nation into a two-front conflict.

History and Formation of Fight for Freedom

Although the formation of Fight for Freedom (FFF) was not publicly announced until April 1941, the organization was already hard at work, having emerged from an earlier informal body. On June 10, 1940, some thirty prominent individuals throughout the nation signed “A Summons to Speak Out”--a manifesto that called for an immediate declaration of war against Germany. Among the more prominent signers were Henry W. Hobson, Episcopal bishop of southern Ohio; Stringfellow Barr, president of St. John’s College, Annapolis; John L. Balderston, playwright and journalist; Walter Millis, editorial writer of the New York Herald Tribune and author of the revisionist Road to War (1935); Whitney Shepardson, director and treasurer of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); Admiral William H. Standley, retired chief of naval operations; Lewis Mumford, cultural critic; Herbert Agar, an editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in history; Francis P. Miller, organization director of the CFR; and his wife, Helen Hill Miller, executive director of a roundtable study group called the National Policy Committee.

Beginning that June, twenty-eight ardent interventionists met informally at New York’s Century Association, a club for men prominent in business, public affairs, arts, and sciences. The group included Agar, Balderston, Shepardson, Hobson, Standley, and Francis P. Miller. The new members were Henry Pitt Van Dusen, professor of systematic theology at New York’s Union Theological Seminary; Henry Sloane Coffin, Union Theological Seminary’s president; Henry R. Luce, publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune; Geoffrey Parsons, chief editorial writer for the New York Herald Tribune; Harold Guinsburg, president of Viking Press; George Fielding Eliot, CBS commentator and the Herald Tribune’s military columnist; newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop; playwright Robert E. Sherwood; Walter Wanger, general manager of Paramount motion picture studios; radio commentator Elmer Davis; Wall Street banker James P. Warburg; cotton broker Will Clayton; George Watts Hill, business leader from Durham, North Carolina; attorney Frank L. Polk, briefly Woodrow Wilson’s acting secretary of state; Harvard president James Bryant Conant; Dean Acheson, prominent Wall Street attorney and future secretary of state; international lawyer and former diplomat Allen W. Dulles; Ernest M. Hopkins, president of Dartmouth College; Lewis Douglas, president of Mutual Life Insurance and once Roosevelt’s director of the budget; Ulric Bell, Washington correspondent for the Louisville Courier-Journal; Ward Cheney, silk manufacturer; and William Agar, who was both the headmaster of the Newman School in Lakewood, New Jersey and the brother of Herbert Agar.

For months, the unstructured gathering had no official name, being labeled the Century Group after the exclusive New York Club, or the Miller Group after Francis P. Miller, who directed the organization’s New York headquarters. Certain members of this body took on ad hoc leadership roles. Francis P. Miller became the executive director. Meetings were convened by Douglas, the de facto chairman; Bell served as “contact man” for the White House and State Department; and Cheney covered many expenses, which included maintaining a small office in Manhattan.

Fully half of the members also belonged to the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA), a similar advocacy organization formed in May 1940 with the goal of persuading the American public that the United States should supply the Allies with material and financial aid in order to keep out of the war. Although four founding members of the FFF served on the CDAAA’s national policy committee, the far more outspoken FFF advocated U.S. involvement, even at the risk of war. The FFF’s immediate agenda included the pending shipment of World War I destroyers to England, while its more long-term goals involved sending food to Britain and convoying British merchantmen--measures that would hopefully serve to “educate” Americans about the necessity of active participation in the war.

According to Mark Lincoln Chadwin, the major historian of the Century Group, the organization made “important--perhaps indispensable—contributions” to the realization of the destroyer-bases agreement (Chadwin 1968, 74). If the six hundred chapters of the more moderate CDAAA engaged in direct publicity through newspaper ads and radio speeches, the Century Group acted behind the scenes, seeking to rally the Washington elite behind its more ambitious goals. Agar, Cheney, Coffin, and Luce were able to directly approach such figures as Roosevelt, Hull, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Helen Hill Miller personally received a “shopping list” from the British embassy that included not only the destroyers but airplanes, torpedo boats, rifles, and machine guns. The partners in Acheson’s law firm wrote a letter drafted by New Deal attorney Benjamin Cohen and published by the New York Times on August 11; it claimed that the pending destroyer transfer did not violate existing American laws. Douglas helped convince Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie not to attack the destroyer agreement. On August 4, General John J. Pershing gave a radio address endorsing the transfer; his speech had been written by Herbert Agar and New York Herald Tribune columnist Walter Lippmann. Within six days, Admiral Standley endorsed the destroyer shipment and stated that Congress should give the president full authority to dispose of American armed forces as he saw fit. On August 17, upon the inducement of the Century Group, Colonel William J. Donovan, soon to direct the Office of Strategic Services, made a radio broadcast endorsing the Burke-Wadsworth Conscription Bill.

After the destroyer-bases deal was concluded, some of those originally active in the FFF, such as Dulles, drifted away, while others either focused on their original organizations, such as Shepardson of the CFR, or entered government service, as did Acheson. Francis P. Miller returned to full-time work at the CFR, turning over Century Group office operations to Bell. New additions to Century Group leadership included syndicated columnist Robert S. Allen, who replaced Alsop as the group’s “ears” in Washington; Maury Maverick, mayor of San Antonio and former congressman; Conyers Read, historian at the University of Pennsylvania; Michael Williams, special editor of Commonweal; freelance writer Henry Pringle; and New York attorney Wayne Johnson, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. New York advertising executive F. H. Peter Cusick, who soon joined Bell on staff at the New York office, became increasingly important. Even Willkie attended several meetings.

During the fall and winter of 1940-1941, the Century Group kept up its activities, though it operated on a month-to-month basis. Its aims included (1) meeting British requests for major weapons, including flying fortress airplanes and the newly invented Norden bomb sight; (2) training British Commonwealth pilots within the United States; and (3) securing the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, introduced in January 1941, which permitted lending goods to Britain that were to be returned once the war was over. In response to White House requests, the group sought to counter increasing domestic pressure for a negotiated peace in Europe.

In pursuit of its goals, the Century Group strongly attacked the leading anti-interventionist organization, the America First Committee (AFC), a body that had been launched in September 1940. Indeed, the group did everything possible to portray the AFC as Nazi collaborators and dupes. Certain anti-interventionists were singled out for attack, among them Henry Ford, the famed auto manufacturer; Joseph P. Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Britain; and Robert M. Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago. Van Dusen took charge of coordinating attacks on Herbert Hoover’s National Committee on Food for the Small Democracies, an effort to feed the German-occupied nations of Europe, which of necessity would involve some lifting of Britain’s naval blockade of the European continent. The group also opposed providing U.S. supplies to the Vichy government of occupied France.

By this time, however, the Century Group no longer simply played the role of discreet “insider” by exercising a quiet influence on policy makers; it now served as a clearinghouse for more public endeavors--petitions, letters, statements, speeches. For example, in order to spread its message, the group sponsored a series of pamphlets entitled “America in a World at War,” published by Farrar and Rinehart. Several Century Group stalwarts contributed on a variety of topics: Millis proclaimed the faith of an American; Warburg attacked isolationism; Helen Hill Miller outlined U.S. defense concerns; Pringle pushed for preparedness; and William Agar stressed the responsibilities of Roman Catholics and defended the British blockade. Historians James Truslow Adams, Frederick B. Artz, Gordon W. Prange, and Lionel M. Gelber contributed to the series, as did political scientists H. W. Weigert, J. Anton de Haas, William J. Johnstone, Robert K. Gooch, journalist William S. Schlamm, food expert Alonzo E. Taylor, and poet Stephen Vincent Benét.

The Century Group, though influential, had obvious limitations. Lacking the extensive chapter network and broad-based financing of the CDAAA, its activities were based almost entirely in New York City. Its agenda was somewhat diffuse, focusing more on such immediate issues as lend-lease than on the more long-term goal of direct participation in the war. The Century Group would not amalgamate with the CDAAA, which it found to be far too cautious and indecisive. It was particularly dubious about the vacillating leadership of Kansas editor and publisher William Allen White, who, despite causing much controversy, did not step down as CDAAA chairman until New Year’s Day, 1941.

During the winter of 1940-1941, the Century Group engaged in preliminary plans for its own mass organization. The name Fight for Freedom was derived from a declaration drawn by Warburg and presented to the group on January 9, 1941. “We must,” wrote the prominent financier, “be ready if necessary to use our merchant and our naval vessels, our money and our factories, our airplanes and our men.” Carter Glass of Virginia, the eighty-one-year old ultraconservative chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, agreed to serve as honorary chairman. Bishop Hobson accepted the actual chairmanship, thereby becoming the group’s active spokesperson and public leader. The central offices of the FFF, however, remained in New York, rather than in Bishop Hobson’s home town of Cincinnati. The executive committee was chaired by Bell and made up of other pillars of the Century Group--Cheney, Guinzburg, Read, Warburg, Hobson, Dulles, Johnson, Herbert Agar, Francis P. Miller, and Helen Hill Miller. The membership, which included Dorothy Overlock of the Student Defenders of Democracy, investor Marshall Field III, and Mac Kriendler, owner of the famous Manhattan restaurant “21,” was limited to those living near New York City so that the body could assemble quickly. Clearly, those from the “Eastern Establishment” predominated.

Launch and Organization of Fight for Freedom

On April 19, 1941, Fight for Freedom was formally launched. Speaking over nationwide radio on the 166th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, Bishop Hobson announced the formation of the new organization. The clergyman warned that “it is dishonest to engage in a wholesale material support of those fighting to defeat the dictator aggressors who seek to enslave man, without facing and admitting the fact that we are in this war.” The following day, Cusick issued a press release revealing a number of prominent sponsors.

Once the FFF was officially established, its central office, located in Rockefeller Center, was directed by three people. As chairman of the executive committee, Bell was the major policy maker, the individual most responsible for coordinating the efforts of national leaders, and the liaison to the Roosevelt administration. As executive secretary, Cusick was responsible for publicity, day-to-day policy, and office management. In addition, Cusick was often on the road, organizing local chapters. Johnson directed the FFF’s finances, overseeing both solicitations and distribution of funds.

A policy committee (as distinct from the executive committee) of “influentials” served as window dressing. Though prominent in their own locales and often in the national organization as well, committee members were usually far too scattered to attend the weekly New York meetings or to work at national headquarters. Grace Goodhue Coolidge, widow of the thirtieth president, was such a figure, as were the Hollywood actor Melvyn Douglas and the steel executive Clarence B. Randall.

By the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the FFF had established 372 local chapters. These ranged in size from half a dozen people in small rural towns to several thousand members each in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. Chapters were formed in sixty-five major cities, mostly in the coastal regions (the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf coasts). Of the nine states that had statewide organizations, all were located in either the Northeast or the South. National headquarters handpicked the leadership in important cities, while in more modest hamlets, volunteer leaders took the helm. The FFF also engaged in a “Main Street” press service that supplied town newspapers with weekly clip sheets promoting interventionist views.

The relationship between the FFF and the CDAAA was both cooperative and competitive. In May 1941, a CDAAA report noted that two hundred of its chapters had applied for FFF charters. The following month, in New York City, the local chapters of the two organizations merged and became the New York Fight for Freedom Committee to Defend America. Similar mergers took place in Denver and New Orleans; in all these instances, the more militant FFF set the tone. Because Bell and CDAAA chairman Clark Eichelberger held different views, considerable friction remained between the two bodies, yet, by the fall of 1941, the CDAAA and the FFF possessed almost identical campaigns and policies, differing only in aggressiveness and timing. Furthermore, both organizations engaged in massive publishing, advertising, mailing, and speaking programs. Beginning on July 24, the two co-sponsored massive “V for Victory” parades as well as “V” rallies for Americans originally from nations now occupied by the Axis.

In the eight months after its official launch, the FFF raised and spent close to a million dollars. Those who gave over $10,000 included business leader Laurence D. Rockefeller; Mrs. David K. Bruce, wife of a Virginia legislator and former diplomat; and Lucius Littauer, philanthropist and former congressman. Five hundred donations ranged between $100 and $10,000.

The Speakers Bureau was one of the FFF’s most effective units. Directed by George Havell, it sponsored rallies, and by early June 1941, it was supplying speakers for national radio networks several times a week. Major drawing cards included Wendell Willkie, Herbert Agar, mystery writer Rex Stout, and pundit Alexander Woollcott. World War I hero Sergeant Alvin York, actor Burgess Meredith, Colonel William Donovan, labor leader Dan Tobin, poet Carl Sandburg, Interior secretary Harold Ickes, writer Dorothy Parker, and news correspondent Edmond Taylor also addressed FFF audiences, as did such Century Group veterans as James Conant and Maury Maverick. The Speakers Bureau also coordinated more modest efforts, such as small rallies that took place on village greens or local street corners. It gave instructions on how to organize picket lines and how to heckle speakers for America First.

Working closely with the Speakers Bureau was the theater, radio, and arts division, led by Meredith, Kriendler, and actress Helen Hayes. In October, the bureau sponsored a patriotic musical rally, “Fun to Be Free,” written by Irving Berlin, narrated by actress Lynn Fontanne, and featuring such stars as Tallulah Bankhead and Claude Rains. Opening to a audience of seventeen thousand in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the performance then traveled to Washington, St. Louis, and Philadelphia.

The FFF was very successful in gaining support from trade unions. Indeed, its labor division, directed by Abe Rosenfield, was the most effective of all its subsidized units. By the beginning of June 1941, seven major unions were sponsors; by October, twenty-one labor executives and 1,600 shop stewards were backing the FFF’s efforts to repeal the Neutrality Act of 1939. The support of such prominent leaders as Dan Tobin of the Teamsters, Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters helped tremendously, as did the FFF executive committee’s own endorsement of collective bargaining. The FFF created its own “Labor News Service,” which issued a weekly clip sheet to shop stewards and the union press.

A women’s division was formed, as well as a special-interest unit aimed at small businesses and attorneys, but certain other FFF efforts were less successful. In November 1941, two allied student organizations–“First to Fight” Division and Student Defenders of Democracy--merged into the American Youth for Freedom. However, it was difficult to obtain majority support in colleges and universities, given understandable anxieties concerning the draft. Although the Agar brothers hoped to receive widespread Roman Catholic support, it never materialized, nor did the FFF gain much support among African Americans. The FFF established a “Foreign Language Service” that offered selected news items to ethnic newspapers, but in general, the organization left the mobilization of immigrants to already established bodies. Seeking to avoid the anti-German sentiment that prevailed during World War I, it helped bankroll an adjunct body, Loyal Americans of German Descent, whose president was Dean Christian Gauss of Princeton University.

Promoting the Agenda of Fight for Freedom

Once it was officially launched, the FFF quickly pushed for further government intervention on behalf of the Allies. On May 11, 1941, Bell privately urged the administration to declare “a state of emergency” in the event of any of the following: the impairment of British shipping; the Axis’s absorption of Spain or Portugal; German infiltration of Vichy North Africa; or the fascist subversion of Latin America in order to jeopardize Allied access to the Panama Canal. Ten days later, Bishop Hobson publicly cabled Roosevelt, asking “whether or not the time has come for this country to enter the war as a belligerent.” The FFF had nothing but praise for such Roosevelt administration initiatives as occupying Iceland, signing the Atlantic Charter, convoying American ships in the western Atlantic, and levying an embargo on critical materials headed for Japan. Once Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, the FFF endorsed American lend-lease aid to that invaded land, though at no time did it sanction Stalin’s dictatorship or cooperate with the suddenly interventionist U.S. Communist party.

Initially, the FFF paid relatively little attention to Japan, but once it did, it took a confrontational stance. Upon hearing in June 1941 that Japanese warships were moving toward Indochina, Cusick sought “an order to the U.S. Navy to shoot the Japanese destroyers full of holes and keep the Pacific free.” At the same time, the FFF advanced a four-point action program that advocated shoot-on-sight orders, the repeal of the Neutrality Act of 1939, occupation of all strategic Atlantic islands (including St. Pierre, Miquelon, the Canaries, the Azores, and the Cape Verdes), and severance of diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. The FFF organized a “Continental Congress” in Washington, D.C., which took place from October 9 to 10, 1941. This gathering combined the coordination of local chapters with efforts to lobby Congress to repeal the most recent neutrality legislation.

Like its predecessor, the Century Group, the FFF blasted leading major anti-interventionists. Aviator Charles Lindbergh, America First chairman General Robert E. Wood, Congressman Hamilton Fish, and senators Burton K. Wheeler and Gerald P. Nye received particular scorn. The FFF accused Lindbergh of pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic sympathies after a speech he gave in Des Moines on September 11. The FFF charged Wheeler, Nye, and Fish with allowing Nazi propaganda to be disseminated under their congressional franking privilege and claimed that General Wood voiced Hitler’s views on the invasion of Russia. In addition to rallying support for the movie industry when Wheeler and Nye proposed a congressional investigation of “pro-war” films, the FFF encouraged millionaire Marshall Field III to launch the Chicago Sun in order to counter the influence of the anti-interventionist Chicago Tribune.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, the FFF's first reaction was to push for an immediate declaration of war against Germany and Italy as well. Four days later, Hitler took the initiative by declaring war on the United States, thus ending the need to arouse public and congressional sympathy. With the country at war on two fronts, the FFF felt that it was no longer needed; on December 17, the executive committee formally decided to disband. Some staff members, such as William Agar, became part of New York’s Freedom House, a coordinating body for liberal interventionists.

Significance of the Organization

According to Chadwin, the FFF maintained close ties with the White House (Chadwin 1968, 201-02). Although much communication took place by way of the telephone or through unofficial channels, the FFF also sent Roosevelt many telegrams and letters; these have been preserved in the FFF archives and are available in the microfilm edition. While Roosevelt himself found it expedient to keep his distance from the organization, intermediaries continually served as liaison. In an interview with Cusick, Chadwin learned that the FFF’s New York office was on the phone daily with Roosevelt’s press secretary, Steve Early, and with Edwin (“Pa”) Watson, secretary to the president. Early would leak Roosevelt’s off-the-record press conferences to Bell. Administration officials--Early, Watson, unofficial aide David K. Niles, and presidential assistant Lowell Mellett--treated the FFF as an unofficial propaganda agency; they also suggested both staff and speakers. In September 1941, the FFF heeded presidential appeals to postpone its demands for a declaration of war.

Chadwin claims that advertisements, news releases, and speeches by the FFF “probably acclimated the public to possible future policies”--among them convoying and shoot-on-sight--in the same way that the CDAAA had paved the way for the destroyer transfer of September 1941. Hence, when Roosevelt sought to justify his measures to the public, he found an audience already “educated” to the issues involved (Chadwin 1968, 206). Certainly, FFF activities helped undermine popular belief in a Fortress America.

Nonetheless, the influence of the FFF had its limits. While the organization could mobilize support for Roosevelt’s concrete measures, thus showing Congress that a sizable segment of the public backed the president, it could never convert public opinion to its primary aim--direct participation in the war. Though the FFF considered each new incident on the high seas—the sinking of the Kearny and the Reuben James—to be a compelling reason to declare war, polls always showed at least eighty percent of the public to be opposed to outright intervention. The public favored all-aid-short-of-war but feared the casualties and regimentation that all-out war would bring.

Importance of the Collection

In his memoirs, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. writes that in a lifetime spanning eight decades, he finds no debate as impassioned as that of 1939-1941 (Schlesinger 2000, 241). The Fight for Freedom papers, together with Princeton’s CDAAA manuscripts, unquestionably comprise the most valuable collection of primary source documents on the interventionist side of that argument. The FFF and CDAAA collections are the counterparts of the anti-interventionist America First Committee. The complete records of Fight for Freedom, available in this microfilm edition, contain national, state, and local records. Throughout the collection, one finds material that sheds new light on many aspects of Roosevelt’s policies. The Fight for Freedom Archives offer an invaluable record of one of the most vigorous action groups ever to appear in the United States.

The collection will prove especially useful to political scientists, historians, sociologists, and specialists in the area of communications. Historians of U.S. politics and foreign relations will appreciate the fresh material on the destroyer-bases deal, the Lend-Lease Act, the use of convoys, and the 1941 revision of the Neutrality Act of 1939. For those researching mass opinion-making and economic elites, the FFF records contain correspondence from people from all walks of life who were active in the group or supportive of its agenda. The collection also offers extensive material on propaganda techniques. For those interested in decision-making processes within pressure groups, the collection is replete with internal memoranda. For those curious about student activism during the prewar period, the collection provides heretofore unseen materials from the academic sphere. For those concerned with the role of American Christianity, there is data on both Protestant and Catholic attitudes toward the impending war.

There are several significant examples: Series 1, Correspondence, contains voluminous correspondence revealing the efforts of the Agar brothers, Bell, and Bishop Hobson, whose roles were crucial in administrating the FFF. Series 2, Subject Files, contains unique material on the America First Committee, including a memo offering a critical rundown of members of its national committee. The Subject Files contain materials on CDAAA and illuminate the key role of labor organizations in the interventionist movement. Researchers will also find material on the highly active Speakers Bureau. In short, to understand the interventionist movement of 1940-1941, the Fight for Freedom Archive is a key collection of important primary source materials not available elsewhere—materials that serious scholars must research.


  1. Browder, Robert Paul and Thomas G. Smith. 1986. Independent: A Biography of Lewis W. Douglas. New York: Knopf.

  2. Chadwin, Mark Lincoln. 1968. The Hawks of World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

  3. Doenecke, Justus D. 2000. Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.

  4. Johnson, Walter. 1944. The Battle against Isolation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  5. Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. 2000. A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

  6. Schneider, James C. 1989. Should America Go to War? The Debate over Foreign Policy in Chicago, 1939-1941. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

  7. Schwar, Jane Harriet. 1973. Interventionist Propaganda and Pressure Groups in the United States, 1937-1941. Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University.

Justus D. Doenecke

Professor of History (Emeritus)

New College of Florida

Editorial Note

The records of Fight for Freedom, Inc., Archives, 1922-1942 are housed in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University.

Organization of Materials

The materials were filmed as found. Files are generally organized in ascending or descending chronological order, following the organization of the collection by the Princeton archivist. When there is more than one file with the same title, the files in the microfilm edition have been numbered consecutively—e.g. Hoover Food Plan 1, Hoover Food Plan 2.


This guide lists materials in the order in which they appear on the reels. The date or dates listed on the record of each folder refer to the inclusive dates of materials that are included in the microfilm edition. Although the bulk of the materials are dated 1939-1942, some relevant items date from as early as 1922.

Notice of Unfilmed Materials

Materials excluded from this microfilm edition are noted in the entry for the file in which they are housed. These materials are available to researchers who use the collection on site at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University. Files excluded in their entirety are also listed in this collection guide. These files are available to researchers who use the collection on site at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. These materials could not be microfilmed for one of two reasons:

Research Need

Certain materials were not microfilmed largely because of their relatively low priority with respect to academic research needs. Examples of such materials include files entitled Local Press Surveys, which appear in the series on State and Local Organizations; these surveys consist of a standardized form which was completed for local newspapers, giving the paper’s size, advertising rates, location, etc. Local press correspondence is, however, included in the microfilmed collection.

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