Unknown: Unknown, Unknown. Poster. This poster features the peroration of then-Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill’s first speech to the U.S. Congress on 26 December 1941, weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s formal entry into the Second World War. It was after this speech, immediately following the peroration printed on this poster, that the assembled elected leadership of the United States erupted into a cacophonous roar of applause and approval.
The poster measures 24 x 18 inches (60.96 x 45.72 cm). The excerpt from Churchill’s speech is printed in seven lines: “I avow my hope and faith, | sure and inviolate, that in the | days to come the British and | American peoples will, for their | own safety and for the good of | all, walk together in majesty, in | justice and in peace.” Above the excerpt are crossed British and American flags. Directly below and to the right of the excerpt is printed attribution to “WINSTON CHURCHILL”. Italicized print at the lower reads “From an Address before a Joint Session of Congress on December 26, 1941”. Intriguingly, there is no print information, either on the face of the poster or the blank verso. We incline to assume wartime origin. The paper is modestly age-toned, indicating age. Nonetheless, the lack of print history means that we can neither assert nor dispute wartime vintage. This does not affect the compelling aesthetic of the piece, which is in very good condition, with no loss, tears, or appreciable wear. Beyond age-toning, there is a horizontal crease at the mid-point, some lesser, lighter creasing to the blank bottom margin, and a small spot of faint discoloration approximately .25 inch deep and 1.5 inch (.64 x 3.81 cm) wide at the top edge, just right of center.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the moment, the man, and the words in December 1940.
In the days after the Japanese attack, the United States formally entered the Second World War, marking the end of Britain's solitary stand against Hitler's Germany, which it had sustained since the fall of France. Churchill immediately decided to travel to the United States, and on December 12, 1941 began the 10-day trip across the Atlantic - a perilous journey at a time when German U-Boats plagued the North Atlantic. Churchill addressed the U.S. Congress on the 26th and the Canadian Parliament on the 30th.
Churchill's speech to Congress was sober, resolved, and eloquently defiant, but of course also featured the sparkle of Churchillian wit, irrepressible even in the dark hours of the war: "I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own." The opening was a perfect introduction for a fraught hour, drawing “laughter and an immediate standing ovation, even from isolationists.” (Roberts, Walking with Destiny, p.702)
Characteristically, Churchill limned shared purpose by invoking history as heritage, by unifying perspective, and by invigorating common cause with purposeful pugnacity. “I was brought up in my father’s house to believe in democracy… I have been in full harmony all my life with the tides which have flowed on both sides of the Atlantic against privilege and monopoly, and I have steered confidently towards the Gettysburg ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people… In my country, as in yours, public men are proud to be the servants of the State and would be ashamed to be its masters.” Of their now common enemies, Churchill drew another standing ovation when he asked “What kind of a people do they think we are?” Is it possible they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?”
Churchill’s speech was an important personal introduction to America’s elected leaders, who he needed to embrace the alliance so vital to his nation – an alliance eloquently encapsulated in the peroration printed on this poster. Item #007207