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The Senate and the Second World War

Photo of two servicemen resting in front of the U.S. Capitol Building

On December 8, 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a joint session of the United States Congress. As somber and grieving senators and representatives listened, the president asked for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. "I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us."

Over the next four crisis-filled years, the United States Senate remained in session almost continuously to debate and enact legislation to provide wartime funding, to extend the military draft, and to create programs to stabilize the economy. Senate committees conducted investigations that minimized waste and corruption among military contractors, saving taxpayer money and enhancing the nation’s efforts to achieve victory. Senators visited combat zones to examine the effectiveness of military operations and to show their support for American troops. Some members left their legislative responsibilities to serve in the armed forces. As war came to a close, senators debated American participation in an international peacekeeping body and voted for a “G.I. Bill of Rights” to provide financial assistance to returning veterans.

The wartime experience also transformed Washington, D.C., into a busy center for international politics and diplomacy. As many of these photos illustrate, the majestic dome of the United States Capitol provided a fitting backdrop for countless patriotic activities.