chapter  XIX
XIX World War II and the Constitution
Pages 18

The Second World War, like the First, brought a vast expansion of presidential power that began even before the United States was offi cially at war. Stretching his executive prerogatives to the limit and beyond, President Roosevelt committed the United States to the war against Nazi Germany without seeking the consent of Congress. He really had no choice, for the nation and Congress were sharply divided on the wisdom of American involvement. The isolationism that gripped the country after World War I did not abate with the rise of Hitler in Europe and the aggressions of Japan in the Far East. If anything, developments abroad tended to reinforce it. For many Americans, probably a majority, the world did not seem worth saving. Congress responded with legislation designed to preserve strict neutrality in any future wars. The Johnson Act of 1934 forbade American loans to nations in default on their World War I debts (all except Finland had defaulted), and the Neutrality Act of 1935 prohibited the export of war materials to belligerent nations. These measures refl ected the determination of most Americans not to become involved in future confl icts regardless of what happened to the rest of the world.