711.00111 Armament Control/2

The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: I am in receipt of Mr. McIntyre’s letter of August 24, 1935,36 requesting me to inform you whether or not I have any objection to S. J. Res. 173,37 Joint Resolution providing for the prohibition of the export of arms, ammunition, and implements of war to belligerent countries; the prohibition of the transportation of arms, ammunition, and implements of war by vessels of the United States for the use of belligerent states; for the registration and licensing of persons engaged in the business of manufacturing, exporting, or importing arms, ammunition, or implements of war; and restricting travel by American citizens on belligerent ships during war.

This Joint Resolution was based in part upon tentative suggestions for legislation to modify our neutrality policy which were furnished by the Department to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at the request of its Chairman, and in part upon S. 2998—A Bill To control the trade in arms, ammunition, and implements of war—which was drafted by Mr. Green of the Department and has since had the active support of the Department. In combining and redrafting these tentative suggestions and this Bill, the Committee on Foreign Relations modified them in several essential respects. The most important of these modifications are embodied in Sections 1 and 2 of the Joint Resolution.

  • Section 1 would require the President “upon the outbreak or during the progress of war between or among two or more foreign states” to “proclaim such fact”. Thereafter it would be unlawful to export such arms as the President might designate to any of the belligerent [Page 351] states. This provision is, in my opinion, an invasion of the constitutional and traditional power of the Executive to conduct the foreign relations of the United States. It is an attempt to impose upon the Executive by legislative act a fixed and inflexible line of conduct which it must follow, thereby depriving it of a large measure of its discretion in negotiating with foreign powers in circumstances when Executive discretion and flexibility of policy might be essential to the interests of the United States. Furthermore this provision would tend to deprive this Government of a great measure of its influence in promoting and preserving peace. The question of our attitude toward collective action against an aggressor is only one of the many aspects of a much larger question.
  • Section 2 contains provisions, selected apparently somewhat at random and without due consideration of the importance of the parts which are omitted, drawn from S. 2998, a Bill which in its original form was a carefully considered and well coordinated unit.

Both Sections 1 and 2 contain obscure provisions which it will be difficult to interpret, provisions which are so worded as to make their enforcement unnecessarily complicated and difficult, and provisions of very doubtful constitutionality.

In spite of my very strong and, I believe, well founded objections to this Joint Resolution, I do not feel that I can properly in all the circumstances recommend that you withhold your approval. Section 1 terminates on February 29, 1936. Section 2 is so manifestly inadequate that it will have to be later amended. I hope that satisfactory legislation to replace these two sections can be enacted at the next session of Congress. I shall at the appropriate time venture to submit, for your consideration, the text of a message on this subject which you may wish to address to the Congress.

If you intend to make a statement to the press in regard to this Joint Resolution you may wish to make some such statement as the following:

I have given my approval to S. J. Res. 173—the neutrality legislation which passed Congress last week.

I have approved this Joint Resolution because it was intended as an expression of the fixed desire of the Government and the people of the United States to avoid any action which might involve us in war. This Joint Resolution may in some degree serve to that end. Section 1 terminates on February 29, 1936. There will be time before that date for Congress to give further and fuller consideration to the subjects dealt with in this Joint Resolution. I hope that Section 1 may be replaced by permanent legislation which will provide for greater flexibility of action in the many unforeseeable situations with which we may be confronted. It is the policy of this Government to avoid being drawn into wars between other nations, but it is equally our policy to exert the influence of this country in [Page 352] cooperation with other governments to maintain and promote peace. It is conceivable that situations may arise in which inflexible provisions of law might have exactly the opposite effect from that which was intended. I hope also that Section 2 may be redrafted along the lines of the Bill to control the trade in arms, ammunition and implements of war, which was favorably reported by the appropriate Committees of both Houses but which failed of enactment. Moreover, when this subject is again considered by Congress, it may well be found that the Joint Resolution may be expanded so as to include provisions dealing with important aspects of our neutrality policy which have not been dealt with in this temporary measure.

If, for any reason, you should not deem it advisable to make such a statement, would you or not suggest my giving a similar statement to the press?

The engrossed bill is returned herewith.

Faithfully yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Not printed.
  2. Approved August 31, 1935; 49 Stat. 1081.