A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsby Mary Ann Glendon
This is the story of Eleanor Roosevelt's proudest achievement, one that both she and generations of historians came to see as her greatest contribution to world history. It marks a crucial turning point in her life, just after the death of FDR, when she had to decide who she would be and what she would do now that she was no longer her husband's wife and the First Lady. It was at this time that the Eleanor Roosevelt who has been enshrined in our memories as one of the greatest women in American history was born.
The story begins at the height of the Second World War, when FDR and Churchill met on a ship in the mid-Atlantic to cement their resolve to combat the barbarism of Nazi Germany. Out of that meeting emerged the Atlantic Charter, grounded in Roosevelt's famous four freedoms: The war, he said, was a fight for civilization, a battle to defend mankind's freedom of speech and of expression, freedom to worship God in one's own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
One of FDR's most cherished dreams as the war drew to a close was that all of the nations dragged into this conflagration would come together to form an international organization whose purpose would be to ensure that such a war would never happen again. Ravaged by illness and strain, the president would not live to see the birth of his dream. He died a few months before the opening of the United Nations in London, and, to the great chagrin of the American delegation, Eleanor Roosevelt went in his place. She performed so well that she was asked to head one of the UN's most sensitive commissions. Her assignment was to hammer out the world's first international bill of rights, a document that would enshrine Roosevelt's four freedoms and define the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should enjoy. That document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was the founding document of the modern rights movement. It transformed the language and texture of international relations, gave legitimacy to anti-colonial movements, inspired a new form of activism, and helped bring down totalitarian regimes. It is the primary inspiration for most rights instruments in the world today.
This is the dramatic and inspiring story of that extraordinary achievement, of the remarkable group of men and women from around the world who participated in it and knew, like the framers of the Declaration of Independence, that they were making history. They worked against the clock in the brief window between the end of the Second World War and the deep freeze of the Cold War. As they struggled to achieve their task, Berlin was blockaded by Soviet troops, Israel declared itself a state and war broke out in the Middle East, China's government was overtaken by Mao's Communist insurgency, and India gained independence.
Mary Ann Glendon is the perfect person to tell this story. An award-winning author and prominent figure in the world of human rights, she led the Vatican delegation to the Beijing Women's Conference. She is a distinguished professor of law at Harvard and has a gift for bringing history to life with passion and immediacy. In addition, she was given exclusive access to unpublished personal diaries and letters of key participants in the creation of the Declaration. A landmark work of narrative history, A World Made New is the first book devoted to this crucial moment in Eleanor Roosevelt's life and in world history.
—The Washington Post
“Vividly written and evenhanded, A World Made New is an important, potentially galvanizing book, and in this frightful, ferocious time, marked by war and agony, it is urgent reading.”
—Blanche Wiesen Cook, Los Angeles Times
“A terrific story, and Glendon tells it well....An illuminating and unexpectedly timely book.”
—The New Republic
“The definitive account...Anybody concerned with the question of human rights in today’s world will need to read it and refer to it.”
—The New York Times Book Review
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 6.40(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
Politics, it has been said, is "the arena where conscience and power meet, and will be meeting until the end of time."
Conscience so often fares poorly in such encounters that we celebrate the occasions when Power gives her more than a tip of the hat. In April 1945, as delegates from fifty lands gathered in San Francisco for the United Nations founding conference, Power was much on display. Battleships leaving the Pacific harbor with men and materiel were a grim reminder that the war with Japan was still raging. The tides of war in Europe, however, had turned in favor of the Allies, and the "Big Three" (Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) had begun jockeying for the positions they would hold in the new world order. As part of their planning for the postwar era, the Allies invited to the San Francisco conclave all states that had declared war on Germany and Japan by March 1, 1945.
The Allied leaders had agreed in principle on the need for an international organization to prevent future aggression, assure the stability of frontiers, and provide a means for resolving disputes among nations, but the most vigorous supporter of the idea was Franklin Roosevelt. The American president was mindful that the failure of the first such organization, the League of Nations, was due in no small measure to President Woodrow Wilson's inability to convince the Senate to ratify the treaty establishing it. A driving force behind the League's formation after World War I, Wilson had been bitterly disappointed.
To prevent a repetition of that debacle, Roosevelt had begun speaking to the American people about his hopes for anew world organization during the war. "Nations will learn to work together," he insisted, "only by actually working together."
In a radio address on Christmas Eve 1943, he emphasized that the main purpose of such an organization would be to keep the peace. The United States had no interest, he said, in Allied domination over other nations: "The doctrine that the strong shall dominate the weak is the doctrine of our enemiesand we reject it."
Now, with the confidence born of approaching victory, Roosevelt believed the time had come to make up for the mistakes of the last peace. Shortly after his inauguration in January 1945, he told Congress of his hopes to replace the old international system of "exclusive alliances and spheres of influence" with a "universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join."
Eleanor Roosevelt had long shared those hopes. When her husband asked her to accompany him to the opening session of the UN founding conference in April, and on a trip to England and the continent in May, she was delightednot least because his enthusiasm allayed her growing anxiety about his health. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins had objected that a trip to the war zone would be too dangerous, but the president replied that he expected the war to be over by then. He had long looked forward, he told Perkins, to a victory tour with the First Lady at his side: "Eleanor's visit [to England] in wartime was a great success. I mean a success for her and for me so that we understood more about their problems. . . . I told Eleanor to order her clothes and get some fine things so that she will make a really handsome appearance."
With spring flowers in bloom and war's end at last in sight, an exuberant president began to prepare for the San Francisco conference.
The features of the future UN that were of most interest to the Great Powers had been settled already at two much more exclusive meetings. In the summer and fall of 1944, representatives of Britain, China, the United States, and the USSR had met at Dumbarton Oaks to do preparatory work on what would become the UN Charter. One month earlier, at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, the Allies had established the main institutions of the postwar economic orderthe International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).
Determined to avoid Wilson's main error, Roosevelt actively courted Republican support for the United Nations. When the time came to choose representatives for San Francisco, he made a point to include prominent GOP leaders: former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Soviets went along with the project, but without much enthusiasm. Their chief concern for the immediate postwar period was to protect the frontiers of the motherland from renewed aggression. On the eve of the Normandy invasion, according to former Yugoslav Communist Party official Milovan Djilas, Stalin told Djilas: "Perhaps you think that just because we are the allies of the English we have forgotten who they are and who Churchill is. They find nothing sweeter than to trick their allies. . . . Churchill is the kind who, if you don't watch him, will slip a kopeck out of your pocket. . . . Roosevelt is not like that. He dips in his hand only for bigger coins."
George F. Kennan, a shrewd observer then serving in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, sized up Russia's position this way: "Insofar as Stalin attached importance to the concept of a future international organization, he did so in the expectation that the organization would serve as the instrument for maintenance of a US-UK-Soviet hegemony in international affairs." That arrangement could be satisfactory to the Soviets only if Britain and America accepted the sphere of influence the USSR was establishing in Central and Eastern Europe in the summer of 1944.
Churchill and the British Foreign Office were skeptical of the Soviet Union's value as a partner in promoting future peace and wary of Stalin's expansionist aims. Anthony Eden, Churchill's foreign minister, viewed Soviet policy as "amoral" and the American attitude as "exaggeratedly moral, at least where non-American interests are concerned."
Meet the Author
Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. She led the Vatican delegation to the Beijing Women's Rights conference in 1995, the first woman ever to lead a Vatican delegation, and has been featured on Bill Moyers's World of Ideas. She is the author of Rights Talk; A Nation under Lawyers; Comparative Legal Traditions (a classic textbook on international law); Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, winner of the Scribes Book Award; and The Transformation of Family Law, winner of the Order of the Coif Prize, the legal academy's highest award for scholarship. She lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
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