FDR and the Spanish Civil War

Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle that Divided America

FDR and the Spanish Civil War

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 4 maps Published: July 2007

Author: Dominic Tierney

History > U.S. History, Politics > International Relations, Political Science

What was the relationship between President Franklin D. Roosevelt, architect of America’s rise to global power, and the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War, which inspired passion and sacrifice, and shaped the road to world war? While many historians have portrayed the Spanish Civil War as one of Roosevelt’s most isolationist episodes, Dominic Tierney argues that it marked the president’s first attempt to challenge fascist aggression in Europe. Drawing on newly discovered archival documents, Tierney describes the evolution of Roosevelt’s thinking about the Spanish Civil War in relation to America’s broader geopolitical interests, as well as the fierce controversy in the United States over Spanish policy.

Between 1936 and 1939, Roosevelt’s perceptions of the Spanish Civil War were transformed. Initially indifferent toward which side won, FDR became an increasingly committed supporter of the leftist government. He believed that German and Italian intervention in Spain was part of a broader program of fascist aggression, and he worried that the Spanish Civil War would inspire fascist revolutions in Latin America. In response, Roosevelt tried to send food to Spain as well as illegal covert aid to the Spanish government, and to mediate a compromise solution to the civil war. However unsuccessful these initiatives proved in the end, they represented an important stage in Roosevelt’s emerging strategy to aid democracy in Europe.


“[N]uanced. . . . Tierney provides a long overdue update on this subject. . . . Even for most readers who know the outcome of this story, Tierney’s account manages to be suspenseful.” — Soledad Fox, Journal of Contemporary History

“Dominic Tierney has produced a compellingly readable, commendably brief, and long overdue analysis of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policymaking in the context of the Spanish Civil War; it is especially noteworthy for its marriage of historical narrative with political science methodology, to wit, its focus on personality as primary determinant. . . . [T]his is an excellent book, and one that will surely spark lively discussions within the field. . . . The book is highly recommended for all libraries, as well as undergraduate course on the Spanish Civil War and U. S. diplomatic history. It includes a student-friendly bibliographic essay and bibliography.” — Mike Chapman, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“It is difficult to fault such a fine volume. Particularly strong is Tierney’s treatment of public opinion, business involvement, and the wider global setting. . . . The prose is lucid, research thorough, conclusions balanced. Tierney has given us a model of superb diplomatic history.” — Justus D. Doenecke, Diplomatic History

“The success of this book is in piecing this story together from an innovative use of materials and showing how the war shaped Roosevelt’s thinking for the challenges that would come after Pearl Harbor.” — Michael Carter-Sinclair, European Review of History

“This slender book makes a solid contribution to our understanding of the evolution of U. S. policy, and especially the opinions of Roosevelt, during the Spanish Civil War. . . . [This is an] excellent, well-crafted, and interesting text. FDR and the Spanish Civil War will be useful to historians and general readers interested in American foreign policy, the Spanish Civil War, U. S. domestic politics during the late 1930s, and the road to World War II.” — Wayne H. Bowen, War and Game Blog

“Tierney makes a solid and important argument about the Spanish war as an important experience in the development of US foreign policy on the continent prior to the Second World War.” — David A. Messenger, International History Review

“Tierney makes a valuable and timely contribution to the literature on the era of Roosevelt by providing a focused and dedicated study on the thirty-second president and the Spanish Civil War . . . This is a most impressive book.” — J. Simon Rofe, Diplomacy and Statecraft

“Tierney provides an excellent summary of his topic . . . . Recommended.” — R.J. Goldstein, Choice

FDR and the Spanish Civil War is an important, well documented study. It will not only prompt a rethinking of how the Spanish Civil War shaped and reflected Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies; it will become the standard book on the subject.” — Warren F. Kimball, author of The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman

“Based on exhaustive research, this highly readable book is an important contribution to an important subject. Dominic Tierney subtly analyzes FDR’s juggling of international and electoral pressures to explain the contradictions and dramatic changes in his passage from isolationism to bitter regret about American abandonment of the Spanish Republic.” — Paul Preston, author of The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Dominic Tierney is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. He is a coauthor (with Dominic D. P. Johnson) of Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. The American Sphinx and the Spanish War 1

2. International Intervention and Nonintervention 15

3. Roosevelt’s Perceptions of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1937 25

4. The Arms Embargo 39

5. American Men, American Oil, American Arms 55

6. Roosevelt’s Perceptions of the Spanish Civil War, 1938-1939 75

7. Covert Aid 89

8. Mediation, Humanitarian Relief, and Repealing the Arms Embargo 115

9. The Aftermath 135

10. From a Vicarious Sacrifice to a Grave Mistake 149

Notes 161

Bibliography 197

Index 217
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4076-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4055-3
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