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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

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This Day in History: The United States Declares War on Japan

Posted on December 8, 2014 at 8:40 AM

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Lecture on World War II

On December 8, 1941 the United States Congress declared war upon the Empire of Japan in response to that country's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor the prior day. It was formulated an hour after the Infamy Speech presidential address of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Following the declaration, Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, definitively bringing the United States into World War II.


The attack on Pearl Harbor took place before any formal declaration of war was made by Japan, but this was not the intent of the Japanese high command. It was originally stipulated that the attack should not commence until thirty minutes after Japan had informed the United States that it was withdrawing from further peace negotiations.It was the intent of the Japanese to uphold the conventions of war while still achieving surprise, but the attack began before the notice could be delivered. Tokyo transmitted the 5,000-word notification (commonly called the "14-Part Message") in two blocks to the Japanese Embassy in Washington. However, transcription took too long for the ambassador to deliver it in time. Even so, the notification was worded so that it actually neither declared war nor severed diplomatic relations.


The UK declared war on Japan nine hours before the US did, partially due to Japanese attacks on Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and partially due to Winston Churchill's promise to declare war "within the hour" of a Japanese attack on the United States.

President Roosevelt formally requested the declaration in his Infamy Speech, addressed to a joint session of Congress and the nation at 12:30 pm on December 8.


The declaration was quickly brought to a vote; it passed the Senate, and then passed the House at 1:10 pm.[6] The vote was 82 to 0 in the Senate and 388 to 1 in the House of Representatives. Jeannette Rankin, a committed Pacifist and the first woman elected to Congress (first elected in 1916), was the only vote against the Declaration in either house, while the other nine women voted for the declaration of war.


President Roosevelt signed the declaration at 4:10 pm the same day. The power to declare war is assigned exclusively to Congress in the United States Constitution, and it was therefore an open question at the time whether his signature was technically necessary.[6] However, his signature was symbolically powerful and resolved any doubts.

Text of Resolution:

JOINT RESOLUTION Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial Government of Japan and the Government and the people of the United States and making provisions to prosecute the same.


Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:


Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States

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