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World War II: The Senate and the Nation's Capital
IntroductionAmerica Goes to WarSenate Goes to WarWar Comes to WashingtonVictory

On December 8, 1941, one day after Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. A somber audience listened in rapt attention as he asked legislators to declare war on the Empire of Japan. "I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us."

Over the next four crisis-filled years, the United States Senate took up the president’s challenge, remaining in session almost continuously to debate and enact emergency legislation. Jointly with the House of Representatives, the Senate provided wartime funding, extended the military draft, and created programs to stabilize the economy. Senate committees conducted investigations that minimized waste and corruption among military contractors, saved taxpayer money, and enhanced the nation’s efforts to achieve victory. Senators visited combat zones to examine the effectiveness of military operations and to show their support for American troops.

With the war’s outcome still in doubt in mid 1944, the Senate optimistically planned for the postwar era. Senators debated the merits of American participation in an international peacekeeping body and voted for a “G.I. Bill of Rights” to provide educational assistance and low-interest housing loans for returning veterans.

Washington, D.C. attracted tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel who quickly transformed the nation’s capital from a sleepy town into a robust center of international politics and diplomacy. The majestic dome of the United States Capitol offered a fitting backdrop for their countless displays of patriotic commitment to the priceless ideals of liberty and representative democracy.

With this exhibition, the Senate honors the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to preserve these ideals.