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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches

Speech to the 1952 Democratic National Convention

July 22, 1952


ER's speech at the 1952 DNC. She discusses the United Nations and American foreign policy.

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[Unknown announcer:]

I might tell you that Chairman Dever delivered the keynote address last night and he's never quite recovered vocally. And now he's waving for them, and I think Mrs. Roosevelt is about to speak.


Ladies and gentleman of the convention, you have been more than kind to me, but I know that this demonstration was not for me, it was in memory of my husband and for the things he cared for: the Democratic Party and our country. [Applause] I-I 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 on 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. My husband, discussing what would happen after the war, turned to a friend and said in effect, "When this was is over and we have won it, as we will, we must apply the hard lessons learned in the war and in the failure of the League of Nations to the task of building a society of nations dedicated to enduring peace. There will be sacrifices and discouragements, but we must not fail for we may never have another chance."


There have been sacrifices and discouragements, triumphs and setbacks. 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 United Nations 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 small acts, and is the result of many individual efforts. These are days of shrinking horizons. We live in a neighborhood of nations, though unhappily all of us are not as yet good neighbors. We should remember that the United Nations 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 United Nations and 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--


This can only be done in our homes, in our communities, and through the representatives that we elect to national and state office. The United Nations is the machinery through which peace may be achieved. And it is the responsibility of sixty nations and their delegations to make that machinery work. You and I carry the greatest responsibility because our national strength has given us opportunities for leadership among the nations of the free world. The United Nations 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 United Nations. This minority reminds me of a story of a shortsighted and selfish man who put green goggles on his cow and fed her sawdust. The cow became sick and died. I warn you against shortsighted 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. They are expressing a selfish, destructive approach, which leads not to peace but to chaos and might eventually lead to World War III.

Much is said about divided loyalties. Should the United Nations' flag be displayed with our own? Should our children be taught about an effort to create world understanding and unity? Will all this weaken their patriotism and the love of their own country? Of course not. We begin life with loyalty only to our parents [coughs]. As we grow, we are loyal to wife, to children, to friends, and to communities. Later, as we mature, we are loyal to our state, to our nation, [coughs] and finally, to a neighborhood of nations.

This brings us to an action taken by the United Nations 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 conquest all over the globe. This inevitably would have led to World War III, just as the appeasement of Munich and the seizure of Czechoslovakia led to World War II. Great sacrifices have been made in Korea by our soldiers, and at home by mothers, wives, and sweethearts in support of this United Nations action. To a more limited extent, the same sacrifices have been made by other member nations. [Coughs] There is torment and anguished waiting in many homes this very night. But at the same time, there must be gratitude that our own land has been preserved from attack and for all of us there must be pride in the proof of the staunchness and heroism of American men.


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 of the United Nations fighting with them. We cannot hurry this peace [coughs] until the Communists agree to honest terms. If you ask the reason why our men are in Korea, you were given the answer tonight when Mrs. Edwards told you what Major Jabara said, "Our men are there so that they will not fight in the streets of their hometowns."


Korea was not only the first successful application of collective security on the part of the United Nations 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 United Nations had been fully organized to put down any aggression. It has been impossible to organize that machinery as yet because two nations, the United States and the Soviet Union, haven't been able to come to an agreement as to how this collective security within the United Nations may be organized. We think the fault lies with the Soviets because they 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 United Nations 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 United Nations, 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 United Nations have one great value: they keep us from forgetting our shortcomings and from relaxing our efforts to improve our democracy [coughs].


It must not be forgotten that the United Nations has helped to keep the peace in many areas of the world: in Iran and Greece, in Palestine and Indonesia, in 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. It is also important to remember the tremendous contribution to international well-being of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the specialized agencies. The United Nations is concerned and helpful in economic questions. Can our great productive capacity be of use to the world? Yes. The world needs our goods, but the world must be able to buy them. And we must buy from other nations in return. Trade is of vital importance to world economic health. And the women of our nation should study what the United Nations can teach us in this area. We are concerned about the food supply of the world, and the specialized agency dealing with food and agriculture has improved that food supply. We are often concerned about health because the health of the world affects the economic situation and if serious epidemics spread, they can spread anywhere in the world. And the World Health Organization carries on a worldwide campaign against disease and is doing a successful job.

UNESCO is much attacked. Nevertheless, it is one organization which is spreading knowledge about the need for better understanding among nations and peoples in the world. And the one organization carrying forward basic and fundamental education, the Children's Emergency Fund, appeals to the heart of the world, but few of us know that forty-two million children have been given needed food, medical supplies, clothing and this fund has been active in sixty-four countries.

All these agencies are constantly building more goodwill among the peoples of the world. While the United Nations came into being under the present administration and President Truman has been steadfast in his support of the organization, the United Nations would not be in existence today if it were not for strong bipartisan support in the very beginning. As you will recall, the Senate approved the United Nations Charter, eighty-nine to two. Both parties have contributed to its growth. This spirit of cooperation we hope will continue, for here is an area where partisanship has no place.

Now let us ask: what does it cost to support this machinery of the United Nations? This machinery, which is working for better understanding and for better conditions in the world as a whole, the cost of supporting the United Nations and its specialized agencies for each man, woman, and child in the United States is seventy-seven cents a year. What was the cost of World War II? It is estimated that the price of World War II, if it could be meticulously pro-rated throughout the globe, would have been $1,708 for every person then alive. [Coughs] But the cost of war cannot be evaluated only in dollars and cents. So much is destroyed that can never be restored or rebuilt. Or if it is possible to rebuild, it is only done at great cost. The one thing we can never pay for is the sacrifice of human lives. We all know that on the beachheads or in a foxhole, we do not think of money, but of the value of each human life. I think you will grant, therefore, that between the cost of peace, seventy cents to each one of us in the United States and the cost of war, divided among all the peoples of the world, $1,708, there is quite a jump in decimal points.


There is one piece of work carried on by the United Nations through the Commission of Human Rights, which has been under some of the most violent attacks that have been made on the United Nations. I cannot here go into a detailed defense, but I will tell you this: one of the important cornerstones for peace in the world will be the establishing of something like common standards among the various nations of the world, where human rights and freedoms are concerned. As far as the United States is concerned, your representatives have moved with great care and with the best of legal advice. But we work with fifty-nine other nations. We do not know what will eventually come before us. I have full trust, however, that future Senates of the United States will not accept any treaty which is not constitutional or which is harmful to the interest of the United States. But it would be shameful for our country not to work with other nations in an effort to bring about recognition and acceptance throughout the world of standards and values, many of which we already have but which are still not enjoyed by human beings everywhere. For us to serve notice that we would not today accept our own Bill of Rights if it were presented to us as an international document is a statement which should make every one of us blush. And so 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 by now 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 saying to the other, "Gosh, here comes Eleanor." Now--[applause] now you will say, "What is she doing traveling around the world, just making more trouble?" In World War II, when I visited so many hospitals in the Pacific, I was glad I had traveled so much through my own country and could say to a lonely boy far away from home in a hospital bed, "You come from Lovett, Texas." The boy's face would light up. "Yes ma'am, I remember when you came there!" I can only hope that in the future there may be some little, unexpected values which will come out of these latest travels, too. I hope all our travels may serve the great common hope of the world that through the United Nations, peace may come to the world.

On a wall of the fortress of Verdun the following inscription was found: "Austin White, Chicago, Illinois, 1918." Under it: "Austin White, Chicago, Illinois, 1945. This is the last time I want to write my name here." [Coughs].In closing-- [applause] in closing, I would like to read from a speech which my husband was to have delivered at the Jefferson Day dinner in Washington, DC, April 13th, 1945. He wrote, "Thomas Jefferson, himself a distinguished scientist, once spoke of the brotherly spirit of science which unites into one family all its votaries of whatever grain and however widely dispersed throughout the different quarters of the globe. Today, science has brought all the different quarters of the globe so close together that it is impossible to isolate them, one from another. Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships, the ability of all peoples of all kinds to live together and work together in the same world at peace."

"Let me assure you that my hand is the steadier for the work that is to be done, that I move more firmly into the task, knowing that you, millions and millions of you, are joined with me in the resolve to make this work endure. The work, my friends, is peace. More than an end of this war, an end to the beginning of all wars. Yes, an end forever to this impractical, unrealistic settlement of the differences between governments by the mass killing of peoples. Today as we move-- [applause], today as we move against the terrible scourge of war, as we go forward toward the greatest contribution that any generation of human beings can make in this world, the contribution of lasting peace, I ask you to keep your faith. I measure the sound, solid achievement that can be made at this time by the straight edge of your confidence and your resolve. And to you, and to all Americans who dedicate themselves with us to the making of an abiding peace, I say the only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith." That was the last message that my husband wrote for you [applause], the people of his party-- [Applause] The people of his party and the people of his country. I say to you today we must keep the faith. Strive to strengthen the United Nations, which is the only machinery through which we may work for greater understanding and eventually we hope for a peaceful world.

[Unknown announcer:]

Here at [00:34:26]] coverage of the Democratic National Convention, you have just heard Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the packed convention floor in a long and sincere and warm-hearted address as you have just heard. The delegates stood for a moment and are applauding still.

Program Participants

  • : Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962

About this document

Speech to the 1952 Democratic National Convention

July 22, 1952


Eleanor Roosevelt

Project Editors
  • National Endowment for the Humanities

Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007

Transcript Editors

Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27

Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library