If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1949


1. Is a resident of the United States, born in a foreign country of American parents who were vacationing there, eligible for the office of the President of the United States?

The phrase "natural born citizen" has been variously construed, but acts of Congress seem to indicate that the term does apply to children of United States citizens temporarily on foreign soil at time of birth.


2. Is the resident child of an American ambassador born abroad while the parents are serving in their official capacity in the foreign country eligible for the Presidency?

I am told that since an ambassador at no time comes under the temporary allegiance of the foreign sovereign, he is received with the implied consent of the foreign sovereign that he shall possess privileges which exempt him from territorial jurisdiction in order to perform his duties and represent his government. Therefore children are not born subject to the jurisdiction of the foreign sovereign. Thus it would appear that the foreign born children of ambassadors are "natural born" citizens and so are eligible for the Presidency.


3. During your late husband's administration as President you were generally regarded as the leader, or champion, of the communist elements. It has been proved that you assisted the Eislers, Browders, Lashes and other well-known Commies. According to recent press reports, you seem to have lost your enthusiasm for communism. Would you tell us why?

It is interesting to me that you say it has been proved that I aided the Eislers, Browders, Lashes and other well-known Communists. That statement is entirely false.

In the first place, Joseph Lash is not a Communist and never was one. He started the Students' Union and was put out of it when the communist element took control, and then he aided the opposition forces. I never knew the Eislers, but when I was in the White House I received innumerable requests to help people. I forwarded the letters to the State Department with the usual request which was well understood: "Could this be looked into?" This only means review to find out if anything improper had been done.

Browder's case was similar. I know of no well-known Communists whom I ever assisted in any way, or any other Communists.

There were young people in the youth movement who were Communists and with whom I worked. Whether they are Communists today or not, I do not know.

These were times which were very hard for young people, and one had to look for ways in which to make them feel they had some hope under a democracy, if they were to become good citizens in the future. I never had any enthusiasm for communism, any more than I have today. Naturally things are often stated by people who desire to make political capital out of them, but they are untrue.


4. Would it not be wise at this time to invite Russia into the Atlantic Pact? Since this pact is a specific program of economic and military alliance on the principle of force to prevent war, such a move would have two effects: (1) it would establish the validity of the pact as an instrument of peace, not of aggression, spiking Russian charges against it; (2) it would compel Russia to either (a) accept the principle of armed force to preserve peace and cooperate to that end or (b) give up all pretense of any motives except aggression.

I cannot see how it would be possible for Russia to enter into the Atlantic Pact. The Atlantic Pact is more or less, so far at least, a group of states with similar geographical interests. It is true that it is an economic and, to a far smaller extent, a military alliance, and it is true that its objective is to strengthen the democracies and give them sufficient security so that they will develop themselves to the point of being able again to stand on their own feet. In so doing it is hoped that we will increase our opportunities to preserve peace in the world and give the proof that is needed that democracy does truly serve the well-being of the people better than communism, and thereby strengthen our moral and spiritual leadership.

We hope to convince the Communists that it is essential to find a peaceful way of living together in the same world. I do not think that Russia must be in the Atlantic Pact to establish its validity as an instrument of peace. She is quite well aware that we are not seeking aggression. We do not need to convince her, we only need to convince ourselves and the other democracies that it is possible to stand against communist infiltration into our countries. The U.S.S.R. tries to convince the nations of the world that she is the one peace-loving nation, but she knows quite well that that is not so. In time, I think, the democracies will face the realities of the situation and not worry about the possibility that the United States may become aggressive or seek economic domination. When that day comes and we feel internally secure we will have to live together. But first the U.S.S.R. must know that communism cannot dominate the world, then she must demonstrate her intention to cease infiltration and seek cooperation.


5. Can you tell me how you have learned to relax so that it is possible to sleep if there is time available for that purpose? Some of us, though intensely weary, become more tense, and sleep evades us. Can you help us to learn the art of napping so that we may accomplish more than we can when strained and tired?

I can only tell you that I think the art of relaxing comes with self-discipline. You learn to assume a relaxed position, you learn to control your mind and stop it going around in circles. Those two things will make it possible for you to sleep if you are tired.


6. Is it not a matter of humiliation and chagrin to you that your housekeeper, while in the White House, made such rude and discourteous remarks in the book she published about the servants who came to this country with Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Great Britain?

No, it is not a matter of humiliation and chagrin to me that Mrs. Nesbitt, the White House housekeeper, in her book said what she thought. She has a right to think and feel and write whatever she wanted as long as she told the truth as she saw it. Her personal opinions were her own, which she had a right to express, but I am in no way responsible for them.


7. When one is deprived of a college education today, does it necessarily mean that he must live in the stages of mediocrity, or is it still possible for him to clash wits with college graduates? In this period of competitive practice, what attributes must be attained to climb the ladder of success?

I do not think that not having a college education you must of necessity be mediocre all your life. I know many men and women who never had a college education who have reached a fairly satisfactory educational level and are doing as good a job of holding their own as those who had the advantage of a college education. It is true that in getting your initial job at the present time it is an advantage to have a college degree and, of course, if you are going into any of the professions you must have it, besides your graduate work. However, in the fields where a college education is not essential if you educate yourself continuously I think you can compete quite well with college graduates.


8. My young son contracted infantile paralysis at the age of three. Now, eighteen months later, he is walking, aided by long braces and crutches. Because President Roosevelt rose so magnificently above his handicap, I would like to ask you what things meant most to him? What skills would you try to encourage if you were just starting someone off in life with that handicap?

First of all I think at your son's age you are apt to find that he will greatly improve as time goes on and may even recover entirely before he is grown. As far as my husband was concerned I think his most valuable asset was the tremendous number of interests which he had already acquired, so that even though he was condemned to sit still he was never condemned to mental boredom or inactivity. If he was not doing something with his stamp collection, he was poring over books, reading about the American Navy or about a period in history in which he was particularly interested, or he was building toy sailboats and using his hands, which seemed to give him a creative outlet. He often spent hours over catalogues adding to his various collections—stamps, naval prints, first editions, miniature children's books. Any number of things made the time spent in getting well a time in which there was opportunity to do many things that he ordinarily had not had time enough to do. Above all else, he had time to think. If you broaden your son's horizons and awaken his interest in as many things as possible you will find that it will help him all his life, no matter what degree of handicap he may have to endure.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, August 1949

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | SNAC ]

McCall's, volume 76, August 1949

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
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