The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK, Friday—Anyone who sat and listened in the General Assembly last Wednesday morning must have been struck by the fact that two of the principal speakers—for the U. S. and for the Poles—based some of their remarks on real misunderstanding of each other's motives. Yet we must have cooperation and goodwill among nations! Everything was said with dignity and restraint, but each side felt the other was wrong.

I believe that the motives of the United States would be easier for foreign nations to understand if they remembered two simple facts. One, our interpretation of democracy may be different from theirs.

We interpret democracy in action as meaning that the government has no control over business enterprises run by individuals or organizations except as the laws of the country may provide. We have, for instance, no law which permits the government to tell a newspaper what it may or may not print except under certain circumstances. Therefore, the opinions expressed in newspapers are what the owners and editors believe, and do not reflect the attitude of the government unless they are in agreement. These ideas may reflect the thinking of groups of people in the country who, in turn, may be influenced by the newspapers. But the papers cannot be suppressed or punished by the government for the mere stating of their ideas, no matter how divergent those ideas may be from the policy of the government.

* * *

The second thing which foreign nations should understand and remember is that the executive part of our government, before taking action in many cases, must go to the Congress for final agreement. The Congress supposedly represents the thinking of the people as a whole. Some of us have thought on occasions that the Congress lagged behind the real feeling and thinking of the people. The men in Congress, however, have a real interest in knowing what the majority of their constituents think, since they remain in office only as long as they truly represent their constituents.

Our type of democracy requires more patience than does any kind of authoritarian government. Such governments may call themselves democratic but they do not have to wait for the people to be educated to a new idea. They can act, then wait for the people to catch up later.

That is not the case in the United States. Therefore, it is frequently necessary for the executive part of our government to mould its plans to meet the requirements of the legislative side of the government.

* * *

Take, for instance, the Marshall Plan. As far as the ordinary citizen can see, it is really not a plan but simply a method suggested by the Secretary of State for accomplishing certain ends in a given situation. The need in Europe for assistance in rehabilitation is a reality, and he knows that any plan reached under the United Nations will still have to count in large part on contributions from the United States.

He is quite conscious of the fact that his department will be helpless to do anything unless Europe has satisfied certain questions in the minds of Congress and of the American people. The questions are simple. What are the actual needs of Europe today? What can the countries needing aid do for themselves? How will the money provided by the United States, either through a United Nations organization or in some other way, be spent? Unless Secretary Marshall has the true facts, he cannot possibly give information to the people of the United States and to their representatives which will allow him to carry out any plan.

In addition, when certain conditions are laid down by our government, the action reflects not what the executive branch may desire but what it thinks must be done because of the feeling that may exist in Congress. To change this feeling may be desirable, but it takes time in every case. The slowness of this process is the price we pay for our kind of democracy. Vituperation, invective, bad manners will not bring that good feeling.

E. R.


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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, September 20, 1947

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.