Lesson 2: Legislating Neutrality, 1934–1939

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America on the Sidelines: The United States and World Affairs, 1931–1941

comprehensive student interactive giving the user a full scope of America's political and diplomatic responses to world events between the two world wars.

By the early 1930s Americans were becoming increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of preventing the outbreak of wars through international cooperation. They instead turned toward measures designed to prevent the United States from intervening in any foreign war that may occur. The result was a series of neutrality laws passed in 1935, 1936, and 1937—laws that sought to avoid the reappearance of circumstances that most Americans believed had drawn the country into World War I, namely arms sales and loans to belligerent countries.

In this lesson students examine a series of primary source documents that will help them understand why these laws were passed, and how they were applied in the mid- to late-1930s.

Guiding Questions

Did the neutrality laws of the 1930s represent an effective U.S. response to world affairs?

Learning Objectives

Explain the “Merchants of Death” thesis and how it shaped the U.S. approach to neutrality.

List the main terms of the neutrality laws passed during the 1930s.

Discuss how these laws were implemented and revised in response to developments in Europe.

Identify on a blank map the locations of the major events in Europe from 1935 to 1939.

Assess the overall effectiveness of U.S. neutrality policy during this period.