Memorandum of Conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt

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Memorandum of Conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt

3 June 1947

Participants: Mrs. Roosevelt, James Hendrick, E. N. Thompson, Walter Kotschnig, Mr. Halderman, Marjorie Whiteman3

Subject: Human Rights Drafting Committee

I gave Mrs. Roosevelt the position papers on the international bill of rights consisting of ISP D-88/47 and attachments and ISP D-87/47. The document on social and economic rights was not ready since it was being discussed that very afternoon by the ISP Subcommittee.4 I told Mrs. Roosevelt I would send that to her before the beginning of the Human Rights Drafting Committee session.

Mrs. Roosevelt went over each of the position papers carefully, discussing the various points which might be raised in connection with them, during the three hours that I was there. She said that she would read the papers more carefully on her trip to Los Angeles and return prior to the Committee meeting.5

Specific comment on a few of the articles is noted:

In article 9 (Liberty of Movement) Mrs. Roosevelt noted that we would have considerable trouble with the USSR. She cited the example of USSR women who had married foreigners and were not allowed to leave the USSR.6 In article 11 Mrs. Roosevelt suggested that a limitation be placed on the statement that "the secrecy of correspondence shall be respected" so as to allow censorship during war time.7 I pointed out that this was intended to be covered by article 2 but Mrs. Roosevelt was not entirely satisfied that the very general statement of article 2 was satisfactory as making it quite clear in the public mind that the article was limited.8

In article 12, Mrs. Roosevelt definitely preferred the U. S. alternative suggestion.9

In article 13 (Right to Marriage) Mrs. Roosevelt made a point which had not occurred to the ISP Subcommittee: that by giving women and men the "same" freedoms to marry we were impliedly stating that there was no right to marriage other than that provided for by the local law and that this would be welcomed by the USSR supporting their laws against marriage of foreigners.10 She felt this must be thought through. Also with reference to article 12,11 Mrs. Roosevelt recognized there would be considerable difficulty with miscegenation laws. She would support an article which would do away with miscegenation laws; but she recognized that our acceptance of such an article would have to be conditioned by our confession that we could not make the article apply today in certain of our states.12

In article 15 she raised a point similar to that made by her with respect to article 11, namely, the adequacy of article 2 to bring the right within reasonable limitations.13 She pointed out that the right to transmit opinions beyond state borders was necessarily subject to the right of censorship because of obscenity but she was not convinced that article 2 made this sufficiently clear.

With regard to article 16 (Access to all sources of information) she pointed out that there had been a D.C. law preventing teachers from collecting their salaries if they so much as mentioned Russia in their teaching. This in her opinion would be a violation of article 16 and it would be a good thing to force the U. S. to correct such situations.14

She was concerned as to whether article 18 (Duty of People Presenting Information) extended to owners and publishers.15 I told her that in my opinion it did. Article 30 (Right to Take Part in Government) was cited by Mrs. Roosevelt as an example of the type of right which would mean one thing to the USSR and another to us.16 Mrs. Roosevelt has already gone on record as saying that this is to be expected in the bill and is unavoidable.

introductory statement before committee

We discussed at some length the methods which might be adopted in connection with the drafting of the bill. It was concluded that Mrs. Roosevelt should make an opening statement to the effect that the task of the Drafting Committee should not be to produce an elegant paper.17 It would be perfectly satisfactory if the Drafting Committee produced a paper which contained duplications and unpolished language. Attempts at elaborate regrouping or reshifting of the articles could only result in undue prolongation of the present session. If the Committee is to finish within two weeks it cannot expect to do more than obtain some measure of agreement with regard to the rights which should be included.


1. The various drafts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, beginning with the Humphrey draft, can be found in appendices 1-7 of Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New.

2. Glendon, 35, 45-50.

3. Walter M. Kotschnig (1901–1985) was chief of the Division of International Organizational Affairs at the State Department and Hendrick's supervisor; E. N. Thompson, John Halderman, and Marjorie Whiteman were State Department advisers to the UN delegation (CB; Lash, Years, 70; "Assignments of Delegates and Advisors by Committees," USSEC/9a, 10 January 1946, AERP).

4. ISP D-88/47 and ISP D-87/47 are detailed position papers prepared by the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Status of Women of the State Department's Committee on International Social Policy (ISP). They consist of a draft international bill of rights based on the draft Humphrey and his staff in the UN Secretariat had prepared. The subcommittee retained some of the articles in Humphrey's draft without change, amended others, and left out those it felt were unnecessary. In addition, the subcommittee provided comments on the articles in Humphrey's draft explaining its reasons for suggesting inclusion, amendment, or exclusion. The ISP subcommittee's analysis only covered the civil and political rights in Humphrey's draft since the ISP had not finished reviewing the articles on economic and social rights. The ISP consisted of representatives of the Departments of State, Justice, Labor, Interior, and the Federal Security Agency. In addition to human rights and the status of women, its subcommittees dealt with issues related to labor, social welfare, and non-self-governing territories (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP; "Position of the United States for the Third Session of the Human Rights Commission," 2 April 1948, AERP).

5. ER went to Los Angeles to speak at the June 5 Jackson Day Dinner sponsored by the Democratic State Committee of California. See Document 231 and Document 232.

6. In April 1947 the Soviet Union refused, for the fourteenth time in two years, to grant exit visas to fifteen Russian women who had married American citizens. The Russians had also refused to issue visas to the wives of British citizens ("Russian Bar Firm on Visas to Wives," NYT, 27 April 1947, 36).

7. The draft of Article 11 ("Liberty and Respect of Private Life") reads: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unauthorized searches and seizures of his person, home, papers and effects, or to unreasonable interference with his person, home, family, relations with others, reputation, privacy, activities or property. The secrecy of correspondence shall be respected" (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP).

8. The draft of Article 2 ("Duty of the Individual Towards Other Individuals") reads: "The state is created by the people for the promotion of their welfare and the protection of their mutual rights. In the exercise of his rights everyone is limited by the rights of others. The state may impose only such limitations on such rights as are compatible with the freedom and welfare of all" (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP).

9. Article 12 concerned the "Right to Possess Legal Personality and Exercise One's Civil Rights." Humphrey's draft reads: "Everyone has the right to a legal personality. No one shall be restricted in the exercise of his civil rights except for reasons based on age or mental condition or as a punishment for a criminal offense." The ISP subcommittee suggested revising the second sentence to read: "No person shall be restricted in the exercise of his civil rights except under general law based on reasons of age or mental incompetence, or as punishment for a criminal offense, or as otherwise permitted in this bill" (Attachment 12 to ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP).

10. Article 13 ("Right to Contract Marriage") reads: "Women and men have the same freedoms to marry, to choose their marriage partners, and the same rights to remedies for breach of marriage, and to safeguards for the health and equal status of all their children" (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP). On the Russian prohibition against marrying foreigners, see n6 above.

11. 12 appears to be a typo for 13 since the comment regards marriage, the topic of Article 13.

12. Laws against miscegenation existed in many states in 1947. In 1950, thirty states had statutes prohibiting interracial marriage. The US Supreme Court finally invalidated anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. Among the major concerns that vexed ER and the State Department during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the contradiction between some of the principles being incorporated into the declaration and the denial of civil rights to African Americans (R. Kennedy, Interracial, 88, 272-78).

13. Article 15 ("Freedom of Opinion") reads: "Everyone has the right to form and hold opinions and to receive them from, and impart them, within or beyond the borders of the State" (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP).

14. Article 16 ("Freedom of Access to All Sources of Information") reads: "Freedom of everyone to receive, read and listen to all matters of information shall not be impaired, and there shall be free and equal access to all sources of information both within and beyond the border of a State." In 1935 Congress passed an appropriations bill for the District of Columbia containing a "red rider" that required teachers and other employees to certify every time they drew a paycheck that they had not "taught or advocated" Communism in or out of the classroom since they had last been paid. The rider passed without discussion and some congressmen were apparently unaware that it had been attached to the bill. Congress repealed the rider the following year amidst considerable controversy. Opponents of the rider argued successfully that it prevented teachers from teaching "the facts" about Russia (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP; "Congress to Debate Communism Issue," WP, 17 May 1936, B1).

15. Article 18 ("Duty of People Presenting Information") reads: "All persons concerned with the dissemination of information shall endeavor to present information in a fair and impartial manner." But a footnote reads: "It is recommended that this article be omitted. The above text is submitted in case it is decided to insert such an article" (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP).

16. Article 30 ("Right to Take Part in the Government of the State-Democracy") reads: "Government derives its just power from the consent of the governed. Everyone has the right to take an effective part in the government of the state or territory of which he is a citizen. The citizens of the state or territory are accordingly entitled to exercise self-government through representatives freely and fairly chosen by them in periodic democratic elections" (ISP D-88/47, 29 May 1947, AERP).

17. According to the summary record of the opening session of the drafting committee:

Mrs. Roosevelt stated that she was of the opinion that it might be very difficult for the Drafting Committee to complete a perfect draft of an International Bill of Human Rights, either as to substance or as to style, during its two-week session. She reminded the delegates that the draft Bill of Human Rights would have to be considered on six separate occasions, after it was completed by the Drafting Committee, before it could be considered final. She mentioned that her Government had considered submitting a draft Bill but had decided not to do so because it felt that it would be better for the Drafting Committee to work from the documented outline prepared by the Secretariat. She suggested that the first thing to be done was to reach agreement on the rights to be included in the draft Bill, and the definitions of those rights. Because of the preliminary nature of the Drafting Committee's work, she proposed that it be understood that no agreement reached in the Drafting Committee be considered as irrevocably binding the Governments represented there, as these Governments might wish to reconsider various parts of the draft at a later date (HRC, Drafting Committee, Summary Record, 9 June 1947, [E/CN.4/AC/1/SR.1], 2, UNOR ECOSOC, MWelC [RM]).

Draft Eisenhower and the California Jackson Day Dinner

May 27, California State Democratic Committee chair James Roosevelt, who like his brothers hoped that Eisenhower could be convinced to replace Truman as the Democratic nominee, sent his mother an advance copy of the "Statement of Policy of the Democratic Party of California" he planned to present to the state committee. Among other domestic and foreign policy proposals, the statement criticized the "unilateral action" implicit in the Truman Doctrine and expressed the desire to "place responsibility for the execution of the 'Truman Doctrine' upon the United Nations," rather than on the United States alone. Writing his mother that he hoped to "deprive Henry Wallace of the appearance of being the only one who is working for peace," he sent her a copy of his statement to "help you in preparing what you have in mind saying" when she addressed the state party's Jackson Day dinner June 5.1

Tensions within the state party, especially the rivalry between James Roosevelt and fellow committeeman Edwin Pauley, escalated throughout the week. ER arrived in Los Angeles June 4. That same day treasury secretary John Snyder suddenly announced that pressing business in Washington forced him to cancel his scheduled address. June 5, Democratic National Committee chairman Gael Sullivan flew in to replace Snyder only to be persuaded by Edwin Pauley to announce his own "eleventh-hour statements of pressure of business in Washington," turn around and fly back to the capital. The cancellations, however, did not dissuade James Roosevelt from criticizing the president's foreign policy.

Dore Schary, the RKO producer scheduled to introduce ER, criticized Sullivan's absence, declaring that "one man who should have been here became worried by the free expression of an idea [and] that by failing to be here, he has insulted a very great lady … and he has insulted a name that he should have always held in great respect and honor." The following day Representative Chet Holifield accused Pauley "of splitting the Democratic Party in California wide open."2

As the national media continued to highlight the dispute, ER wrote the president to express, for the second time, her displeasure with Pauley.3

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Memorandum of Conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt

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