Fascism and Benito Mussolini arose in Italy, and Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party took over Germany. Civil war broke out in Spain, and militarists gained control of Japan. The futile League of Nations stood by as nationalism and aggression grew. For Franklin Roosevelt, these international conflicts, as well as economic problems at home, would prove to be serious obstacles as he tried to implement his foreign policy.
In 1928, the US joined 62 other nations in signing the Kellogg - Briand Pact. This agreement declared the war could not be used "as an instrument of national policy." But it did not have any way to punish countries that broke their promise.1 Americans were greatly alarmed by the international conflicts of Roosevelt's presidency. But they generally believed that the United States should stay isolated from those conflicts. Isolationism in America grew steadily throughout the 1930s with many books offering claims that the US had been dragged into World War I by arms manufacturers and bankers at home, who wanted the chance to make a profit. A committee led by North Dakota Senator Gerald Nye found that banks and manufacturers had made large profits during the war, and public furor grew.2 After the horrible losses of World War I, Americans became staunchly determined to avoid going to war.
Moreover, America had serious problems at home with...
This growing isolationism had a huge impact on Roosevelt's foreign policy. Early in his presidency, he demonstrated his diplomatic ability by reaching out to the Soviet Union and continuing a policy of non-intervention in Latin America. He encouraged Congress to pass the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act in 1934, lowering trade barriers and giving the president the power to make trade agreements with other nations.3
Beginning in 1935, in response to fighting in Spain and elsewhere, Congress created the Neutrality Acts, designed to outlaw arms sales or loans to countries at war. Although Congress worked hard to maintain neutrality, it soon became impossible to avoid the conflicts across the ocean. Roosevelt found creative ways to implement his foreign policy despite the wishes of Congress. In 1937, Japan launched a new attack on China. Roosevelt declared that, since Japan had not formally declared war against China, there was no need to enforce the Neutrality Acts. This allowed the US to support China by sending arms and supplies.4
Later that year, Roosevelt spoke in Chicago. In one of his best-known speeches, he called on nations of the world to quarantine or isolate aggressive nations like Japan and Germany to stop the spread of war. The quarantine speech declared that 10% of the nations of the world were threatening international chaos. He called for the remaining peace-loving nations to stand against them "to preserve peace."5
It looked like this speech would be the beginning of Roosevelt's stand against aggression. But isolationist newspapers lambasted him, causing him to retreat. Roosevelt, a shrewd politician, knew that any risky foreign policy decisions would jeopardize badly