FDR signs Neutrality Act, Aug. 31, 1935

President Franklin D. Roosevelt greets Sen. Burton K. Wheeler in the White House on Aug. 26, 1935.

On this day in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Neutrality Act, which reached his desk in the form of a congressional joint resolution. The president called the document an “expression of the desire … to avoid any action which might involve [the United States] in war.”

The key paragraph in the 2,200-word declaration read: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that upon the outbreak or during the progress of war between, or among, two or more foreign states, the president shall proclaim such fact, and it shall thereafter be unlawful to export arms, ammunition, or implements of war from any place in the United States, or possessions of the United States, to any port of such belligerent states, or to any neutral port for transshipment to, or for the use of, a belligerent country.”

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Roosevelt originally opposed the legislation, but he relented in the face of congressional pressure. He noted that the law would require American vessels to obtain a license to carry arms, would restrict Americans from sailing on ships home ported in hostile nations and would impose an embargo on the sale of arms to “belligerent” nations.

(On Feb. 29, 1936, Congress renewed the act until May 1937 and prohibited Americans from extending any loans to belligerent nations.)

Few observers missed the point that by singling out “belligerent states” the administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress had in mind a revanchist Germany as well as Italy, its Central European ally.

Adolf Hitler had been in power as the German chancellor since 1933 and proclaimed himself as the führer (supreme leader) of Nazi Germany in 1934….

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