The Neutrality Act of 1935

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the Neutrality Act of 1935, why Congress created it, why President Roosevelt signed it, and what kind of an impact it had on the U.S. Then take the quiz and see what you've learned.

The Great Depression

In 1929, the stock market crashed in the U.S. The entire world was in a depression in a matter of weeks. Life was tough here in the U.S., where there were food riots and no jobs. But in a way, the U.S. had it easy. After all, World War I had only ended in 1918 and countries like France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary had served as battlegrounds for it. In 1929, those countries were still recovering. They suffered a lot more than we did.

Because of these problems, the countries weren't politically stable either. During the Depression, Germany would elect a radical new party, the Nazis, and Spain would go through a civil war.

Adolf Hitler, charismatic leader of the Nazi Party
Adolf Hitler

Internal Politics

The U.S. was more worried about the U.S., though. It had lost hundreds of thousands of young men in the war, and it had been fought between European countries and for European goals. The U.S. hadn't had anything at stake.

Rumors spread that U.S. businessmen had manipulated the country into fighting so that they could make more money selling war materials. A two-time Medal of Honor winner, Major General Smedley Butler, traveled the country with a simple message War is a Racket. The Nye Committee interviewed businessmen who had been involved in the war and confirmed the speculation. Popular opinion was against getting involved in another European war.

President Roosevelt wanted to help the U.S. by making jobs for people and finding ways to feed them. He also saw the big picture though. He saw that the U.S. had to get involved if there was another major war. Though he understood what people were thinking and hoped to stay away from the fighting, he wanted a way for the president to control who got U.S. aid. Congress didn't agree, which lead to the creation of the Neutrality Act of 1935.

Roosevelt, who opposed the Neutrality Act of 1935 but signed it into law anyway for political reasons
President Roosevelt

What Did the Act Do?

The Neutrality Act of 1935 was simple and straightforward. It said that no U.S. businesses could sell war materials to any country at war. It also said that any U.S. citizen that traveled on a ship owned by a warring country did it at their own risk. The Act was set to expire after six months. It was so short because the Senate thought that war might have broken out in Europe by then, and it wanted to be able to adjust the law accordingly.

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