Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Jeannette Rankin

On this date in 1941, one day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war [.wav file]. Congress promptly responded with a resolution that was nearly unanimous in both Houses. The report on the front page of the New York Times on December 9, 1941 tells the story:

Washington, Dec. 8.--The United States today formally declared war on Japan. Congress, with only one dissenting vote, approved the resolution in the record time of 33 minutes after President Roosevelt denounced Japanese aggression in ringing tones. He personally delivered his message to a joint session of the Senate and House. At 4:10 P. M. he affixed his signature to the resolution.

There was no debate like that between April 2, 1917, when President Wilson requested war against Germany, and April 6, when a declaration of war was approved by Congress.

President Roosevelt spoke only 6 minutes and 30 seconds today compared with Woodrow Wilson's 29 minutes and 34 seconds.

The vote today against Japan was 82 to 0 in the Senate and 388 to 1 in the House. The lone vote against the resolution was in the House that of Miss Jeanette Rankin, Republican, of Montana. Her "No" was greeted with boos and hisses. In 1917 she voted against the resolution for war against Germany.

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), a pacifist and a leader in the women's suffrage movement, was instrumental in securing the right to vote for women in Montana in 1914, six years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment gave all women in the United States the franchise. In 1916, Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Montana becoming the first woman ever elected to Congress. Rankin was defeated in her bid for election to the U.S. Senate in 1918 at least in part because of her vote against American entry into World War I.

For the next two decades, Rankin was active in the international peace movement, particularly through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She ran for Congress again in 1940 on an isolationist platform and was elected to the House. Her vote on December 8, 1941--the lone dissent against war with Japan--was extremely unpopular. She chose not to run for reelection in 1942.

Rankin's commitment to pacifism never wavered. In the 1940s, she became interested in Gandhi's campaign of non-violent resistance. She went to India in 1946, the first of seven trips she would make there during her lifetime. In 1968, at the age of 87, Rankin led 5,000 women--the Jeannette Rankin Brigade--in a march on the Capitol to protest the Vietnam War.

John F. Kennedy said of Rankin, "Few members of Congress have ever stood more alone while being true to a higher honor and loyalty."