The Lend Lease Act: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 and how it affected the U.S. involvement in World War II. When you're done, take the quiz and see what you've learned.

Some Background

The U.S. had followed a policy of non-intervention since the nineteenth century. That is, if a conflict didn't involve the U.S., the U.S. didn't get involved. The country had tried to stay out of World War I, but when U.S. citizens had been killed while shipping arms to Britain aboard the Lusitania, Congress had had no choice.

The Neutrality Acts

By 1935, Hitler had come to power and was threatening other European countries by building up his military and taking land. The world could see that war might be coming, so the U.S. passed a series of four Neutrality Acts. They varied slightly, but were mainly designed to keep the U.S. out of war by keeping U.S. citizens away from any place that might be dangerous.

The 1935 act prohibited any trading of arms with countries at war. In 1936, it was made illegal for any U.S. company to give loans or credit to a nation at war. The 1937 act prohibited any trading with nations at war or in a civil war. No citizens of a nation at war could travel on a U.S. ship, and no U.S. citizen could travel on a ship whose country was at war. But, the President could sell arms and ammunition to a warring country on a cash and carry basis. That is, as long as a country could pay for what they wanted and arrange for it to be shipped they could have it. The 1939 act renewed the cash and carry policy.

The Lend-Lease Act

Great Britain took advantage of the cash and carry policy to bring equipment back to Britain. But during 1940, it endured the 'Battle of Britain', spending most of its money and liquidating most of its assets to survive the battle. By 1941, Britain could no longer pay for cash and carry.

Germany would continue to conquer long after 1939
German territories in 1942

But that was o.k., because by 1941, a majority of U.S. citizens had seen the dangers posed by the future Axis powers. Germany had conquered France, Norway, Belgium, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Italy had conquered Ethiopia and was attacking Egypt. Japan had taken large sections of Asia. The only countries holding them back were Britain, Russia, and China. Many U.S. citizens could see the danger and were more than willing to give money and arms to other countries to avoid the fighting themselves.

The Lend-Lease Act of 1941 allowed the U.S. to lend money and lease war materials to any nation at war. It gave President Roosevelt the ability to fund all three Allied nations and provide them with the war materials necessary to continue fighting.

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