Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11





Ohio Representative John M. Vorys

and the Arms Embargo in 1939





During the last few years, Congress increasingly has favored a reduction in Ameri-

can commitments to foreign nations. This action has reversed a long-standing pol-

icy of globalism stemming from World War II. Congress probably has not wit-

nessed such widespread noninterventionist sentiments since shortly before World

War II, when the legislative branch refused to repeal the arms embargo or permit

munitions sales to belligerent nations. Numerous historians have analyzed the con-

troversial attempt to repeal the arms embargo at the regular 1939 session, but have

devoted surprisingly little space to the significant role of freshman Republican John

M. Vorys of Ohio in leading a determined movement to cling to the bastions of non-

interventionism.' This study investigates the crucial role played by this Ohio Con-

gressman in preventing Congress from removing the arms embargo before the out-

break of World War II.

Vorys, a member of a prominent Ohio family, rose quickly in the world of poli-

tics. The second of four sons, he was born June 16, 1896, in Lancaster and began

his education in the public schools there. His father, Arthur, who practiced law and

served as city solicitor of that upper Hocking Valley industrial center, later joined

the law firm of Sater, Seymour and Pease in Columbus. Arthur also served as a

State Superintendent of Insurance and as a Republican national committeeman.

After the family had moved to the capital city, young Vorys graduated in 1914 from

East High School and entered Yale University. Following the outbreak of World

War I, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps, saw action overseas as a

fighter pilot, and rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant. Returning to Yale to earn

a B. A. degree in 1919, he taught the next year in Changsha, China, and spent 1921

and 1922 as an assistant secretary for the American delegation at the Washington

Naval Disarmament Conference. Vorys received a law degree in 1923 from Ohio

State University and joined his father's firm. He then began dabbling in politics,

serving in 1923-24 as a representative from Franklin County in the Ohio General

Assembly and sitting the next two years for the Tenth District in the Ohio senate.

An aviation enthusiast and author of an article on airplane supervision, he was ap-




1. The most comprehensive work on neutrality revision is Robert Divine, The Illusion of Neutrality

(Chicago, 1962).


Mr. Porter is Assistant Professor of History, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.