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S.J. Res. 173, Joint Resolution providing for the prohibition of the export of arms . . . (First Neutrality Act), August 21, 1935

The First Neutrality Act, adopted in 1935, imposed a ban on U.S. trade in arms and war materiel with all parties in a war. It also declared that American citizens traveling on belligerents’ ships did so at their own risk. In the mid-1930s congressional concerns about war grew as Italy invaded Ethiopia, Japan encroached on Manchuria, and Spain erupted in civil war.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

S.J. Res. 173 S.J. Res. 173 S.J. Res. 173 S.J. Res. 173 S.J. Res. 173 S.J. Res. 173 S.J. Res. 173

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