How did American attitudes regarding US foreign relations affect Roosevelt's foreign policy change of opinion?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After World War I ended, many Americans wanted to have as little as possible to do with foreign affairs. We wanted to go back to a normal life where we wouldn’t be dealing with many world problems. This attitude continued to exist when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President.

The Nye Committee suggested that our involvement in World War I was heavily influenced by business considerations. The Nye Committee suggested part of the reason why we entered World War I was so our businesses could make money. In the 1930s, a series of neutrality laws were passed significantly restricting what we could do in foreign affairs, especially regarding trade. We weren’t allowed to sell weapons to countries that were at war. We weren’t allowed to sell nonmilitary supplies to countries at war unless these countries paid cash for the products and transported the products on their ships.

President Roosevelt understood these concerns. Plus, we were trying to deal with the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, President Roosevelt knew he needed to make Americans aware of the growing danger in Europe and in Asia. After Japan invaded China in 1937, President Roosevelt gave the “Quarantine Speech” where he told Americans we needed to pay attention to world affairs. He knew that we needed to continue to try deal with the effects of the Great Depression. However, he understood our focus had to extend beyond our borders. As conditions worsened, President Roosevelt began to openly help Great Britain. The Destroyers for Bases program and the Lend-Lease Act were ways for President Roosevelt to get around the restrictive neutrality laws. Creating a hemispheric defense zone was a way for the United States to help the British in the Atlantic Ocean. These actions also helped to awaken Americans to the dangers that existed in the world. The Four Freedoms Speech also was designed to convince Americans we needed to be more vigilant about world events.

President Roosevelt had the difficult task of swaying opinion in favor of becoming more involved in world affairs. As the world situation became more serious, President Roosevelt saw the need for the United States to take action, and he was able to convince Americans that this was the proper course of action. 

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