Monday, June 09, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jun. 9, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Just before Christmas, 1941 Churchill and a British war-planning party arrived in Washington. Churchill stayed at the White House.

His bedroom was just across the hall from FDR’s. Many nights the two leaders stayed up talking into the wee hours; their friendship at high tide.

On December 26 Churchill delivered a speech to a joint session of the Congress. It was very well received by the lawmakers and the nation.

In An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, Jon Meacham tells us the speech’s positive reception concerned some of FDR’s aides, but not their chief:

The men around Roosevelt were worried that their guest’s rhetorical triumph on Capitol Hill would overshadow their boss as the State of the Union message drew near. [Press Secretary] Steve Early, “fiercely loyal and jealous of his Chief’s prestige,” [Speechwriter Robert] Sherwood recalled, “kept a chart showing the fluctuations of the size of the President’s radio audiences and he did not welcome the appearance of a new star attraction in a field which Roosevelt had so long monopolized.”

Roosevelt was as competitive as any man who ever lived, but in this flush season of friendship, Sherwood said, he “was not troubled; he was greatly amused by his friends’ concern.

Churchill may have sensed something of the behind-the-scenes drama, for when Roosevelt read a draft to him, Churchill was flattering. “It went over big,” Roosevelt told his advisers later.

Perhaps one reason Roosevelt was able to laugh off his aides’ anxiety about his rank in the rhetorical arena was that the politician in him understood that whatever the style of the speech, it s substance would guarantee his preeminence in the emerging firm of Roosevelt & Churchill (p. 158)
Churchill and Roosevelt were often rivals but the source(s) of their rivalries were, I think, less a matter of their egos clashing than is was the genuine policy and strategy differences the two men had.

A point where I’d question Meacham: How does he know Churchill responded to FDR’s reading of his draft State of the Union address with flattery?

Churchill’s praise may have been genuine.