Roosevelt wanted to help Britain and France in their struggle and asked Congress to revise the neutrality laws to allow the sale of weapons to warring nations. Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939 permitting the sale of weapons, but only on a “cash-and-carry” basis.
In the spring of 1940, the United States faced the first test of its neutrality. Britain asked Roosevelt for old American destroyers to replenish its fleet, and the president used a loophole in the cash-only requirement for purchases. He sent 50 ships to Britain in exchange for America’s use of British bases in the Atlantic. Because the deal did not involve an actual sale, the Neutrality Act did not apply.
Widespread acceptance of the Destroyers-for-Bases deal indicated a change in public opinion. By July 1940, most Americans favored offering limited aid to the Allies, but debate continued over the scope of that aid. The Fight for Freedom Committee wanted the repeal of neutrality laws and stronger actions against Germany. On the other side, the America First Committee opposed any intervention to help the Allies.
After winning reelection in 1940, Roosevelt expanded the nation’s role in the war. Speaking to Congress, he listed the Four Freedoms for which both the United States and Britain stood: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.