Day 74: Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind… . This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt, Speech to U.N. General Assembly on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 9, 1948
In December 1945, seeking to signal America’s commitment to the new United Nations organization— and cement his ties to a powerful Democratic party figure— President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to America’s first delegation to the General Assembly.
Eleanor quickly became a major force on refugee and human rights issues. From 1946 to 1951 she chaired the U.N. Human Rights Commission leading the effort to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An able and determined negotiator, she clashed frequently with Soviet delegates over the definition of human liberties. In the process, she pushed the State Department to recognize that human rights are not only civil and political rights, but social and economic rights too. The Declaration was Eleanor’s proudest achievement at the U.N. It created the modern definition of human rights. Today it is the standard for establishing norms governing international behavior regarding the rights of individuals.
Eleanor’s duties as a delegate to the United Nations included many trips abroad to London, Paris and Geneva. Eleanor received several gifts during these trips including:
- A tortoise shell box presented to ER by an English woman as a token of appreciation in the winter of 1946.
- A color print of the painting by Frank Beresford of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations in London, England, on February 12, 1946. Inscribed and presented to ER by the artist.
- A University of Lyon Academic Stole and Cap presented to ER in November 1948 when she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Lyon, France.
- A silver United Nations medallion presented to ER by the government of France.
- A watercolor of the Rue des Corps-Saints in Geneva’s Old Town by Harry Urban. Presented to ER by the artist in April 1951. The painting hung in the living room of ER’s NYC apartment until her death.
- A group of French commemorative medallions, including one for FDR, from the government of France given to ER during her 1951-52 trip.
- A lithograph of The American Church of Paris by Frank Milton Armington. Presented to ER by the church’s minister, Clayton E. Williams, in December 1951. The print hung in the living room of ER’s NYC apartment until her death.
On this day, June 25, 1945, the United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco. Here, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius signs the charter while President Harry S. Truman (second from left) looks on. The United States delegation is gathered around.
Human Rights Day
Tuesday was Human Rights Day, celebrated for the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights at the time. She regarded her role in drafting and securing adoption of the Declaration as her greatest achievement.
As ER readily admitted, she had no legal training or expert knowledge of parliamentary procedure, but she brought to her job as chair the skills she had acquired as political activist, reformer, and advocate for those excluded from power and an understanding of the meaning of freedom earned through a deep engagement in the struggle in her own country for social and economic justice, civil rights, and women’s rights. She possessed not only a passionate commitment to human rights, but a hard-earned knowledge of the political and cultural obstacles to securing them in a divided world.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home… Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
1958 speech delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Pictured: Eleanor Roosevelt holding poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Lake Success, New York. November 1949.
-from the FDR Library
Truman, Stalin, and Churchill during the Potsdam Conference
The Potsdam Conference was the last major meeting of the leaders of the three main Allied powers and the first of the conferences in which President Truman took part.
The President met both Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill for the first time at Potsdam. The three leaders and their advisors settled many issues, including the establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers to further work on the peace treaties, the governing of Germany during occupation by the Allies, German reparations, the methods for handling war criminals, and the admission of the defeated countries to the United Nations.
In addition, Truman, along with Prime Minister Churchill and Generalisimo Chiang-Kai-shek, jointly issued the famous “Potsdam Proclamation” on July 26, which promised “prompt and utter destruction” to Japan if it did not surrender.
Photo: President Harry S. Truman with Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Cecilienhof Palace during the Potsdam Conference. 7/17/45.
-from the Truman Library
On May 22, 1975, President Ford nominated Daniel Patrick Moynihan to be U.S. Representative to the United Nations.
Moynihan, who previously served as Ambassador to India, was sworn into his new position on June 30.
Here, the two meet in the Oval Office on November 24, 1975.
FDR’s Last Official Act as President: April 12, 1945
Each year around the anniversary of FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, the FDR Library is asked about the last official action taken by Roosevelt as President.
Because of President Roosevelt’s love of stamps and stamp collecting, he was always very involved in the design and issuance of new and commemorative postage stamps.
With the first United Nations Conference scheduled to begin on April 25 in San Francisco, Postmaster General Frank Walker sent a memo to FDR on April 9th asking him to select his preferred design for the UN Conference commemorative stamp. A typed notation made at the top of this memo shows that on April 11, the day before the President died, he selected Design No. 1 to be issued as a five cent stamp and printed in blue.
But this was not the last official act. FDR’s last official directive – given just a half hour before he was stricken – was to agree to the Postmaster’s request that the President purchase the first issue of the UN Conference commemorative. Read More
-from the FDR Library
Truman to MacArthur: “You’re Fired”
Proposed Orders and Statement on Dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur.
On April 11, 1951, President Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur as commander of United Nations forces in Korea due to insubordination, following several incidents in which MacArthur publicly criticized the Commander-in-Chief.
Formerly classified “Top Secret,” this document consists of orders from President Truman relieving General MacArthur of his commands and designating General Matthew Ridgway as his successor, along with a statement explaining MacArthur’s dismissal.
Read more at Prologue: You’re Fired
President Truman with United Nations Cake
Birthday cake presented to President Harry S. Truman (center) by members of the National Citizens Committee for United Nations Day. The cake is to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the United Nations. The cake is made from a recipe of Mrs. Bess Wallace Truman’s that is in the United Nations cookbook, sponsored by the Committee. 9/12/51