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In case you didn't notice, this text is a law, widely known as the most boring kind of thing you could ever read. All the emotional appeals and arguments of authority involved in the debate on the floors of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in the committee rooms, and in the media don't explicitly show up in the text of a law, though they certainly sculpt its logic and which provisions make it through the process and which are cut out.
But when you read a finished law, you're seeing the final product of debate, discussion, and compromise, in supremely "logical" form. Laws have to be very specific, often to the point of absurdity. The Lend-Lease Act was actually pretty short n' sweet, though if this is your first legalese rodeo, maybe that's not much comfort.
Oh, legal documents. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em, but like death and taxes, you can't avoid them.
In a way, this isn't the worst thing. Legal docs like laws and acts help to keep societies orderly (even if sometimes things get a little too orderly.)
The Lend-Lease Act is no exception to this rule. Given the circumstances of balancing American isolationism with the needs of the British and the threat of the Germans, it was actually kind of pulling double duty when it came to keeping things in line, making it the best example of this rule. The structure of Lend-Lease reflects its necessity to be precise and toe the line.
Like most legal documents, it's divided into sections that themselves contain subsections. For example, we have Section 5, which is broken down into paragraphs "a" and "b." Not so tricky. However, there are other sections that require a bit of specificity when it comes to what is being explained. Then things get a little more complicated. For example, part "a" of section 3 has additional sub-sections 1-5—and some of those subsection also contain numbers.
While this may seem like the authors intended to confuse the bejeezus out of anyone who didn't have a fancy international law degree, the opposite is actually true. The government officials who drafted the Lend-Lease Act included all of these subsection breakdowns to make sure that what they were trying to say was absolutely crystal clear. All of those paragraphs within paragraphs and special clauses were intended to prevent any creative interpretations of the document from undermining its true purpose.
Oh, hey. This section is brief (some might even say terse) introduction to the text. What it lacks in being warm and fuzzy, it makes up for by being super direct. It not only tells us what the bill is called ("An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States"), but it also straight up tells us that it's a bill. The title is pretty self-explanatory, too.
This act is going to talk about some specific issues, and in doing so, it's gonna define some specific terms. Section 2 is all about making sure everyone is clear about what "Defense Articles" and "Defense Information" actually references. Ironically, the definitions of both were written in such a way that basically anything and everything could fall into one or the other category.
This hefty chunk covers a lot of territory.
First, it give the president the authority to order delivery of provisions and war materials to nations that are fighting the Axis powers. It does not give the president free rein to willy-nilly send yo-yos and pickles as gag gifts to Britain and Russia (Stalin wasn't known for his great sense of humor). No, instead he has to first get the okay from his buds, the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Naval Operations of the Navy (or both).
This section also sets a cap on the amount of money the President can spend on this endeavor (a cool $1.3 billion). The government's pockets aren't bottomless, after all. They're just really deep. This president is also giving permission to share special information with other nations that would normally be classified, and he's given the responsibility to arrange Lend-Lease deals with other nations however he sees fit.
However, just like the funds are limited, so is the duration of the Lend-Lease Act. We have two dates presented here. The first is an expiration date for the bill itself, which is June 30th, 1943. The second is an expiration date for the deals that the president makes with other nations, which is July 1st, 1946.
Finally, the writers of this act slip in a couple of important clauses to make sure the U.S. isn't accidentally dragged into war.
This part is just simple courtesy. It states that the war supplies delivered to a specify nation must be used by that nation and not passed onto a third-party nation no matter how much they like sloppy seconds.
When you're shipping, oh, guns and stuff, it's probably a good idea to keep track of everything.
This section requires that both the agencies that are shipping off goods, and the president himself, take responsibility for knowing and reporting everything that is delivered to another nation as part of Lend-Lease. That is, unless it's a secret.
This part says that once the money for this "project to save the world" has been allocated, it's there to be used for, well, saving the world. If any money happens to be made, it filters back into the kitty.
A basic but important inclusion, Section 7 ensure that patent protected materials used in the war will remain legally protected, and the respective patent holders will receive payment for the use of their designs.
Once the U.S. is in cahoots with a nation through Lend-Lease, it is allowed to buy and sell war materials with and to that nation as needed.
In a way, this section suggests that maybe Lend-Lease is kind of an experiment because, despite the restrictions on his power, the president is given permission to change and improve the conditions of Lend-Lease as the war develops.
Remember those Neutrality Acts? Yeah, they're not over, and nor is this Act a violation of their terms, because no one is declaring war here. No siree, nope. It's just a reconsideration of some of its restrictions so that the U.S. can give guns and bombs away like candy to the Allies.
If your toe is broken, does that mean the rest of you stops working? No. Same logic applies here—if, for some reason, part of the Lend-Lease Act ends up being a rotten spot, it's no problem, because the rest of it is still legit.
We mention over in the Tough-o-Meter section that the language of this document is a startlingly poetic style known as legalese. It's dry, it's super-duper official, and it plays fast and loose with punctuation. The interesting thing about Lend-Lease is, however, that it uses legalese to basically allow the president to have his cake and eat it too.
On the one hand, it sets up very strict rules, like requiring the president to confer with the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Naval Operations of the Navy before supplying a foreign nation with weapons. On the other, it loosens up on those rules when it gives the president the power to strike a deal with a foreign nation in whatever way he wants, like in Section 2, or change of the rules of the game partway through, like in Section 10.
Perhaps it should be called: "legal-ease."
"An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States," informally known as the "Lend-Lease Act," is a law (or Act) written, believe it or not, with the intent to promote the safety (or Defense) of the U.S. by lending (in reality pretty much giving) arms and war supplies to whichever nation the President decided needed them, in exchange for the lease of military bases around the world or whatever the President thought was fair (really).
The "Lend-Lease Act" is easier to remember and more to the point, as the lending and leasing was how the defense of the United States was to be "promoted."
A Bill. Further to promote the defense of the United States, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as "An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States. (1)
This is just introducing the basic concept of the law and giving its official title. Phrases like, "be it enacted," or "Congress assembled," are old forms of syntax that are used in legal documents, partially because they allow more complex ideas and sentences, but also probably because they make the Senators and Representatives feel more important and fancy.
Whatever gets you through the day, right?
SEC. 11 . If any provision of this Act or the application of such provision to any circumstance shall be held invalid, the validity of the remainder of the Act and the applicability of such provision to other circumstances shall not be affected thereby.
Approved, March 11, 1941. (11)
This is a fairly standard kind of legal statement that protects a law from being dismantled by a successful legal challenge of a small part or single section. Basically, if something about the law is found unconstitutional, illegal, or superseded by another statute, that's the only part that is invalidated. The rest of it stands.
Then, of course, is the date of approval, which is when the President signed the bill, making it officially a law.
If you're a law school graduate, then this text is a piece of cake. A cakewalk. (Although, if you think about it, it'd be pretty hard to walk on cake.)
But chances are you're not a law grad and don't spend your downtime perusing statutory compendiums and whatnot, so this text is tricky to actually read without slipping into a daydream about FDR having mind control powers like Dr. Xavier from X-Men and using it on Stalin…for instance.
Turns out Congress likes to make sure its laws are super specific so they know exactly what they're signing off on. And they've made a special jargon for that very purpose, commonly known as legalese.
The exact definition of each word in the text isn't as important as the general effects and consequences the Act had in the real world. So you might be able to get away with not understanding every last subsection (although we'll certainly help you do that in this guide).
But if you sit with the text for a little bit, take your time, maybe take a snack break halfway through (our favorite strategy), you can piece it together and gain some insight into the logic at work in the U.S. Congress in 1941.
Oh, Canada! You're too often considered America's hat, but hats off to you for coming up with your own version of Lend-Lease, known as "Mutual Aid." (Source)
Lend-Lease is usually talked about as benefiting mostly the U.K. and Russia, but it actually benefitted many, many more countries—including China and Brazil. Now that's a lot of paperwork. (Source)
Not everyone loved the Lend-Lease Act, especially in Congress. Robert A. Taft was one of its biggest critics. In reference to the act he offered the following thought: "Lending war equipment is a good deal like lending chewing-gum—you certainly don't want the same gum back." (Source)
The title of the Lend-Lease Act includes both of the words "lend" and "lease" to suggest that the U.S. would get something back from the nations it supported in WWII. It wasn't called the "Please Take This for Free" Act, after all, was it? This return on investment didn't necessarily come in the form of banged up tanks and used bullets (Taft, we're looking at you), but in the form of resources in general that the U.S. could tap into when needed. This arrangement is called "Reverse Lend-Lease." (Source)
The U.K. handed over a lot of important research intelligence to the U.S. as part of their international agreement through Lend-Lease. This included a ton of information about military weaponry, including the Frisch-Peierls Memorandum, which provided essential information for the development of the atomic bomb. (Source)