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During the political and public speculation that followed Harry Woodring’s resignation as Secretary of War, Woodring and President Franklin Roosevelt continued their fiery correspondence. Woodring had not taken kindly to President Franklin’s letter from June 25th, 1940 (five days after Woodring had sent in his forced resignation), in which Roosevelt had intended to set the record straight regarding the issue of the B-17 flying fortress bombers. Roosevelt insisted that the bombers that had been arranged for transfer to Great Britain were old and in need of replacement, and therefore did not weaken the American defense. Woodring obviously disagreed. But Woodring’s dismissal had very little to do with the B-17s. At issue – more than anything else – was whether the United States would eventually enter the fray of World War II.
In this snarky, nine-line rebuttal, written on June 30th, Woodring insists that Roosevelt was in the wrong and simply trying to gloss over a bad deal. Woodring claims that he was pressured into agreeing to transfer four restored bombers – neither old nor obsolete – to England. Even further, he accuses Roosevelt of going along with Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and Roosevelt’s senior military aide Edwin “Pa” Watson. Woodring reasons, according to the military general staff and Watson himself, that the bombers were anything but obsolete and in fact were needed for the defense of Panama and its crucial canal waterway.
Newspapers across the country carried front-page coverage of the spat between Roosevelt and Woodring. Woodring told reporters that he would leave Washington “as fast as I can” based on the theory that “every ‘ex’ ought to get out of Washington in 24 hours if possible.” But he maintained an even keel. The former governor of Kansas said, “I am not unhappy. You can be assured of that. Mrs. Woodring and I have been looking forward to settling down on our farm near Topeka.” Newspapers also reprinted the entirety of Roosevelt’s letter of acceptance of Woodring’s resignation. However, the White House refused to release Woodring’s letter of resignation.
Isolationist legislators had taken up Woodring’s cause, ostensibly to defend his honor, though in actuality to mount a campaign against Roosevelt and the possibility of military intervention. Some wanted Woodring to testify to Congress about his dismissal since the details of his resignation remained shrouded in mystery. The matter was taken up by the Senate Military Affairs Committee on July 2 during the committee’s confirmation of Harry Stimson as Secretary of War.
The committee overwhelmingly approved of Stimson and voted 11-5 to reject a motion by Senator Edwin Johnson (D-CO) to call Woodring to appear and answer questions. Several members successfully argued that what happened between the president and a cabinet member was private and personal. Nevertheless, according to the Baltimore Sun, “It was urged that the committee ought to have before it Mr. Woodring’s resignation letter which the White House withheld from publication as ‘too personal.’” The committee thus voted 11-7 to adopt a motion by Senator John Thomas (R-ID) to instruct the chair, Morris Sheppard (D-TX), to send Woodring a letter that said the committee would be glad to hear from him if he wanted to be heard. Although Woodring declined to appear before the committee, he did continue to publicly challenge Roosevelt policies in the months to follow, especially compulsory military service.
Woodring went on to become an active member of the notorious America First Committee, the non-interventionist pressure group that sought to deny any aid to the Allies. At its height, the Committee had roughly 800,000 members, which reflected broad public sympathy, and included the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and Senator Gerald Nye. But the Committee also has the stain of anti-Semitism. It had to remove two outspoken anti-Semites from its executive committee: the automaker Henry Ford and the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee Avery Brundage. Lindbergh is the Committee’s most recognizable spokesperson, remembered especially for his September 1941 speech in Des Moines, IA.
Only months before the onslaught of the Final Solution, Lindbergh told the Des Moines audience, “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.” The Committee dissolved following the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The Shakespearean line that Woodring jotted on an envelope on June 30 seems a fitting thought: “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
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THE WHITE HOUSE
PENALTY FOR PRIVATE USE TO AVOID
PAYMENT OF POSTAGE $300
Honorable Harry H. Woodring,
The Shoreham Hotel.
Not a word of this is true
It is a crawfish to work out of a hole & to make a phony record to clear them of what they know to have been an infamous deal.