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Crafting a Call to Arms: FDR’s Day of Infamy Speech

In the early afternoon of December 7, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt was just finishing lunch in his oval study on the second floor of the White House, preparing to work on his stamp album.

The phone rang, and he was informed that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, shortly before 1 p.m. Washington time, 8 a.m. Hawaii time.

“It was just the kind of unexpected thing the Japanese would do. At the very time they were discussing peace in the Pacific, they were plotting to overthrow it,” he remarked to his assistant.

Roosevelt delivers the "Day of Infamy" speech to a joint session of Congress on December 8, 1941. To the right, in uniform, is Roosevelt's son James, who escorted his father to the Capitol. Seated in the back are Vice President Henry Wallace and Speaker Sam Rayburn.

For the rest of that afternoon, Roosevelt and his advisers were busy at the White House receiving fragmentary reports about the damage to U.S. installations, ships, and planes in Hawaii.

Security was increased around the White House, and plans were under way for a bomb shelter for the President underneath the nearby Treasury Department building. Across the nation, news of the attack spread by radio and word of mouth, and Americans began thinking about what life in a nation at war was going to be like.… [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Please Pass the Leftovers

A wartime poster encourages the use of leftovers (ARC 515949)

The National Archives current marquee exhibit, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?”, is drawing some good crowds and public press. It’s showing in our main building in downtown Washington through Jan. 3, 2012.

It’s all about how the Government has tried through the decades to dictate, or influence, what we should eat and why we should eat something from each food group each day. And dear Uncle kept changing the food groups. For a while, we had the food wheel, then came the food pyramid. Now we have the food plate — each of them divided into groups we were supposed to eat from each day.

One food group always left out is “Leftovers.”  We have no guidance on how much leftovers to eat each day.

When I was growing up in rural Missouri, leftovers were a staple at the supper table. Of course, there were leftovers from Thanksgiving and Christmas–turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey soup, and so on. Or just plain turkey all over again. 

We ate a lot of leftovers at our house. But I remember especially Mom’s tuna casserole.  Not many leftovers on that. She always made one when I came home from college on weekends. By the time I left a day or so later, there wasn’t a morsel to be found.

Actually, casseroles and other things like that, … [ Read all ]

Waiting All Night for a Look at History

The line to see the Emancipation Proclamation could mean a wait of six hours. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

Americans are used to waiting in line for things they really want: tickets to a rock concert, a World Series game or a controversial new movie, for example.

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, this week some people  waited all night for a brief look at one of the nation’s most historic documents — the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The Proclamation was on display for 36 hours in conjunction with the showing at the museum of NARA’s “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit, which is on display there through September 5, before moving on to Houston and Nashville.

The Emancipation Proclamation, part of the National Archives’ holdings,  is displayed very infrequently and for short periods because of its fragile condition, which exposure to light can worsen, and the need to preserve the document for future generations.  On display in Dearborn were only two of the five pages and a replica of the front page; the document is double-sided.

Visitors had only a 36-hour window for a chance to see the document. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

With this historic document on display, the Henry Ford Museum got one of the biggest turnouts ever.  The 36 hours began at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, and ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday, June 22.

Press accounts reported that there … [ Read all ]

Meatloaf by candlelight? Not for this President.


Like most boys from Missouri, Harry Truman developed simple tastes in food as he was growing up—especially things like his mother’s fried chicken and that great American budget-friendly staple, meatloaf.

According to the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, the 33rd President also liked corn bread with Missouri sorghum, all kinds of fowl, and Ozark pudding, which included chopped apples and nuts. (The Boss, that’s Mrs. Truman, had a special recipe for this.) Truman preferred chocolate cake to white cake, but the exception was angel food cake (and why not!).

Several accounts from that period agree that Truman really hated onions and could not be fooled into eating them. He could detect the smallest amount of onions in a dish and would just push that dish aside.

Once in the White House, however, meals became a more formal and ritualized experience for Truman.

In November 1949, Mrs. Truman was back in Independence, leaving the President alone in the “Great White Jail,” as he called the White House.  And alone for meals.

When mealtime came, a White House butler announced dinner, and Truman would head to the dining room and be helped into his chair by another butler. In his diary for November 1, Truman provides an account of how butlers waited on him hand and foot while he ate alone by candelight.

Early in the 1960s, with Mrs. Truman at his side laughing, the former President read the … [ Read all ]

“You’re Fired!”

Proposed orders to dismiss Gen. Douglas MacArthur, April 11, 1951 (Truman Library; ARC 201516)

Proposed orders to dismiss Gen. Douglas MacArthur, April 11, 1951 (Truman Library; ARC 201516)

Harry S. Truman was never really fond of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, especially after their frosty 1950 Wake Island meeting in the Pacific while the Korean War raged.

Things had not gone particularly well since the North Koreans invaded South Korea in late June 1950. By October, South Korean troops had pushed across the 38th parallel, but there were warnings that the Chinese would enter the war. The general discounted the warnings and predicted he could send large numbers of troops home by Christmas. In late November, hundreds of thousands of Chinese roared into South Korea.

But in early 1951, MacArthur handed Truman a reason to get rid of him. Insubordination—publicly criticizing American policy in interviews and public statements.

MacArthur had even written a letter, in which he criticized Truman’s handling of the war, to Joseph Martin, the House Republican leader. Martin read it on the floor of the House. For Commander-in-Chief Truman, this was the final straw.

The President, suspecting MacArthur might see that his days were numbered and resign before he could act, moved quickly, announcing the dismissal at 1 a.m. on April 11, 1951:

“With deep regret, I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the … [ Read all ]