A President Complies with Federal Regulations: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Form TFR-500

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor, archivists at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Midway through World War II it became apparent that the United States Government had increasing need for comprehensive financial information on American property interests in foreign countries, particularly enemy and enemy-dominated nations. This need arose from the so-called “freezing controls” administered by the Treasury Department to military phases of the war, and to preparations for peace negotiations.

The Foreign Funds Control (FFC), established in the Office of the Secretary, Treasury Department in April 1940 immediately after the invasion of Norway and Denmark by Germany, had taken a census of foreign assets in the United States in 1941. In 1943, the FFC was given a new responsibility for taking the so-called census of American-owned assets in foreign countries to provide the needed data.

This 1943 census of American-owned assets in foreign countries was one of the many activities of the FFC in carrying out the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Treasury in the financial warfare program of the United States Government. In the beginning the FFC had been responsible for placing restrictions on foreign exchange transactions, on the export or withdrawal of gold, silver, coin and currency, on transfers of credits, securities or any other evidences of ownership or of indebtedness involving property of the countries or nationals of the countries that had been invaded by the German and Russian armies. After the United States entered the war, the FFC was responsible for severing all financial and commercial intercourse between the United States and any countries outside the Western hemisphere that directly or indirectly benefited the Axis, for the prevention of all financial and commercial transactions between the United States and any other American republic that directly or indirectly benefited the Axis, and for stopping all financial and commercial activity on the part of persons or corporations in the United States whose influence or activity was deemed inimical to the security of the Western Hemisphere. With the increase in its functions the FFC was formally established as a separate administrative unit of the Department on September 11, 1942, with the status of a bureau and with a director as its head.

To carry out the census of American-owned assets in foreign countries, the FFC utilized the central office and field organization that had been developed in the activities of its Licensing and Enforcement Divisions in “freezing” assets of enemy and enemy-dominated nations, in preventing the use of frozen or “blocked” assets by the Axis, in licensing transactions in such assets, and in investigatory work. Interagency representatives of the Departments of State and Commerce, the Board of Economic Warfare (late the Foreign Economic Administration) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System all reviewed the reporting forms and instructions to ensure that the census would serve the needs of the whole Government as well as to eliminate the necessity for recurring or overlapping demands on investors and others in the nation. The proposed forms and instructions also were discussed with representatives of banks, industry, and insurance companies to insure that accurate and useful data could be obtained economically and expeditiously.

The census of American-owned assets in foreign countries on the TFR-500 forms was announced on June 3, 1943, through the issuance of Special Regulation No. 1, under Executive orders 8389, as amended, and 9193. Detailed instructions concerning the reporting requirements were stated in Public Circular No. 22 which was issued on July 1, 1943, and amended from time to time. These forms were obtainable in the central office in Washington and in the field at Federal Reserve Banks, and outside the continental United States from the Government officials in the territories and possessions or United States consuls.

The basic requirements as to liability for filing the Form TFR-500 reports were very broad but certain exceptions and exemptions were provided. According to Public Circular No. 22, reports were required to be filed by “(1) every person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States having at the close of business on May 31, 1943, any interest whatsoever, direct or indirect, in any property in a foreign country on such date and by (2) every person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States with whom any foreign organization was allied on May 31, 1943.” The word “person” was defined to include an individual, partnership, association, corporation, or other organization. The following were considered as subject to the jurisdiction of the United States:

Any citizen of the United States whether in the United States or in a foreign country. Any corporation or other organization created or organized under the laws of the United States, or any state, territory, district, or possession there of; Any individual resident in the United States on May 31, 1943, including any individual continuously within the United States for 3 months next preceding that date; and, Any person not otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to the extent that on May 31, 1943, such person had any branch, office, or representative within the United States.[i]

Newspapers throughout the country spread the word about this new federal requirement. The Chicago Tribune ran an article on July 16, 1943 entitled, “TFR-500, It’s a Form You Should Know.” Many banks also took out ads in newspapers around the country in late October 1943 to remind U.S. citizens of their responsibilities and to offer the bank’s services in completing the forms. These bank ads, titled “To Owners of Property in Foreign Countries,” stated:

The U.S. Treasury is seeking to ascertain as nearly as possible the total American stake all over the world.  It believes with this information available that the government’s hand will be strengthened on all war fronts, at the peace conferences and in the post-war world-wide economic readjustments.

Under the law, holders of foreign property ARE REQUIRED to file reports of their holdings on Form TFR-500 by DECEMBER 1, 1943.

If you have any foreign investments—dollar bonds, bank balances, real estate or other tangible property—and have not yet filed your report, we would be happy to assist you in obtaining the proper forms.

The Chicago Tribune added that failure to comply with the reporting requirement could result in a $10,000 fine or 10 years in prison, or both.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt compiled with the regulations and submitted his Form TFR-500 on February 12, 1944. He reported his property on Campobello, a small Canadian island located at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay, adjacent to the entrance to Cobscook Bay, and within the Bay of Fundy. His parents, who summered at Campobello’s hotels, later purchased land and built a cottage. From 1883, when he was one year old, until he was stricken by polio in 1921, Roosevelt spent every July, August, and part of September on the island. Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor, and their children sailed, canoed, golfed, hiked, and picnicked in a beautiful and rugged outdoor environment.

Eleanor and the five children visited Campobello during the summer of 1925, but convalescence and his involvement in active politics (including being Governor of New York for four years) prevented Roosevelt returning during the 1920s and early 1930s.

In June 1933 after a grueling first hundred days in office, President Roosevelt decided he needed a good vacation. He sailed on the schooner Amberjack II from Marion, Massachusetts on June 18, bound for Campobello. He was at the helm for much of the trip. He returned again for brief visits in late July 1936 and mid-August 1939.

On August 20, 1964, with Prime Minister Lester Pearson and President Lyndon Johnson in attendance, the Roosevelt Campobello International Park opened.  The Park is jointly owned and managed by both Canada and the United States, created by a treaty that honors the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The focal point of the Park is the Franklin D. Roosevelt summer cottage, reported on the TFR-500.


Sources:

Case Files of Individual Summary Reports, 1943-1945 (NAID: 6850899; Entry NC-8 1); RG 265 – Records of the Office of Foreign Assets Control

“TFR-500, It’s a Form You Should Know.” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1943.

“To Owners of Property in Foreign Countries.” Miami Daily News-Record (Miami, Oklahoma), October 24, 1943.

“To Owners of Property in Foreign Countries.” The Star-Democrat (Easton, Maryland), October 29, 1943.

Footnote:

[i] Certain overall exceptions were made to the foregoing general provisions, to the extent that the person came within the following categories on or after May 31, 1943, and remained therein until the final reporting date: Citizens of the United States in enemy or enemy-occupied territory.  Members of the armed forces of the United States serving outside the continental United States, and Officers or employees of foreign governments and members of immediate families of such persons, provided they were not citizens of the United States.

Subsequently (as of March 23, 1945) citizens of the United States in enemy or enemy-occupied territory were required to report as soon as consular offices were opened in such territory.  Special forms, all bearing the TFR-500 number, were provided for different classes of reporters. Series A-I was for the use of individuals, series A-II for corporations and other organizations, series A-III for executors, administrators, or trustees, and series A-IV for custodians and nominees in this country who held property for persons not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Each of these forms called for data with respect to the reporter and for a summary by countries of the reporter’s foreign property.

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