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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  Provoked by Pearl Harbor: The White House Meetings of FDR and Churchill, December, 1941
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Activities: II. Inside the White House  |  Back to Activity


H. Roosevelt and Churchill: Preparing speeches


The prime minister’s methods of preparing a speech fascinated [Harry] Hopkins. Trained by years of vigorous debate in the House of Commons, Churchill liked to think on his feet, dictating his speeches as he paced up and down the room, imagining that a large crowd had already assembled. At various times, he would refer to notes he had made in the preceding days, but most of the phrasing and imagery emerged from his head and his heart, a product, [British philosopher] Isaiah Berlin once observed, of his capacity “for sustained introspective brooding, great depth and constancy of feeling – in particular, feeling for and fidelity to the great tradition for which he assumes a personal responsibility.” This peculiar pride in the British people had assumed a major role in Churchill’s speeches in the dark days of 1940.

Hopkins told Moran [Churchill's personal physician], during a long conversation in his bedroom one evening, that it was interesting to hear two great orators with such different methods. When Roosevelt prepared a speech, Hopkins observed, he “wastes little time in turning phrases; he tries to say what is in his mind in the shortest and simplest words. All the time he gives to that particular speech is spent in working out what each individual in his audience will think about it; he always thinks of individuals, never of a crowd.”

In contrast, though Churchill had learned by long experience the feel of an audience as a whole, he knew little about their individual lives, their experiences, their aspirations. Churchill, Isaiah Berlin observed, in contrast to Roosevelt, “does not reflect a social or moral world in an intense and concentrated fashion; rather, he creates one of such power and coherence that it becomes reality and alters the external world by being imposed upon it with irresistible force.”


No Ordinary Time, pp. 308-309





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