MHS for the Media

“What the British today need is a good stiff grog”

For Immediate Release                               

Media Contact:
            Nicole Leonard            
            Massachusetts Historical Society    
            (617) 646-0552    
BOSTON, February 12, 2010— In honor of President’s Day, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest historical society in the nation, is highlighting a letter from its collections written by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the eve of World War II.  Written to his former Harvard professor, historian Roger B. Merriman, Roosevelt addresses the issue of American neutrality in the face of German aggression in Europe.  The February 15, 1939, letter was penned within days of President’s Day 71 years ago and is the February Object of the Month at the Society’s website (  

In his letter, the president, still heated from a stormy exchange with the British ambassador, Lord Lothian, vented his frustration regarding the British and their attempt to draw the United States into another war: “I wish the British would stop this ‘We who are about to die, salute thee’ attitude.”  He goes on to write, “What the British need today is a good stiff grog, inducing not only the desire to save civilization but the continued belief that they can do it.  In such an event they will have a lot more support from their American cousins--don't you think so?”  While Roosevelt gave additional aid to England after the fall of France in 1940, he refused to take any direct military action until Germany declared war on the United States after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. At that point, the United States could no longer avoid war.  More information on this letter and its historical context is available at

This letter and others like it can be found in the collections of the MHS. Although renowned for its enormous collections of papers from Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, the MHS also holds more than 3,500 letters written by all but the three most recent presidents.  Most letters were written during each president's term of office, although the Society also owns letters written over the lifetime of some presidents.  

In addition to the presidential letters that are available to researchers in the MHS library and selections that are accessible online at, the MHS posts daily “tweets” on behalf of John Quincy Adams, the sixth US president, from his line-a-day diary at  The project was launched in August 2009 in conjunction with the bicentennial of Adams’s trip to Russia as the first US minister.  

About the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. The Society holds an extraordinary assembly of personal papers from three presidents–John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson–as well as accounts of the lives of thousands of ordinary Americans and their families.  With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day.

Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of our nation’s past and its connection to the present. Through fellowships for scholars, meticulous research volumes, seminars, conferences, teacher training programs, as well as lectures, tours, open houses, and exhibitions, the Society demonstrates that history is not just a series of events that happened to individuals long ago but an integral part of the fabric of our daily lives.

The MHS is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 9 AM to 4.45 PM; Thursday 9AM to 7.45 PM, and Saturday 9AM to 4.00 PM.