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Neutrality Mail Swamps U.S. Senate Post Office, photograph by the Associated Press, 1939

In September 1939, following Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to revise existing U.S. neutrality laws to allow aid to “sister nations.” During the ensuing weeks, supporters on both sides of the issue lobbied Congress with great intensity. Congressional offices received hundreds of letters, postcards, and petitions from citizens promoting their positions for or against U.S. neutrality.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Neutrality Mail Swamps U.S. Senate Post Office

U.S. Neutrality during World War II

The brutality of World War I, the strength of the pacifist and isolationist movements, and the Nye Committee’s inquiry prompted Congress to approve a series of neutrality acts in the 1930s aimed at preventing U.S. intervention abroad. The laws banned arms sales to all belligerent nations and forbade loans or credits to all nations at war. Declarations of war in Europe in 1939 forced Congress to relax these policies, allowing nations at war to purchase war materiel from the United States on a “cash and carry” basis.

If we repeal it, we are helping England and France. If we fail to repeal it, we will be helping Hitler and his allies. Absolute neutrality is an impossibility.

Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska, Constituent Correspondence, 1939