Friday, December 22, 2017

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived in Washington, D.C., on December 22, 1941.  The United States had recently entered World War II, which had been raging for more than two years.  Churchill, who had long courted Franklin Roosevelt, now wanted to craft wartime strategy.  It was a memorable visit.

Churchill and his high-level staff decamped to the nation’s capital for three weeks, including an important political trip to Ottawa and vacation time in Florida.  The prime minister smoked, drank and plotted with the president.  The two men got along well although each had his own agenda.  Eleanor Roosevelt was less enthusiastic about her high-maintenance house guest whose personal habits could be taxing.

The two leaders celebrated Christmas together, including lighting the tree at the White House South Portico with a crowd assembled below them.  Both attended Christmas services and celebrated with a turkey dinner.  Churchill also spoke to an enthusiastic Congress where he mixed humor with serious comments on the war.  The prime minister, whose mother was American, began by telling the lawmakers that “if my father had been an American, and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have gotten here on my own.”

This was third time that Churchill and Roosevelt had met.  The first was in 1917, but FDR did not remember it.  Their next meeting was to talk and draft the Atlantic Charter near Newfoundland in August 1941.  The Christmastime meeting was the solidifying of a friendship.  While Churchill was the junior partner in the relationship—the longtime suitor of the more powerful nation—and Roosevelt would wax and wane on his support of British interests, the two men’s work was essential to the allied war effort.

Photograph of Winston Churchill before a joint session of Congress, December 26, 1941, is from the Library of Congress and is in the public domain.


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