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Debating the Wars

We are going to war . . . to vindicate our honor and to maintain our independence as a great nation. We are going to war . . . in defense of humanity.

Senator Gilbert Hitchcock of Nebraska, Speech to the U.S. Senate, April 4, 1917


As the world wars unfolded abroad, many Americans opposed U.S. involvement. Congress debated and enacted several neutrality laws to prevent the country from becoming entangled in the conflicts. When foreign nations increasingly threatened U.S. neutrality and national security, Congress used its constitutional authority to declare war. During World War I, Congress declared war on Germany in April 1917 and on Austria-Hungary in December 1917. During World War II, Congress declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy in December 1941 and on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania in June 1942.

3 Images U.S. Neutrality during World War I Featured Telegram from Heinrich Charles, Secretary, Chamber of German American Commerce, to Representative Henry D. Flood of Virginia, January 4, 1915
4 Images The Nye Committee Featured Merchants of Death, by H. C. Engelbrecht and F. C. Hanighen, 1934
5 Images U.S. Neutrality during World War II Featured S.J. Res. 173, Joint Resolution providing for the prohibition of the export of arms . . . (First Neutrality Act), August 21, 1935
2 Images Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky Featured Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, photograph, ca. 1952
5 Images World War I: Declaring War on Germany Featured American Victims of the Lusitania, photograph by George Grantham Bain, May 1915
3 Images The Lend-Lease Act Featured H.R. 1776, A Bill further to promote the defense of the United States, January 10, 1941
5 Images World War II: Declaring War on Japan Featured Hickam Field, map by the Joint Committee to Investigate Pearl Harbor, 1945–1946