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By the time the British public embraced Winston Churchill in 1940, it was nearly too late. presidential election pitted two internationalists, Republican challenger Wendell Willkie and incumbent Democrat FDR, running for an unprecedented third term. The English had turned in desperation to Churchill. On May 15, 1940 -- the night French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud screamed over the phone to Churchill, “We are beaten!

The same might be said of the United States of America, the land where Churchill’s mother was born. Roosevelt’s rationale for ignoring the two-term example set by George Washington was the gravely deteriorating situation in Europe. In his first days in office, the new prime minister had acted decisively to evacuate some 340,000 British and French troops trapped at Dunkirk. “If we go down,” Churchill said in a message to Roosevelt, “Hitler has a very good chance of conquering the world.” FDR was fearful of that very specter, and had been waiting for a sign that Britain wouldn’t capitulate the way France had. ” -- Britain’s prime minister composed a cable to Roosevelt.

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Yet, as late as the last week of the campaign, FDR felt it politically expedient to promise that no American soldiers would be fighting in Europe. “As you are no doubt aware, the scene has darkened swiftly,” Churchill said. This fateful cable contained the seeds of “Lend-Lease.” The president’s response signaled the end of American neutrality.