Coming Soon–The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

A prior post announced the forthcoming Kenneth Burns’ documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” about Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to be shown on National Public Television in the Fall of 2014. Now we have the following schedule and details of the seven two-hour episodes:

Date Title
September 14 “Get Action (1858-1901)”—The early lives of Theodore and Franklin.
September 15 “In the Arena (1901-1910)”—Theodore transforms the office of the presidency while Franklin courts and weds Eleanor.
September 16 “The Fire of Life (1910-1919)”—Theodore leads Progressive crusade that splits his own Republican Party and enables Democrat Woodrow Wilson to become President.
September 17 “The Storm (1920-1933)”—Franklin serves as Governor of New York and becomes Democratic presidential nominee in 1932.
September 18 “The Rising Road (1933-1939)”—Franklin brings same sense of optimism and energy to White House as his cousin Theodore had.
September 19 “The Common Cause (1939-1944)”—Franklin breaks the third-term tradition and tries to persuade reluctant country to enter World War II.
September 20 “A Strong and Active Faith (1944-1962)”—Franklin is determined to see World War II through to victory. Eleanor fights for civil liberties.

In addition, in September the entire documentary will be available on DVD, and Knopf Doubleday will publish an oversized volume of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History containing nearly 800 photographs documenting the lives of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and (to a much lesser extent) their wives and families. The author, historian Geoffrey C. Ward, argues that “the similarities and not the differences” between Teddy and FDR are compelling. Both bucked the reins of their parties, though the one remained a Republican for most of his political career while the other redefined Democratic Party politics; both were children of privilege whose sense of noblesse oblige included a fundamental sense of fairness. Both surpassed all that was expected of them and transcended class to embrace an American-ness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PBS’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History”

As someone who currently is investigating certain aspects of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency,[1] I was happy to learn that this Fall PBS  will be broadcasting noted documentarian Ken BurnsThe Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

In seven parts totaling 14 hours, the documentary “chronicles the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, three members of the most prominent and influential family in American politics.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt

 

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In June I enjoyed watching PBS Previews: The Roosevelts that whetted my appetite for the full series.

====================================================

[1] Prior posts have reviewed (a) the election of William McKinley and Theodore as President and Vice President in the election of 1900; (b) Roosevelt’s involvement in that election; and (c) the assassination of President McKinley and the swearing in of Roosevelt as President. Future posts will canvas Roosevelt’s first term (1901-1905) regarding regulation of railroads, his “re-election’ in 1904 and his second term (1905-1909) regarding such regulation.

Refugee and Asylum Law: The Pre-Modern Era

The history of refugee and asylum law, in my opinion, may be divided into two major periods: (a) the pre-modern era before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and (b) the modern era starting with that 1948 adoption.[1] There are four major points from this earlier period that have impressed me.

First, there have been instances when individual states granted protection or asylum to people of another state, but the granting of such protection was always within the discretion or grace of the potential protecting state. Whether or not this was done was influenced by a multitude of circumstances. Correspondingly the individual fleeing his or her own country had no legal right to claim protection from another state. An interesting example of this type of asylum happened in 615 CE, when Mohammad requested his cousin and other followers to leave Mecca and seek refuge in Abyssinia or Ethiopia to escape persecution by Mecca’s leading tribe. This is known as the First Hijra (Migration) of Muslims. At the time, the King of Abyssinia was a Christian and known for his justice and respect for human beings. Responding to a letter from Mohammad, the King said he understood that Mohammad respected Jesus and, therefore, granted asylum to the Muslims.[2]

Second, as we have just seen, religious belief sometimes has motivated a government to grant asylum in this earlier period. In addition, religious bodies and individuals often call upon their members and fellow believers to be hospitable to outsiders such as those fleeing persecution. In Judaism and Christianity, for example, there are numerous Biblical texts to this effect. In the Hebrew Bible, the people are told, “Do no mistreat an alien or oppress him for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 222:21.) Similarly, “You are to have the same law for the alien and for the native born.” (Leviticus 24:22.) In the New Testament, Jesus when asked what the greatest commandment was, said, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39.)[3] Similarly Arabic traditions and customs have served as a solid foundation for protecting human beings and preserving their dignity. These include “istijara” (plea for protection), “ijara” (granting protection) and “iwaa” (sheltering). The Islamic Shari’a further consolidated the humanitarian principles of brotherhood, equality and tolerance among human beings. Relieving suffering and assisting, sheltering, and granting safety to the needy, even enemies, are an integral part of Islamic Shari’a. In fact,  Islamic Shari’a addressed the issue of asylum explicitly and in detail, and guaranteed safety, dignity and care for the “musta’men” (asylum-seeker). Moreover, the return, or refoulement, of the “musta’men” was prohibited by virtue of Shari’a.[4]

Third, after World War I, the Covenant of the League of Nations did not have any explicit provision regarding refugees. The closest it came was its Article 25, which states, “The Members of the League agree to encourage and promote the establishment and co-operation of duly authorised [sic] voluntary national Red Cross organisations [sic] having as purposes the improvement of health, the prevention of disease and the mitigation of suffering throughout the world.”[5] There also were various treaties regarding refugees in the 1920s and 1930s, but they did not grant legal rights to asylum.[6]       Fourth, German persecution of the Jews in the 1930s showed the weaknesses of this discretionary approach to asylum. In 1933 the Nazis took over control of the German government and fired Jews from the civil service and sponsored boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses.  Germany also started an official encouragement of German Jewish emigration, and in September 1935 Germany’s Nuremberg Laws cancelled German citizenship for Jews. By the end of 1937 450,000 German Jews had left the country.[7] In March of 1938 German annexed Austria (das Anschluss) and thereby brought the 200,000 Austrian Jews under German laws, including the Nuremberg Laws.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Evian Conference

Several days later U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to call an international conference to facilitate the emigration of Jews from Germany and Austria and to establish an international organization to work towards an overall solution to this problem. That July the conference was held in Evian, France. Thirty-two countries attended and expressed sympathy for the refugees. With one exception, however, no country agreed to take additional Jewish refugees. The exception was the Dominican Republic, and it did so because its dictator, Trujillo, wanted more white people in his country. The Conference also created the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees to “approach the governments of the countries of refuge with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement.” It also was to seek German cooperation in establishing “conditions of orderly emigration.” This Committee, however, never received the necessary authority or support from its members and, therefore, failed to accomplish anything. After the conference, Hitler said, “It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them . . . .” Moreover, the failure of the Conference to do anything about the German Jews was seen as an encouragement for Germany’s increasing persecution of the Jews, including Kristallnachtin October 1938 and the Holocaust itself through the end of World War II in 1945.


[1]  I have not studied what I can the pre-modern era in great depth and especially invite comments and critiques of this analysis.
[3] Religious beliefs motivated most, if not all, of those people and congregations that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s to provide safe space to Salvadorans and Guatemalans fleeing their civil wars. See Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011).
[4] Prof. Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari’ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study (Riyadh – 2009 (1430 H.), http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=4a9645646&query=sharia.
[5]  Covenant of the League of Nations, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp#art25; Holborn, The Legal Status of Political Refugees, 32 Am. J. Int’l L. 680 (1938); Holborn, The League of Nations and the Refugee Problem, 203 Annals Am. Acad. Of Pol. & Soc. Sci. 124 (1939).
[6]  A list of these treaties is set forth in Article 1(A)(1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/refugees.htm.
[7] E.g., U.S. Holocaust Museum, The Evian Conference, http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007698 ; U.S. Holocaust Museum, Emigration and the Evian Conference, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005520 ; Annette Shaw, The Evian Conference–Hitler’s Green Light for Genocide, http://www.cdn-friends-icej.ca/antiholo/evian/evian.html; Wikipedia, Evian Conference, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89vian_Conference.

Questioning President Lyndon Johnson

In March 1966, during my final semester of law school, I was one of 38 national finalists for 16 White House Fellowships. This fellowship program had been started in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to provide one-year high-level positions in the White House and Executive Branch to future leaders so that afterwards the individuals could take that experience into their regular jobs and be better informed about important public policy issues and the workings of the federal government and, therefore, be better citizen leaders.[1]

 

East Room, White House

The other finalists and I were brought to a Virginia retreat center for interviews by members of the Fellows Commission, including John Gardner (then U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Department) and C. Douglas Dillon (former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Department). Afterwards on March 29th we all were bused to the White House and mid-afternoon were escorted to the East Room where the winners would be announced.

Before the announcement, however, President Johnson unexpectedly entered the Room. He first joined his daughter Luci Baines Johnson, who was substituting for her ill mother, to greet the finalists. The President then walked around, shaking hands and making individual comments. Johnson then called for everyone’s attention. He said that when he was a young man in Washington, he always wondered what it would be like to come to see the president and what the president would say while the young Johnson knew what he hoped the president would say. Johnson then remarked that perhaps the finalists would like to ask him questions rather than hearing him give a dry lecture.[2]

There was an awkward silence. The other finalists and I were hesitant to ask the first question, and Johnson told a few jokes to loosen up the people in the Room.

Finally one of the finalists asked what previous presidents would have been selected as Fellows if there had been such a program in their day. Johnson laughingly replied that Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy undoubtedly would have been selected, but he did not think that Truman and Johnson himself would have made it. Other finalists asked Johnson questions about the Viet Nam war, the current visit to Washington of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Fellowship program itself.[3]

Lyndon Johnson & Bill Moyers

Word of this impromptu presidential question and answer session got back to the White House Press Room, and journalists belatedly arrived and stood at the back of the Room taking notes. Johnson’s Press Secretary, Bill Moyers, was next to Johnson during the session and kept trying to end it, but Johnson was enjoying himself and continued to respond to questions.

During this session I was standing about 10 feet from President Johnson. There was concern at the time about inflation with the February 1966 Consumer Price Index up 0.5%, the highest increase in that month since 1951, and whether the President would ask Congress for a tax increase to fight inflation. So I asked the President if he would be seeking such a tax increase.

Tugging at his big right ear lobe, Johnson responded in a folksy manner in his Texan drawl. He first said that he was more worried about economists than he was about the economy and that he had not made up his mind on the tax increase idea. He added that he did not want to ask for an increase, especially in a midterm election year, but if he decided a tax increase was necessary to cool off the economy, he would ask Congress for a “modest” rise of 5 to 7 per cent in the taxes paid by individuals and corporations. Johnson also said he had ruled out reductions in federal government spending and wage and price controls as other ways to combat inflation.[4]

The President’s Daily Diary for that day says that this answer and his “mention of the Tax Rise to be proposed” was the headline in many newspapers the next day, as indeed it was.[5]

This news the next morning prompted a sharp decline in the stock market–the largest in two weeks. Reacting to this market decline, the President around noon on March 30th told journalists that he “absolutely” had not made up his mind about the need for a tax increase. The market responded with a momentary uptick, but it closed lower that day.[6] Thereafter I joked that I caused the stock market to fall.

At the conclusion of the meeting the prior day in the State Dining Room, the announcement of the 18 new Fellows was made.[7] I was not one of the lucky ones.


[1] White House, White House Fellows, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/fellows.

[2] Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Daily Diary Collection (March 29, 1966), http://www.lbjlibrary.org/collections/daily-diary.html.

[3]  Id.

[4] Id.; Pomfret, Johnson Favors 5-to-7% Tax Rise If Any Is Needed, N. Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10B12FC3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3;  Rossant, Flexibility and Taxes; Johnson’s Hint of Relaxing Opposition To Rise Is Gain for ‘New Economists,’ N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10D11FE3E59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3; Wicker, The Inflation Debate, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F1071FFD3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3;  Editorial, The Economy’s Pulse, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10617F83F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3.

[5] Id.

[6]  Abele, Tax Uncertainty Upsets Markets, N.Y. Times, Mar. 31, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10D15F63959177B8EDDA80B94DB405B868AF1D3.

[7] Capital Fellows End a Year at Top, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10E1FFD3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3.