Year
1935
Month Day
August 31

FDR signs Neutrality Act

On August 31, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Neutrality Act, or Senate Joint Resolution No. 173, which he calls an “expression of the desire…to avoid any action which might involve [the U.S.] in war.” The signing came at a time when newly installed fascist governments in Europe were beginning to beat the drums of war.

In a public statement that day, Roosevelt said that the new law would require American vessels to obtain a license to carry arms, would restrict Americans from sailing on ships from hostile nations and would impose an embargo on the sale of arms to “belligerent” nations. Most observers understood “belligerent” to imply Germany under its new leader, Adolf Hitler, and Italy under Benito Mussolini. It also provided the strongest language yet warning other countries that the U.S. would increase its patrol of foreign submarines lurking in American waters. This was seen as a response to Hitler’s March 1935 announcement that Germany would no longer honor the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which prohibited Germany from rebuilding her military; he had then immediately stepped up the country’s submarine production.

Although the legislation stated that the U.S. intended to stay out of foreign wars, Roosevelt insisted that the country could not foresee future situations in which the U.S. might have to amend its neutral stance. Noting that “history is filled with unforeseeable situations that call for some flexibility of action,” Roosevelt contended that the law would not prevent the U.S. from cooperating with other “similarly minded Governments to promote peace.” In other words, he left plenty of room for America to change its mind regarding the sale of arms to friendly countries and gave it the right to exercise options to protect her own safety. This came to pass in March 1941, when the passing of the Lend-Lease Act increased America’s military exports to the British in order to help them fight off Hitler’s advance toward England.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

This Day In History: Princess Diana dies in a car crash

Princess Diana dies in a car crash

Shortly after midnight on August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales—affectionately known as "the People’s Princess"—dies in a car crash in Paris. She was 36. Her boyfriend, the Egyptian-born socialite Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the car, Henri Paul, died as well.  Princess ...read more

Sam Mason survives Native American attack

Samuel Mason, a Patriot captain in command of Fort Henry on the Ohio frontier, survives a devastating Native American attack on August 31, 1777. The son of a distinguished Virginia family, Samuel Mason became a militia officer and was assigned to the western frontier post of Fort ...read more

Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers

On August 31, 1980, representatives of the communist government of Poland agree to the demands of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk. Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labor union to develop ...read more

Jack the Ripper’s first victim murdered

Prostitute Mary Ann Nichols, the first known victim of London serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” is found murdered and mutilated in the city’s Whitechapel district. London saw four more victims of the murderer during the next few months, but no suspect was ever found. In Victorian ...read more

Thomas Edison patents the Kinetograph

Thomas Edison receives a patent for his movie camera, the Kinetograph. Edison had developed the camera and its viewer in the early 1890s and staged several demonstrations. The camera was based on photographic principles discovered by still-photograph pioneers Joseph Nicephone ...read more

William Cobb demonstrates first solar-powered car

On August 31, 1955, William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corp. (GM) demonstrates his 15-inch-long “Sunmobile,” the world’s first solar-powered automobile, at the General Motors Powerama auto show held in Chicago, Illinois. Cobb’s Sunmobile introduced, however briefly, the field ...read more

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s "The Threepenny Opera" premieres in Berlin

Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) receives its world premiere in Berlin on August 31, 1928. “I think I’ve written a good piece and that several numbers in it, at least musically, have the best prospects for becoming popular very quickly.” This was the assessment offered ...read more

Earthquake shakes Charleston, South Carolina

An earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina, on August 31, 1886 leaves more than 100 people dead and hundreds of buildings destroyed. This was the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States. The earthquake was preceded by foreshocks felt in ...read more

Los Angeles mob attacks "Night Stalker" serial killer

Richard Ramirez, the notorious “Night Stalker,” is captured and nearly killed by a mob in East Los Angeles, California, after being recognized from a photograph shown both on television and in newspapers. Recently identified as the serial killer, Ramirez was pulled from the ...read more

American soldier Harry Butters killed in the Battle of the Somme

On August 31, 1916, Harry Butters, an American soldier serving in the British army during World War I, is killed by a German shell during the Battle of the Somme, while fighting to secure the town of Guillemont, France. The son of a prominent San Francisco industrialist, Butters ...read more