I came to know Ben Cohen shortly after I was sworn into the Senate in January 1937 as a close associate and friend of Tom Corcoran. The two of them were known as President Roosevelt's brain trusters, and they were both extraordinary men in their ability and in their dedication to President Roosevelt and what he was doing to lift up and move forward the broken America.
The first time I worked closely with Ben was in May 1940. At a press conference I had more or less casually suggested that one thing we should do to help Britain and France to survive Hitler's vicious assaults was to send them some airplanes out of our own Air Force to be replaced by airplanes of similar character that Britain and France had on order in American airplane factories. That item appeared in the press one morning in early May. Later in the day Ben Cohen called and said he would like to meet with me. We met that evening and drafted what was really the first lend-lease resolution.
The next morning I heard over the radio in the Senate cloakroom that the Germans had nearly reached the English Channel. So time was rapidly running out for the survival of the French and, for all we knew then, the British. At nearly noon Ben called me and said he wanted me to introduce the resolution we had prepared the evening before-- but not without letting President Roosevelt know about the resolution.
To please Ben, I called Missy LeHand, the president's personal secretary, and told her I had a resolution I was going to introduce when the Senate met that day unless the president requested me not to. When I finished reading the relatively short resolution, Missy LeHand said, "My, it would be great if we could get that, wouldn't it?" I had no return call from the White House by noon. As soon as the Senate opened for business I got up and read Ben's and my resolution.
I shall never forget that Sen. Arthur Vandenberg came over and took a seat in front of me when I began to read the resolution. He was immeasurably shocked by the resolution, taking the technical position that it would violate international law. The next morning the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met, and Sen. Hiram Johnson of California, a member of the committee, immediately began speaking very strongly in what was then his palsied manner, demanding that the resolution be immediately disposed of, saying that it would be a disgrace to the Senate if a resolution like that were to be permitted to remain an hour in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I, also a member of the committee, agreed with Johnson that it was a matter of great importance and should be taken up promptly. Sen. Albin Barkley, my Senate majority leader, asked me to withdraw the resolution since I saw I wouldn't get any support in the committee for it. I respectfully declined after each senator, other than myself, spoke against it.
My resolution was voted on, and the vote was 13 to 1 against it, but the committee refused to announce the result until all members had had an opportunity to vote. When the final vote was taken, the result was 22 against and 1 for it.
A few days later, Ben Cohen, Walter Lippmann and Charles Marsh of Austin, Texas, who owned 11 newspapers in the South, met to broaden the scope of our first lend-lease resolution. When that resolution came to the Foreign Relations Committee the discussion was similar to that upon my first resolution, but I doubled my vote. Sen. Joseph F. Guffey of Pennsylvania supported me when he learned that I had informed President Roosevelt of the resolution. The vote was 21 to 2.
Later I took the matter to the floor, and for nearly a week it was the main subject of debate in the Senate. Support for the resolution began to pour in from all over the country in stacks of telegrams and bags of letters. I began to speak all over the country under the auspices of the William Allen White Committee to Defend America by Aid to the Allies. Our resolution, in what it portended, was the theme for the country's lend-lease resolution in its final form, which was adopted in March 1941.
The main initiative for what we did and for what I feel was a critical matter came from Ben Cohen. The country will never know all that Ben Cohen, generally with Tom Corcoran, did for America. He was an artisan of legislation, and many of the great pieces of legislation of the Roosevelt Era were conceived, drafted and pushed through Congress by those two men.
America should always be grateful that among its citizens at a critical period in the nation's history was a brilliant, devout son like Ben Cohen employing his genius in the nation's salvation. Gentle, kind, retiring in manner, Ben Cohen was a giant in the service of his country. I am proud to have had the privilege to be his friend, to share the mellow meaning of his life and on some occasions to have had the privilege of working by his side.