The Nye committee, officially named the Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry, was created by the U. S. Senate on April 12, 1934. The widespread sense that participation in World War I had been a mistake led many Americans, especially isolationist and pacifist groups, to have suspicions about business-government complicity in the U. S. involvement in World War I. Peace groups called for congressional investigations of the munitions makers and their financial allies, and ISOLATIONISTS in the Senate succeeded in passing legislation that called for an investigation of munitions makers and their profits. Under the resolution, Vice President JOHN Nance Garner selected the committee members, including Senator Gerald P. Nye as chairman. Nye, a progressive Republican from North Dakota, was an ardent isolationist, as were the majority of the committee’s other members.
After spending the summer of 1934 searching files of armament companies and subpoenaing witnesses, the committee held a first round of hearings in September. The committee interrogated BUSINESS leaders from companies engaged in the production and sale of armaments and munitions, with the star witnesses being the DuPont brothers of E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company. The second round of hearings, held from December 1934 to April 1935, shifted focus from the armament makers themselves to the relationship between the munitions interests and the federal GOVERNMENT. In March 1935, the Nye committee met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who urged the group to study and submit neutrality legislation to Congress, and Nye and his colleagues introduced legislation that led to the passage of the NEUTRALITY ACTS.
Chairman Nye, through speeches and RADIO addresses, generated a great deal of publicity for the committee, but he and his committee often sparked controversy as well. The committee issued two reports in late 1935, one urging a defensive navy built without profiteering or collusion, and the other proposing wartime taxes and price controls to take the profit out of war. The Nye committee’s third round of hearings was held in January and February 1936, with testimony from representatives of firearms companies, steel companies, and financier J. P. Morgan, Jr. While interrogating Morgan, Nye accused President Woodrow Wilson of falsifying knowledge of Allied secret tactics during World War I—and was denounced by Senate Democrats for his attacks on Wilson.
In all, the Nye committee issued seven reports. In the reports, the committee accused munitions makers of bribery and influence peddling, proposed new approaches to wartime mobilization to eliminate profit, recommended permanent neutrality legislation, detailed the activities of J. P. Morgan and Company, and advocated government ownership of the munitions industry. The two years of hearings, investigations, and reports of the Nye committee helped build public support for isolationism and led to passage of the restrictive neutrality laws of the mid-1930s.
See also foreign policy.
Further reading: Wayne S. Cole, Senator Gerald P. Nye and American Foreign Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962); Mathew Coulter, The Senate Munitions Inquiry of the 1930s: Beyond the Merchants of Death (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1947); Paul A. C. Koistinen, Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1920-1939 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998).
—William J. Thompson