III Statement on approval of the Neutrality Act of 1935

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PAPER III

“It is conceivable that situations may arise in which the wholly
inflexible provisions of section I of this act might have exactly the
opposite effect from that which was intended. In other words, the
inflexible provisions might drag us into war instead of keeping us out.”

I have given my approval to S. J. Resolution 173-the neutrality
legislation which passed the Congress last week.

I have approved this Joint Resolution because it was intended as an
expression of the fixed desire of the Government and the people of the
United States to avoid any action which might involve us in war. The
purpose is wholly excellent, and this Joint Resolution will to a
considerable degree serve that end.

It provides for a licensing system for the control of carrying arms,
etc., by American vessels; for the control of the use of American waters
by foreign submarines; for the restriction of travel by American
citizens on vessels of belligerent Nations; and for the embargo of the
export of arms, etc., to both belligerent Nations.

The latter Section terminates at the end of February, 1936. This Section
requires further and more complete consideration between now and that
date. Here again the objective is wholly good. It is the policy of this
Government to avoid being drawn into wars between other Nations, but it
is a fact that no Congress and no Executive can foresee all possible
future situations. History is filled with unforeseeable situations that
call for some flexibility of action. It is conceivable that situations
may arise in which the wholly inflexible provisions of Section I of this
Act might have exactly the opposite effect from that which was intended.
In other words, the inflexible provisions might drag us into war instead
of keeping us out. The policy of the Government is definitely committed
to the maintenance of peace and the avoidance of any entanglements which
would lead us into conflict. At the same time it is the policy of the
Government by every peaceful means and without entanglement to cooperate
with other similarly minded Governments to promote peace.

In several aspects further careful consideration of neutrality needs is
most desirable and there can well be an expansion to include provisions
dealing with other important aspects of our neutrality policy which have
not been dealt with in this temporary measure.

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See Papers XI and XIV of this series recommending changes in the
Neutrality Law. On November 17, 1941 the President signed H. J. Res. 237
repealing sections 2, 3 and 6 of the Neutrality Law with respect to
commerce with belligerents, combat areas, and arming of merchant
vessels.

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Development of United States Foreign Policy