Two Roosevelt Letters

Henry Marshall Barnes

Born Ipswich 2nd September 1869
Died Ipswich 8th June 1946


Harry Barnes was evidently proud of his connection with the family of President F D Roosevelt.  

As a young man, Barnes had, in 1889, served as a subaltern with the British army in Bermuda.   Here he met Elliott Roosevelt, a rich young American visiting the island.  Elliott's daughter, Eleanor, would later marry her Roosevelt cousin, Franklin.

In September 1939 Germany had invaded Poland and Britain, probably to the surprise of the German leadership, had reacted by declaring war on Germany.   For the balance of 1939 it was not very clear in England what war against Germany would involve, but members of the British establishment, including future prime minister Winston Churchill were desperately cultivating contacts in the US in order to maximise US support for Britain's increasingly lonely war effort.   Ultimately, of course, the US was induced to enter the war by a savage Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor which conveniently (for the British) received immediate strong (and unexpected) endorsement from the German government.    During the back end of 1939, however, military involvement by the US in Britain's war against Germany appeared unlikely, though the prospects for economic support seemed better:  Roosevelt's own preference for democratic states was not in doubt, even as elsewhere many folks figured that the age of the democracies was most likely already drawing to a close.   Meantime, Britain's continuing imperial ambitions enjoyed little sympathy in the US where remembered history encouraged a self view by Americans as victims rather than as perpetrators of imperialism.  

Presumably Harry Barnes contacted the Roosevelts partly out of pride that he had such illustrious contacts but partly, also, from a sense of patriotic mission.   FDR's closing paragraph, in which he clearly sets out to stress the breadth US support for Britain's situation is particularly interesting, given the extent of support for 'isolationists', the inoffensive euphemism of the time - which in our own age would no doubt be replaced by something more colorful, possibly involving cheese eating surrender monkies - by which US political leaders heading up opposition to any partisan intervention were known.   In practice isolationism, where applied to Britain's war against Hitler's Germany, was always stronger 'out west' than among the east coast ruling establishment, for reasons of geography, of history, and of perceived ethnic origins.

These letters were all inherited stored inside a copy of Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiographical work entitled "The Lady of the White House".

December 1939





February 1940



Harry Barnes explains how he came to know FDR's father in law:




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Updated at  20:02 on 07 April 2007