Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

April 25, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: Steve [Early] says there isn't anything—any formality, or anything to talk about today.

Q. Mr. President, three strong speeches were made yesterday by three Cabinet officers—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Three?

Q. Yes, Secretary Hull, Secretary Knox, and Secretary Wickard.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, is that so?

Q. (continuing) About possible advances in foreign policy, and greater aid and more initiative, etc. Would you comment, sir, on this?

THE PRESIDENT: I think they speak for themselves pretty clearly:and for the great majority of the American people.

Q. And also for you, sir?


Q. Mr. President, the newspapers this morning generally seem to regard these speeches as indicating that it may soon be necessary to resort to an extended use of the Navy in protecting the "bridge of ships." Would you consider that a fair interpretation of the speeches?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think that we had better talk about interpretations. I think we had better confine ourselves to facts, and I am sorry, but I have to make a liar out of a lot of people—some of them in this room. What—I will tell you how.

In September, 1939, about a year and a half ago, the whole subject of hemisphere defense came up, as we know. And at that time, because of the conditions surrounding the outbreak of the war—in other words, a complete failure to adhere to international law, a surprise invasion, which was followed by other surprise attacks on peaceful Nations—at that time there was instituted by the Western Hemisphere what is known as a patrol, and that patrol extended on all sides of the hemisphere as necessary at the time. Of course, nobody here knows geography. People said it was 300 miles off-shore. It wasn't. It was a patrol that was carried out partly by the American Navy, partly by other American ships, off what was then considered a reasonable limit, depending on where it was. A lot of very careless people called it 300 miles. If you went over to the eastern shore of Maryland, you would have found for the past year and a half that that patrol was extended a thousand miles out to sea at that point. It was maintained as a patrol for such distances as seemed advisable, in view of the conditions at the time. That patrol has been extended from time to time in different places. Some places it has been pulled in, depending entirely on the conditions and the locations on any given duty. That was a patrol. It was nota convoy.

I think some of you know what a horse looks like. I think you also know what a cow looks like. If, by calling a cow a horse for a year and a half, you think that that makes the cow a horse, I don't think so. Now, that's pretty plain language. You can't turn a cow into a horse by calling it something else; calling it a horse it is still a cow. Now this is a patrol, and has been a patrol for a year and a half, still is, and from time to time it has been extended, and is being extended, and will be extended—the patrol- for the safety of the Western Hemisphere.

Q. Could you tell us, sir, how far it may possibly go?

THE PRESIDENT: That is exactly the question I hoped you would ask. As far on the waters of the seven seas as may be necessary for the defense of the American hemisphere.

Q. Mr. President—

Q. (interposing) Will there be any extension of its functions?


Q. Could you define its functions?

THE PRESIDENT: Its function is protection of the American hemisphere.

Q. By belligerent means?

THE PRESIDENT: Protection of the American hemisphere.

Q. Mr. President, does that include the protection of shipping, that is —

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Protection of the American hemisphere.

Q. Mr. President, just what—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Now you can't —. Just what? What do you mean, just what? [No answer] The point of it is the protection of the American hemisphere, and will be so used as it has been for the past year and a half. Now I can't tell you what is going to happen.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us the difference between a patrol and a convoy?

THE PRESIDENT: You know the difference between a cow and a horse?

Q. Yes, I know the difference.

THE PRESIDENT: All right, there is just as much difference. Just exactly as much difference.

Q. Is there more patrolling against—

THE PRESIDENT: The point is the protection of the merchant convoy-the escorting of merchant ships in a group to prevent an act of aggression against that group of merchant ships under escort. A patrol is a reconnaissance—I think that is the word—of certain areas of ocean to find out whether there is any possibly aggressive ship within that area, or areas, or the whole of the ocean, which might be coming toward the Western Hemisphere, or into the Western Hemisphere.

Now one thing that will occur to you as being, just as you say, a rule of common sense—back there in 1939 the area of the patrol on the Atlantic was nearer, because there didn't seem to be any danger of an attack on places like Bermuda or Newfoundland, or Greenland, or Trinidad, or Brazil. The events, however, in the later period of the war show that such attack is more possible today than it was then. We have, incidentally, some rather valuable American lives and American property at various points that we didn't have in 1939. Again Greenland, Newfoundland, Bermuda, Newfoundland, Bermuda, and the obligation that we have under the Monroe Doctrine for the protection of Canada against any other non-American Nation. That's old stuff. Then you have got other islands, the Bahamas, Antigua, and all the West Indies, Trinidad, British Guiana, which were not an American possession a year and a half ago. Today they are. Those bases, those points—

Q. (interposing) Mr. President—

THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) It's a little bit like what I was talking about to one of the Senators over the telephone today. He happened to come from the West, and it's rather a good simile. In the old days a wagon train across the plains—of course it had its immediate guard around it, that was perfectly true—but it didn't go—it didn't move across the plains unless it got reports from a long ways—200 to 300 miles off. It was not felt safe to wait until the Indians got two miles away before you saw them. It was advisable, if possible, to find out if the Indians were 200 miles away.

Q. Mr. President—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I think the simile probably is a useful one.

Q. Mr. President, if this patrol should discover some apparently aggressive ships headed toward the Western Hemisphere, what would it do about it?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me know. (Loud laughter)

Q. Mr. President, has this Government any idea of escorting convoys?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, and that, I am afraid, will be awfully bad news to some of you.

Q. Is there any better plan?


Q. Has it any better system?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you remember Mr. Bairnsfather. [English cartoonist in World War I, whose celebrated character Old Bill said to his worried friend in a shell-hole, "If you know a better 'ole, go to it."]

Q. Mr. President, to some of us who read those speeches of the Cabinet officers, they seem to be concerned about the delivery of aid to Britain. How does this tie in with that?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, it's a new one on me. . . .

Q. Mr. Secretary, could you tell us—(Loud laughter) could you tell us whether these patrol ships have any instructions as to the action they should take, in the event there was an attack in nearby—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I can't tell you where they are because the next question would be just where are they, and just where are they going tomorrow. You see?

Q. Mr. President, does this extension of patrol involve an}, revision of the so-called Pan-American Security Zone?


Q. No connection?


Q. Mr. President, are we doing anything special, with any—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Just an extension. After all, it's just what has been going on for a year and a half. Now, that will answer all your questions. . . .

CONSTANTINE BROWN: Mr. President, last week you said that people in this country are not quite aware of the gravity of the situation. Would you care to amplify that a little bit?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think so, Constantine, without some further thought about it beforehand. Perhaps I could put it as one little thought to throw out.

There are people in this country, I am sorry to say I can't recognize any faces here, but some in this room- who are adopting a rather curious attitude, which I should say hadn't been thought through. These people say out of one side of the mouth, "No, I don't like it, I don't like dictatorship," and then out of the other side of the mouth, "Well, it's going to beat democracy, it's going to defeat democracy, therefore I might just as well accept it." Now, I don't call that good Americanism. I am not mentioning any names but that attitude is held by a minority in this country. It's just the same way—I read an editorial on Monday, or something like that the other day—which said in effect, Why, we have always had conquerors all through the history of the world, and Alexander the Great who tried to conquer all the known world, he was not satisfied to stay at home—where was it, Macedonia?-he went out and tried to conquer lots of people he never saw before, just to add to his empire. He was not satisfied with his own people, his own flesh and blood.

And there was another fellow called Caesar. He was not satisfied with the Rome of his day, and went out to conquer the whole of Europe and North Africa, and the Near East, and so forth and so on. And then there were, according to this mentality—there were two other conquerors—one was Cromwell, who conquered England, and the other one was George Washington, who conquered America. (Laughter) Now, any mentality that lumps George Washington and Cromwell with Caesar and Napoleon—oh, yes, Napoleon—Napoleon and Alexander the Great—well, all I can say is I am awfully sorry that people with those mentalities are in such high places that they can write or talk at all. It's just dumb.

Now, coming back to this mythical person in our midst who takes the attitude that dictatorships are going to win anyway, I think that is almost equally dumb, because I am "agin" them, and everybody else in this country- the overwhelming majority are "agin" them. We will fight for the democratic process, and that's all. We are willing to fight for the democratic process. I don't want to lie down and say, "Dictatorship is inevitable. We have got to do the best we can. We have got to make our peace. We have got to yield to the demands of the dictatorship because it has the military might to win." I don't think along those lines, and neither do you. . . .

If you go back to the roster of the Army in the Civil War —we called on people there from liberty-loving people on both sides- both the Confederates and the North; and from outside this country we had people fighting for us because they believed in it. On the other hand, the Confederacy and the North let certain people go. In other words, in both armies there were—what shall I call them?—there were Vallandighams [Ohio's Clement L. Vallandigham, leader of the "Copperheads" in the Civil War].

Well, Vallandigham, as you know, was an appeaser. He wanted to make peace from 1863 on because the North "couldn't win." Once upon a time there was a place called Valley Forge and there were an awful lot of appeasers that pleaded with Washington to quit, because he "couldn't win." Just because he "couldn't win." See what Tom Paine said at that time in favor of Washington keeping on fighting!

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: It's worth reading.

Q. Wasn't it, "These are the times that try men's souls?"

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that particular paragraph. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives