As the events in Europe slipped into war, the question over whether or not America would remain neutral was of great concern to many Americans. And so on September 21, President Roosevelt held a special joint session of Congress to address the matter.
President Roosevelt: “I have asked the Congress to reassemble in extraordinary session in order that it may consider and act on the amendment of certain legislation, which, in my best judgment, so alters the historic foreign policy of the United States that it impairs the peaceful relations of the United States with foreign nations.
At the outset I proceed on the assumption that every member of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, and every member of the Executive Branch of the Government, including the President and his associates, personally and officially, are equally and without reservation in favor of such measures as will protect the neutrality, the safety and the integrity of our country and at the same time keep us out of war.
Because I am wholly willing to ascribe an honorable desire for peace to those who hold different views from my own as to what those measures should be, I trust that these gentlemen will be sufficiently generous to ascribe equally lofty purposes to those with whom they disagree. Let no man or group in any walk of life assume exclusive protectorate over the future well-being of America, because I conceive that regardless of party or section the mantle of peace and of patriotism is wide enough to cover us all. Let no group assume the exclusive label of the “peace bloc.” We all belong to it.
I have at all times kept the Congress and the American people informed of events and trends in foreign affairs. I now review them in a spirit of understatement:
Since 1931 the use of force instead of the council table has constantly increased in disputes between nations—except in the Western Hemisphere where in all those years there has been only one war, now happily terminated.
During those years also the building up of vast armies and navies and storehouses of war has proceeded abroad with growing speed and intensity. But, during these years, and extending back even to the days of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the United States has constantly, consistently and conscientiously done all in its power to encourage peaceful settlements, to bring about reduction of armaments, and to avert threatened wars. We have done this not only because any war anywhere necessarily hurts American security and American prosperity, but because of the more important fact that any war anywhere retards the progress of morality and religion, and impairs the security of civilization itself.
For many years the primary purpose of our foreign policy has been that this nation and this Government should strive to the utmost to aid in avoiding war among nations. But if and when war unhappily comes, the Government and the nation must exert every possible effort to avoid being drawn into the war.
The Executive Branch of the Government did its utmost, within our traditional policy of non-involvement, to aid in averting the present appalling war. Having thus striven and failed, this Government must lose no time or effort to keep our nation from being drawn into the war. In my candid judgment we shall succeed in those efforts.
We are proud of the historical record of the United States and of all the Americans during all these years, because we have thrown every ounce of our influence for peace into the scale of peace.
I note in passing what you will all remember—the long debates of the past on the subject of what constitutes aggression, on the methods of determining who the aggressor might be and on who the aggressors in past wars had been. Academically this may have been instructive, as it may have been of interest to historians to discuss the pros and cons and the rights and wrongs of the World War during the decade that followed it”.
Here is the complete address from President Roosevelt, as delivered on September 21, 1939.
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