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Editorial Note on Stimson Becoming Secretary of War
June 19-20, 1940
On June 19, two days after the French Government had requested armistice terms from the Germans, President Roosevelt asked Henry L. Stimson to become secretary of war. Stimson noted in his diary that “the President said he was very anxious to have me accept because everybody was running around at loose ends in Washington and he thought I would be a stabilizing factor in whom both the army and the public would have confidence.” After ascertaining that his strong public support for generous aid to the Allies, for the rapid building up of the nation’s military strength, and for a general compulsory military service law was acceptable to the president, Stimson accepted, with the understanding that he could name Robert P. Patterson as assistant secretary of war. (Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 29:56].) Another Republican, Frank Knox, was simultaneously to be named secretary of the navy.
The controversial announcements were made on June 20, the same day that Secretary of War Woodring resigned. Marshall had been acquainted with Stimson since 1918, although they had not been close friends. (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #1-260 [1: 322].) John McAuley Palmer wrote to Marshall on June 21 “enclosing a copy of a telegram I have taken the liberty to send to an old friend of mine.” Addressed to Henry L. Stimson, the message read: “Your appointment is a great public event. As you return to the War Department please let me say that I have known the Chief of Staff intimately since he was a first lieutenant and picked him years ago as the ablest officer in the Army. You will find his loyalty disinterestedness and integrity equal to his high ability and professional standing.” (GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 251.