Excerpt from "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to the Democratic National Convention on the Importance of the United Nations, Chicago, Illinois, July 23, 1952" Reprinted in A Treasury of Great America Speeches, published in 1970
"In examining what the UN has done, and what it cis striving to do, it must be remembered that peace, like freedom, is elusive, hard to come by, harder to keep. It cannot be put into a purse or a hip pocket and buttoned there to stay."
In Chicago, Illinois, on July 23, 1952, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), wife of the late U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), spoke to the Democratic National Convention concerning the United Nations (UN). Since President Roosevelt's death in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt had continued to be an influential public figure. In this speech, she spoke to those in the Democratic Party not yet convinced of the worth of the UN. She was also speaking to those outside the party who considered the UN to be only a forum for communists to proclaim their party line.
The UN was born in 1945 when fifty member nations voted to accept a charter, or document establishing the organization. The UN was the second attempt to establish a worldwide peacekeeping organization in the twentieth century. The first attempt, known as the League of Nations, was formed after World War I (1914–18), but it proved ineffective. On December 10, 1948, the UN approved a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Eleanor Roosevelt had helped to author. In June 1950, the Security Council of the UN approved a resolution to send UN troops to Korea to halt communist North Korea's invasion of democratic South Korea.
In her speech, Eleanor Roosevelt first related that her husband had been determined to establish "another world organization to help us keep the peace of the world." She stated that the United Nations was "mankind's best hope" to promote peace. She reminded her audience that peace was "elusive, hard to come by, harder to keep." She affirmed that the United States could "no longer live apart from the rest of the world." Calling those who attack the United Nations "short-sighted," she stated that the United States, because of its "national strength," must provide a key leadership role for the democratic nations of the world. She spoke of the tragedy in Korea and of the many men still fighting there at the time. She also pointed out that Korea was the first "application," or use of combined forces from a number of nations, under the banner of the UN. (The UN had also helped to keep the peace in Iran, Greece, Palestine, Indonesia, Pakistan, and India.) Eleanor Roosevelt, while strongly affirming the need to halt the spread of communism, also noted that it was fortunate that the UN provided a place where the United States and communists could meet.
Since her husband died, Eleanor Roosevelt had, as an individual, carved a place for herself in foreign affairs. She had a strong, forceful character and obvious talent for persuasive public speaking. This speech was considered an example of her strength of expression. Even critics of the United Nations credited her with stimulating thought and debate on the important subject of the peacekeeping organization.
Things to remember while reading "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to the Democratic National Convention on the Importance of the United Nations":
- Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations from 1945 to 1951.
- The UN was only seven years old and had many critics. It was still unclear if the UN could indeed survive as the world's forum for debate and compromise to keep peace.
Excerpt from "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Address to the Democratic National Convention on the Importance of the United Nations"
You are very kind to me and I am glad to have been asked to talk to you about the United Nations, about its past, about what it is doing today and more important, about its future.
I remember well, even though it seems a long time ago, hearing for the first time a statement and the reasons why, when the war ended, we must make another try to create another world organization to help us keep the peace of the world. This talk took place in my husband's study in the White House one evening during the bitter days of the last war when victory was not yet in sight.
There have been sacrifices and discouragements, triumphs and set-backs. The United Nations is attempting to convert this last chance, carrying mankind's best hope, into an effective instrument that will enable our children and our children's children to maintain peace in their time. The path upon which we have set our course is not an easy one. The trail is often difficult to find. We must make our maps as we go along but we travel in good company with men and women of good-will in the free countries of the world.
Without the United Nations our country would walk alone, ruled by fear, instead of confidence and hope. To weaken or hamstring the United Nations now, through lack of faith and lack of vision, would be to condemn ourselves to endless struggle for survival in a jungle world.
In examining what the UN has done, and what it is striving to do, it must be remembered that peace, like freedom, is elusive, hard to come by, harder to keep. It cannot be put into a purse or a hip pocket and buttoned there to stay. To achieve peace we must recognize the historic truth that we can no longer live apart from the rest of the world. We must also recognize the fact that peace, like freedom, is not won once and for all. It is fought for daily, in many small acts, and is the result of many individual efforts.
These are days of shrinking horizons, a "neighborhood of nations though unhappily all of us are not as yet good neighbors."
We should remember that the UN is not a cure-all. It is only an instrument capable of effective action when its members have a will to make it work. It cannot be any better than the individual nations are. You often ask what can I, as an individual, do to help the US, to help in the struggle for a peaceful world.
I answer—Make your own country the best possible country for all its citizens to live in and it will become a valuable member of the Neighborhood of Nations. This can only be done with home, community, representatives.
The UN is the machinery through which peace may be achieved and it is the responsibility of 60 nations and their delegations to make that machinery work. Yet you and I may carry the greatest responsibility because our national strength has given us opportunities for leadership among the nations of the free world.
The UN is the only machinery for the furtherance of peace that exists today. There is a small articulate minority in this country which advocates changing our national symbol which is the eagle to that of the ostrich and withdrawing from the UN. This minority reminds me of a story of a short-sighted and selfish man who put green goggles on his cow and fed her sawdust. The cow became sick and died. I warn you against the short-sighted and selfish men who are trying to distort the vision of the American people. We must have eagle eyes. These men who lack vision are poor in hope. They turn their backs on the future and live in the past. They seek to weaken and destroy this world organization through their attacks on the UN. They are expressing a selfish, destructive approach which leads not to peace but to chaos and might eventually lead to World War Three.…
This brings us to the action taken by the UN which has brought sorrow into many American homes. The Communist attack on Korea and the brilliant fight put up by our armies is a matter of history. When the attack occurred we had two choices. We could meet it or let aggression triumph by default and thereby invite further piecemeal conquests all over the Globe. This inevitably would have led to World War Three just as the appeasement of Munich and seizure of Czechoslovakia led to World War Two, the most destructive war in history.…
We pray for a just and lasting peace in Korea for the sake of the people of that land and for our own men and those soldiers
Korea was not only the first successful application of collective security on the part of the UN to stop aggression, without provoking general war, but it has stimulated a free world to build up its defenses. It has not been as quick in the achievement of results as it would have been if the UN had been fully organized to put down any aggression. It has been impossible to organize that machinery as yet because two nations, the US and the USSR [the Soviet Union] haven't been able to come to an agreement as to how this collective security within the UN may be organized. We think the fault lies with the USSR because she will not see that without a planned
method of disarmament and control of all weapons, adequately verified through inspection, we and many other nations in the world cannot feel safe, but at least through the UN we can go on with negotiations and pray for a pure heart and clean hands which may eventually bring us the confidence even of the Soviet Union and lead us to the desired results.
In the UN we meet with the Communists and it is fortunate this meeting place exists. We know we cannot relax our vigilance or stop our efforts to control the spread of communism. Their attacks on us in the UN have one great value—they keep us from forgetting our shortcomings or to become apathetic in our efforts to improve our democracy.
The UN has helped to keep the peace in many areas of the world, notably in Iran and Greece and Palestine and Indonesia, and Pakistan and India. These disputes might have spread into a general war and torn the free world apart and opened the way for Communist expansion and another world war.
While the UN came into being under the present Administration and President [Harry] Truman has been steadfast in his support of the organization, the UN would not be in existence today if it were not for strong bi-partisan support in the very beginning.
I beg you to keep an open mind, never to forget the interests of your own country but to remember your own country may be able to make a contribution which is valuable in the area of human rights and freedoms in joining with other nations not merely in a declaration but in covenants.
I returned not long ago from parts of the world where our attitude on human rights and freedoms affects greatly our leadership.
Some of you will probably be thinking that once upon a time the old lady speaking to you now did a tremendous amount of traveling around the United States. In fact, you may remember a cartoon showing two men down in a coal mine, one man saying to the other: "Gosh, here comes Eleanor. Now what is she doing—traveling around the world just making more trouble?"…
I hope all our travels may serve the great common hope that through the United Nations peace may come to the world.…
What happened next …
One year later, on July 27, 1953, the United Nations' forces signed a cease-fire agreement with North Korea, ending the Korean War. The UN survived its early critics to become the key organization for keeping world peace, security, and human rights. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, it had more than 160 member nations.
Eleanor Roosevelt remained an influential figure in international affairs. She received dignitaries from all over the world at her home, Val Kill, in Hyde Park, New York. Presidents of the United States also sought out her advice. She died in 1962.
Did you know …
- Although the energetic Eleanor Roosevelt was sixty-seven years of age when she gave this address, she continued to write and to travel around the world pursuing human rights for oppressed people and worldwide peace.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt served the country the longest of any U.S. president, from 1933 to 1945. Throughout that time, Eleanor Roosevelt, as first lady, maintained a high public profile traveling throughout the United States, acting, in effect, as the eyes and ears of the president. President Roosevelt, confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio as a young adult, could not move about the country as easily.
Consider the following …
- Eleanor Roosevelt quotes Korean veteran Major James Jabara (1923–1966) from Wichita, Kansas, as saying, "I fought in Korea so I would not have to fight on Main Street in Wichita." Explain what he meant.
- Research the United Nations, its structure, and the important dates in its history through 2000.
For More Information
Bauer, Andrew, ed. A Treasury of Great America Speeches. New York: Hawthorne Books, 1970.
Cook, Blanche W. Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Viking, 1992.
Glendon, Mary Ann. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House, 2001.
Hilderbrand, Robert C. Dumbarton Oaks: The Origins of the United Nations and the Search for Postwar Security. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Pruden, Caroline. Conditional Partners: Eisenhower, the United Nations, and the Search for a Permanent Peace. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
White, N. D. Keeping the Peace: The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Peace and Security. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.