The letter written in March 1962 concerns the naming of an American Polaris nuclear submarine in Churchill’s honour.
The question of whether to accept the offer weighed heavily on the former British prime minister. Churchill immediately wrote to Harold Macmillan, seeking his counsel, expressing his willingness to accept but saying: “I am much complimented by this suggestion, but the implications are obviously wider than the naming of a different type of ship.” To accept would make him the first living person to have a United States naval vessel named for him; to refuse could lead to diplomatic embarrassment.
Macmillan voiced support for declining, and Lady Churchill also strongly opposed the idea, writing to Macmillan on April 4, 1962: “I should hate to feel that his name should be so closely associated with a weapon whose purpose is mass destruction. You yourself know what a humane man Winston is, and it seems to me utterly inappropriate.”
It was ultimately decided that the idea would not be pursued any further. Thirtythree years later, President Bill Clinton announced that a new ship would be named after Churchill, the first destroyer (and the fourth ship) named after a British citizen.
This original draft letter from Kennedy to Churchill was typed for the president on White House stationery by chief warrant officer, Jack E Cutcomb, who kept it for posterity. The finished letter, dated March 27, 1962, is presumed to still be in the Churchill family’s possession, and a copy of it is preserved in the British National Archives. Estimate $35,000-50,000.