Eleanor Roosevelt to Clarence Pickett

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Clarence Pickett

17 December 1946 [New York City]

Dear Mr. Pickett:

I think it is vitally important that we do all we can to create public support which can be brought to bear on Congress so that the International Refugee Organization and the Emergency Children's Fund will be financially support[ed] and participated in by the United States. I see by the papers that the new Congress is going to be against all of these things.17 To me it is vitally essential that we actively participate if Europe is to return to a decent standard of living and the children are not to be a liability.

Could I ask you to get in touch with as many groups as possible and ask that some practical work be done and is there any other way in which you think I can reach people to get this sort of thing accomplished?18

                                         Very cordially yours,


1. Most countries favored replacing UNRRA with a new international organization that would distribute relief supplies. The United States and Great Britain, which together covered 87 percent of UNRRAs costs, preferred, however, to distribute food and other relief supplies under bilateral agreements with individual nations. Under a compromise agreement proposed by Canada, a UN technical committee would determine the amount of aid needed by the recipient countries, leaving the donor nations to determine the actual allocations ("The Record of the Meeting of the United Nations Assembly," NYT, 15 December 1946, E5; Frank S. Adams, "IRO Constitution Submitted to Members by 30-5 Vote," NYT, 16 December 1946, 1). For UNRRA, see n7 Document 55 and n8 and n9 Document 86.

2. Congress and the press repeatedly criticized UNRRA for its handling of funds and for its sometimes slow delivery of aid, but political issues caused the most controversy. While the United States provided most of the funding and Americans headed up the organization, the countries receiving aid distributed the supplies provided by UNRRA. Some critics accused Eastern European countries of diverting supplies to the Red Army or other military organizations. Although most of these charges remained unsubstantiated, the accusations, together with rising opposition to assisting Communist countries at all, made Congress demand more control over the allocation of future aid (HSTE).

3. Sir Carl Berendsen (1890–1973), New Zealand's ambassador to the United States, headed his nation's delegation to the United Nations from 1946 to 1951 (Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, http://www.dnzb.gohvt.nz/dnzb/default.asp?Find_Quick.asp?PersonEssay=4B25, accessed 27 October 2005).

4. See Document 91 and Document 152.

5. The United Nations designed the IRO to assume refugee functions handled by the soon to be dismantled UNRRA.

6. General Assembly, Sixty-Sixth Plenary Meeting, 15 December 1948, 1420-24, UNORGA, MWelC.

7. The New York Herald Tribune headlined its December 15, 1946, article "I.R.O. Is Set Up, Giving Hope to World Refugees." Despite its title, however, the article explained that unless fifteen nations ratified the IRO constitution and committed sufficient funds, the organization would become nothing more than a small preparatory commission. The New York Times presented a more ambiguous account. It reported that "despite Soviet opposition the draft constitution [of the IRO] was approved [by the Third Committee] and an interim commission was created to handle refugee problems between the time UNRRA ends its work and the IRO can take over." It did not say, however, that the General Assembly had not yet voted on the IRO constitution, nor did it report that the IRO would not come into being until a sufficient number of governments had signed the constitution and committed funds to support the organization (Kenyon Kilbon, "I.R.O. Is Set Up, Giving Hope to World Refugees," New York Herald Tribune, 15 December 1946, 1; "The Record of the Meeting of the United Nations Assembly: Agreements, Which Will Now Be Carried Out, and Other Important Subjects Where Agreement Failed," NYT, 15 December 1946, E5).

8. For the commitments needed from member nations to bring the IRO into being, see the header to Document 169.

9. For UNRRA, see n7 Document 55.

10. The IRO budget included $4,800,000 for administrative expenses; $151,060,500 for operating expenses; and $5,000,000 for "large-scale resettlement operations" (Frank S. Adams, "IRO Constitution Submitted to Members by 30-5 Vote," NYT, 16 December 1946, 1; "IRO Document Turned Over to U.N. Secretary General," NYT, 4 July 1947, 5).

11. Ibid.

12. Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman (1889–1967), archbishop of New York and vicar of the US Armed Forces, was the most prominent leader of the Catholic Church in America. Spellman, like ER, supported the campaign led by the United Jewish Appeal to raise funds for refugees in Europe. Ed Flynn was Catholic and knew Spellman well (ANBO).

13. The Republicans, having won control of Congress in the November 1946 election, would have to approve the IRO appropriation when the new Congress convened in January. They intended to cut taxes and expressed opposition to assuming too much of the burden of overseas refugee and relief efforts. Sen. Vandenberg, the incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced the day after the election that he would review United States' contributions to UN specialized agencies alongside the US contribution to the general UN administrative budget and each budgetary decision "will necessarily affect our attitude toward other problems." Furthermore, he announced his intent to revisit the percentage the US currently contributed to the UN's general operating fund ("Vandenberg Vows Biparty Aid to U.N.," NYT, 9 November 1946, 1; "After UNRRA," NYT, 16 November 1946, 18; Ernest K. Lindley, "Congress and Relief," WP, 11 December 1946, 9).

14. The following month ER told James Hendrick that Catholic and other relief agencies expressed the same reservations about the IRO as they had expressed about UNRRA and UNICEF:

Mrs. Roosevelt said she had talked with representatives of the Catholic church in regard to the Children's Fund. They are very disturbed over the manner in which it has been handled up to date. What they want to be sure of is that the Children's Fund will make use of voluntary organizations in the field instead of building up a new staff. The Children's Fund would, of course, have the right of inspection.

With regard to contributions, they felt that there should be concentration on securing government contributions rather than individual contributions and that the soliciting of individual contributions should be very carefully handled so as not to conflict with soliciting for private organizations.

Mrs. Roosevelt noted that, while nothing was said on this subject, she felt sure that the Catholic organizations wanted to reserve to themselves the right to continue religious instruction at the same time that they dispensed help; that they feared the Children's Fund might cut down on their possibilities for continuing this work.

If the Children's Fund could be so run that a maximum effort would be directed toward actually feeding children and a minimum used for overhead, and if suitable arrangements could be made with regard to use of voluntary organizations and avoiding conflicts in solicitation, then the Catholic organizations would support the Fund. Otherwise, they would be disposed to take active measures to fight it.

The situation with regard to other voluntary organizations is somewhat similar; and at a meeting of non-governmental organizations held recently a resolution was passed which was derogatory to the Children's Fund (James Hendrick, Memorandum of Conversation, 30 January 1947, RG59, NARA II).

15. For Clarence Pickett, see n21 Document 95.

16. ER to Professor Joseph D. Chamberlain, ER to Mr. Paul Kellogg, and ER to Mrs. LaFell Dickinson, 17 December 1946, AERP.

17. On Congressional opposition to overseas refugee and relief efforts, see n13. Congress did not appropriate funding to UNICEF until late May 1947, when it voted an allocation of between $15,000,000 and $40,000,000. Congress approved IRO appropriations June 30, the day UNRRA expired and Truman signed the funding bill the following day. The United States did not become an "official and unconditional member" of the IRO until July 4 when ER and UN delegate Warren Austin submitted the papers attesting to congressional support to Secretary-General Lie ("IRO Document Turned Over to U.N. Secretary General," NYT, 4 July 1947, 5).

18. Pickett responded:

I think you know that I have done everything I could to see that the IRO was approved and authorized by Committee 3 and the Assembly of the UN. I know, of course, that what I can do directly with Congress is very limited because I am the secretary of an agency which has tax-exemption on its gifts, but on both the IRO and the Children's Emergency Fund we are arranging to educate our own public to the problems that are to be met by these organizations and the importance of their being met by UN-approved agencies. I am also asking the Friends Committee on National Legislation which is set up to do direct work with Congress and its funds are not tax-exempt to give attention to this matter with Congress itself.

You may be sure that we will do everything we can to muster support for both agencies (Clarence Pickett to ER, 27 December 1946, AERP).

Responding to a Vehement Critic

ER often received stinging criticism from those opposed to her views. For example, December 20, Vincent Burns of Santa Barbara, California, wrote to accuse ER of "pro-pagan propaganda" for the position she took on Niemöller's upcoming visit1 and the position he thought she took on the trial of twenty-nine individuals indicted under the Smith Act for conspiring with the German government.2

ER, he argued, fell "far short of being willing to practice" the principle of free speech:

You did, as I recall from your speeches, condemn the so-called 28 seditionists, who were imprisoned for more than four years and persecuted unjustly, when in not one single instance was proof adduced which ever established that they advocated overthrow of our government. If the principle above quoted is good now why wasn't it good for those 28 Americans, who were merely exercising their constitutional rights of free speech, even tho their ideas were unpopular?

Furthermore, every sane person knows that every Communist, every member of that party, not only openly and violently advocates overthrow of our government but actually works with his fellows toward that end. When have you ever said one word against that? Tell me, frankly and honestly, do you not think that the Communist menace, with its millions of spies, its unlimited funds, its diabolically clever propaganda and underhanded methods, is a thousand times more dangerous than the feeble and innocent efforts of 28 uneducated and ineffective so-called seditionists? That being true, why have you failed to point out that menace?

Still further. The other day you went far out of the way to pour your malice and vicious disapproval upon the head of a visiting Christian clergyman, Niemoeller. You didn't want Americans to listen to him. You called him a Nazi. You were indignant at his presence …

This to me is a very clear revelation, not of Niemoeller's shortcoming, but of your own. You are constantly attacking intolerance and bigotry. Yet you are in this instance guilty of a very offensive kind of intolerance and bigotry … You were loud in your protestation against the hate Hitler and his friends had for the Jews. Now your hate is proving how shallow and hypocritical was your protest, and that of all Jews.

But even worse is this point, which you cannot and dare not deny. At the very moment when you were opening your vial of hate on the head of a Christian man Communists and fellow-agitators in Madison Square garden were bitterly attacking our government as "imperialist" and "blocking the peace".3 Did you raise your voice against these hate-mongers from Moscow? Of course not. Because like your fool son, Elliott, who in Moscow the other day chose to condemn his own flag and his own people to curry favor with the tyrannous clique of the Lenin-Stalin axis,4 you are at heart disloyal to the two basic foundations of America: number one, its great Christian heritage, and number two, its great principle of equality of justice to all.

After filling the margins of Burns's letter with her rebuttals, ER then asked her secretary to type them as the following reply:

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Clarence Pickett

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Clarence Pickett