By Susan Dunn
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Extra info for 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election amid the Storm
And yet, there was another side to the president’s message that evening, one that was more revealing of his true thinking than his routine statement of neutrality. ” And finally, he told Americans that, despite the nation’s neutrality, they did not have to remain neutral in thought. 67 After delivering his talk, the president learned from his aides that three hours earlier, the Germans had torpedoed the British passenger liner Athenia. 68 In the fall of 1939, there seemed to be something almost schizophrenic in Roosevelt’s war policy.
But finally, after numerous postponements, filibusters, compromises, emasculating amendments, votes, and conferences,73 the bill passed. On November 4, almost a year after he had proposed changes to the arms embargo in his annual message, the president signed the Neutrality Act of 1939. The new legislation at last repealed the arms embargo, making it possible for the United States to provide military aid—in non-American ships and on a “cash and carry” basis—to the democracies fighting for survival.
But would he consider offering sanctuary to Jewish refugees? one reporter asked. He had given the subject a great deal of study, he replied, but declined to be more specific. What about raising immigration quotas? another reporter asked. 45 The president did order that the visas of some fifteen thousand Germans and Austrians be extended indefinitely and that consular officials suspend, at least temporarily, enforcement of the “likely to become a public charge” clause they had used in order to deny visas to Jews impoverished by Nazi confiscations.
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