1948: July–December

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1948: July–December

If You Ask Me [excerpt]...859
Proposed Article for Negro Digest...860
W. E. B. Du Bois to Walter White...862
Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter Kotschnig...865
Dean Rusk to Eleanor Roosevelt...866
Eleanor Roosevelt to Dean Rusk...867
Eleanor Roosevelt to Roy Lokken...870
Eleanor Roosevelt to George Marshall...873
Lauchlin Currie to Eleanor Roosevelt...876
My Day...877
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...883
My Day...885
Memorandum of Conversation...887
Eleanor Roosevelt to Irving Flamm...892
My Day...895
Eleanor Roosevelt to Sabra Holbrook...896
"The Struggle for Human Rights" Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris...900
Eleanor Roosevelt to Bernard Baruch...911
Bernard Baruch to Eleanor Roosevelt...912
Eleanor Roosevelt to Bernard Baruch...914
Eleanor Roosevelt to Frances Perkins...918
Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Truman...919
My Day...921
Address by Eleanor Roosevelt at Stuttgart, Germany...924
Eleanor Roosevelt to George Marshall...929
Eleanor Roosevelt to Edward Flynn...931
Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Radio Program [ER's segment]...932
Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Radio Program2 [ER's segment]...936
My Day...939
My Day...940
Eleanor Roosevelt to William Jansen...945
Finalizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Part 3...946
My Day...947
My Day...949
My Day...951
My Day...953
My Day...955
My Day...957
My Day...959
My Day...962
My Day...964
My Day...966
My Day...968
My Day...969
Statement by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt U.S. Representative to the General Assembly...972
Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt Radio Program...975
My Day...980
Memorandum for the President...982

"I have come this evening to talk with you on one of the greatest issues of our time—that is the preservation of human freedom."

Eleanor Roosevelt chafed as 1948 drew to a close. Fearful that the Berlin Blockade, the Communist victory in China, the re-industrialization of the Ruhr, Soviet entrenchment in the Balkans, the assassinations of Gandhi and Bernadotte, the escalating refugee crisis in Palestine, and the deadlock over atomic energy would hurl the world closer to war, she redoubled her efforts to secure the General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although the United Nations would ultimately adopt the Declaration without dissent, in early July, that outcome could not be predicted with certainty. Conflicts within the State Department continued, ranging from whether the department should support a legally binding human rights covenant to whether human rights should even be a departmental priority. ER had just finished a contentious meeting with Du Bois regarding the NAACP petition to the Human Rights Commission when she learned that James Hendrick, one of her trusted State Department advisors, had resigned in protest. "Greatly concerned," she wrote Hendrick's supervisor that while "I realize perfectly that the State Department takes no interest in Human Rights and does not think it very important whether the Commission functions or not," she still could not help but "suppose even when the Department is not deeply interested in the subject, it would still want the United States to be properly represented."1

By mid-August, a concerned Truman and Marshall summoned ER to Washington to discuss how best to launch a moral offensive toward peace and manage "the coming session of the United Nations." Accepting "the considerable responsibility" the administration placed on her, ER then agreed "to make an opening speech to set this keynote outside the Assembly."2 Yet, as she told her delegation colleagues the following week, she continued to remain concerned that an early adoption of the Declaration "might prejudice the completion of the draft International Covenant on Human Rights." She then urged that the Declaration's adoption at the upcoming session of the General Assembly be portrayed as the "first step in the Human Rights program" and that the department continue to label "the completion of the Covenant on Human Rights … essential."3

ER delivered her keynote immediately upon her arrival in Paris, telling the 2,500 filling the ornate Sorbonne auditorium that "I have come this evening to talk with you on one of the greatest issues of our time—that is the preservation of human freedom." She then addressed the "fundamental difference in the conception of human rights" and argued that those committed to the principles espoused in the Declaration "must not be deluded by the efforts of the forces of reaction to prostitute the great words of our free tradition and thereby to confuse the struggle."4

ER's speech set the tone for her work steering the Declaration through the Third Committee and the General Assembly itself. As she chronicled in My Day throughout late November and early December, the drafting process involved eighty-five working sessions (many lasting until well past midnight) in which new delegates revisited each word of the Declaration's thirty articles. As discussions over the right to education, to an adequate standard of living, and to old age pensions (where ER found herself debating a proposal crafted by Eva Perón) continued, ER worried that the committee might not act in time to have the General Assembly approve the Declaration. She became more outspoken about Soviet delaying tactics, telling her readers, "One would admire the Soviet persistence in sticking to their point if it were not for the fact that so often the point is not worth sticking to."5 When one Soviet delegate used "the presentation of their amendments to expatiate on the perfections of their way of doing things as opposed to the bad customs and ideas of the United Kingdom and the United States," ER reported a colleague's retort, asking if "those in the USSR's forced labor camps enjoyed paid vacations."6

She recognized the Declaration's imperfections, but as she told her aunt December 9, "On the whole I think it is good as a declaration of rights to which all men may aspire & which we should try to achieve. It has no legal value but should carry moral weight."7 Later that evening, she told the General Assembly that although they stood at a great threshold for dignity and rights, it must remember the "basic character" of the Declaration. "It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation." Rather, "it is a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations."8

The American home front presented ER with a related, serious set of challenges. The House Un-American Activities Committee's investigations moved into her personal circle when HUAC redirected its attention from the entertainment industry back to government. Lauchlin Currie, a former assistant to FDR well known to ER, and Alger Hiss, who advised the American delegation to the UN, came under scrutiny in August when Elizabeth Bentley, a confessed double agent, testified that both men were Soviet spies and, again, in December after Laurence Duggan's sudden death. "I have begun to wonder what the point of all this is," she wrote in My Day, and "I wonder if all this extra-curricular Congressional activity isn't making it more difficult for the FBI to do its job well."9 She also thought zealous loyalty investigations (and the Mundt-Nixon bill) would drive qualified, and dedicated, young people from government service. "I would hesitate in these days about accepting a job in the Government … As things are today, there are very few youngsters who have remembered to be wary enough to take a Government job."10

The Democrats entered the 1948 election more divided than usual. ER, while continuing to urge liberals to remain with the party, did "not have much enthusiasm for Mr. Truman."11 Convinced that her UN position dictated that she remain aloof from overt campaign activity, she opted to work behind the scenes, either advising individual congressional candidates or party leaders. Privately, she expressed some doubts as to the President's abilities, telling Frances Perkins that the party's success lay "in electing a very strong group of liberals in Congress." She then turned to her column to rally the party faithful: "No Democrat wants any support from the Progressive Party and I should not think they would want support from the so-called Dixiecrats. Therefore, Democratic voters must concentrate on electing every liberal they possibly can in every state in the Union, and for every office, whether it is for Senator, Representative, Governor, or a member of a state legislature." When Truman sought her overt endorsement to offset press reports of her dissatisfaction, she quickly authorized him to release her endorsement. However, as she celebrated his reelection, she cautioned Democratic leaders to recognize the party's success "puts a responsibility on all of us to see that the promises made during the campaign are carried out."12

ER ended the year speaking out on many of the same issues she confronted when the year began: the conflict in Palestine, the need for civil rights legislation and the dangers of racial hatred, the importance of a free press and civil liberties, and the critical role the United Nations and the United States must play as world leaders. December 28, she submitted a report Truman had requested she prepare for their forthcoming meeting. "The thing above all others which I would like to bring to your attention," she wrote, "is that we are now engaged in a situation which is as complicated as fighting the war."13

1. See Document 366, ER to Walter Kotschnig, 2 July 1948.

2. See header to Document 379, Speech Delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, 28 September 1948.

3. See Document 375, Memorandum of Conversation, 24 August 1948.

4. See Document 379, Speech Delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, 28 September 1948.

5. See Document 402, My Day, 4 December 1948.

6. See Document 396, My Day, 24 November 1948.

7. ER to Maude Gray, 9 December 1948, DGC, FDRL.

8. See Document 407, Statement by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Representative to the General Assembly, 9 December 1948.

9. See Document 372, My Day, 19 August 1948.

10. See Document 377, My Day, 31 August 1948.

11. See Document 383, ER to Frances Perkins, 4 October 1948.

12. See Document 388, ER to Edward Flynn, 6 November 1948.

13. See Document 410, Memorandum for the President, 28 December 1948.

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1948: July–December

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1948: July–December