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

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HYDE PARK, Friday—The International League for the Rights of Man has sent me a rather interesting document in which it has compared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the practices in the United States.

The league is trying to get their affiliates in all parts of the world to do the same for all other countries, so that every country will have before it the actual discrepancy between what is set up as a standard or included as an aspiration in the Universal Declaration and the actual conditions prevalent in their country.

I knew that in many ways the United States would fall short in some of its laws, and certainly in some of its actual practices. I was surprised, however, to find in how many ways we did not meet the desired standards. Of course, our acceptance of the Declaration did not in any way obligate us to change our laws, but we are under an obligation to try to inform the people of our country and to have them understand why certain standards were considered desirable by those who accepted the Declaration.

In our law, a number of the standards set in the Universal Declaration are accepted, but the protections are not always adequate. One thing that surprised me greatly was in regard to Article Four of the Declaration. This says: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all its forms."

The remark made on this in the brochure is that "slavery and peonage are crimes, though Negro peonage exists widely on Southern plantations and in some Southern industries." It seems incredible to me that we know that peonage exists and that both state and federal laws cannot prevent such a thing going on when it is forbidden by law.

An important aspect of this document as prepared by the International League is the revelation that there are a number of things in our laws that are good, but that frequently they are either ignored or some way is found so that we do not have to live up to them.

I was very much surprised also to discover that our standards are far below the standards set in Article 16, which provides that "men and women of full age without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." I had never realized that 29 of our 48 states ban marriages between those of the Caucasian race with people of other races and that there are many states in which men and women do not have equal rights in marriage or in divorce.

It is also true, of course, that Social Security in the United States is limited in the law to about half of the employed population. An effort is made constantly to have this changed and to increase the coverage. So far it has been unsuccessful. The league comments that on the statement that "everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests," this is generally guaranteed by law and effective, except in the South.

I shall be very much interested to see what the reports on other nations have to say. I am sure we are not among the most backward countries in the world and yet I am surprised to find how much there remains for us to achieve to find ourselves in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Hyde Park (Dutchess County, N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, July 9, 1949

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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