September 5, 1939 – As war got underway in Europe, America scrambled to distance itself, not wanting a repeat of 1917. FDR signed a proclamation pledging neutrality – a 4,000 word document which established a list of regulations designed to keep America out of the European conflict. The President signed the document in the presence of Cordell Hull, acting Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, under-Secretary of State Summner Welles and Steven Early. Shortly after, a second proclamation would be signed at the White House; that proclamation would implement the act, thus automatically embargoing the export of arms, ammunition and implements of war from the U.S. to any belligerent nations. The proclamation would formally make it illegal for American citizens to accept a commission to serve one of the belligerents. To enlist in the service of a belligerent as a soldier, Marine or Seaman on board any warship. Hiring another person to go outside the United States with the intent of going into that Service. Retaining another person to go outside the United States to be enlisted to go into that service. Dispatching from the United States any warship with the intent to deliver it to a belligerent. Taking or conspiring to take out of any American port, any vessel to be delivered to a belligerent, in violation of the Act of 1917. The document went on to say any belligerent vessels to use American waters to prepare for hostile operations or as observation posts, must be regarded as unfriendly and offensive and in violation of the neutrality which the United States was meant to observe. President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order giving specific instructions to the various government departments, to carry out the various provisions of the proclamation.
Several other provisos made up the proclamation – President Roosevelt later held a news conference to give details and provisions – as with all Presidential Press Conferences at the time, it wasn’t broadcast – but a gist of that Press conference was given by Earl Godwin, who was President of the White House Correspondents Association and commentator for NBC.
All this, on September 5, 1939.