Edward B. Burling’s Life-Long Friendship with Learned Hand

This series about the life of Edward B. (“Ned”) Burling commenced with a post about his connections with Katherine Graham, the owner and publisher of the Washington Post, and then retreated in time to a post about his birth and early years in Iowa, 1870-1890, followed by a post about his four years at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1890-1894, another post about his 22 years as a Chicago attorney, 1895-1917, a post about his two years as a federal government attorney in Washington, D.C., 1917-1918 and another about his 48 years as a prominent private attorney in Washington D.C., 1919-1966.[1]

Friendship with Learned Hand

Learned Hand

Burling and Learned Hand met for the first time in their first year at Harvard Law School in 1891 and thereafter developed a life-long friendship while Hand was an eminent federal judge. [2] Burling once said, Hand was “much more intelligent [than other people and] appreciates me and understands me. [He is] … the only worthy recipient of my most intimate confessions.” These confessions included the following:

  • “One of my present theories is that it doesn’t pay to be good.”
  • “I know [in 1925] I do not want to practice law. I know I do not want to be a judge. I know I want to have pleasant, amiable, witty, gay people around me. I know I am tired of politics . . . . I want poetry, love, wine, interesting books, wide, comfortable bed with fresh bed clothing, looking out into gardens with bloomi ng trees . . . . I want to be moderately rich and have nice food and a smooth running automobile. . . . Somehow I feel I am going to get what I want.”
  • In 1959, Burling lamented that he was “afflicted with what you call  ‘frivolousness’ ” and that “this human pilgrimage seems to me really more awful, more terrifying and more pathetic than it does to most other people. I cannot bear to admit how terrible it really is. Therefore, I act in a rather silly fashion. I do the inappropriate thing. I offend the earnest, godfearing company. What I am apt to say sounds in bad taste.”

In 1925, Burling and Hand exchanged comments about the good life that were prompted by questions from a young man who was thinking about applying for a Rhodes Scholarship. Burling, advising the young man not to apply and instead to go into business, said that he believed four things were good: (1) “Freedom from compulsion by others, whether economic, social or political.” (2) “An active mind that keeps being interested in the changing panorama and its own operation.” (3) “Direct contact with nature.” (4) “The society of the few people of whom you are really fond.” This list, Burling added, did not include “success, power, achievement, position, least of all ‘service to humanity.'”  Hand disagreed, saying that the man should apply for the Scholarship and that “the life of the mind offers the most permanent and lasting satisfactions.”

Burling also shared with Hand observations about the political events of the day, including the following:

  • After the end of World War I Burling criticized the League of Nations as proposed by President Woodrow Wilson because it was not like the league Teddy Roosevelt had proposed, i.e., it was “not an association between nations freely entered into for the purpose of preserving boundaries established by tradition and usage”and instead was “an alliance for the purpose of perpetuating a military ascendancy over defeated nations.”
  • After the 1928 Republican Party convention, Burling said, “Never was a man of God [Herbert Hoover] more ably assisted by gentlemen who are not unknown in more worldly haunts.” Hoover “will smother Al. Smith–He is an extraordinary phenomenon. He will dominate American affairs for 8 years and after that will be the arbiter. . . . [You] will also see Hoover playing the game very successfully. . . . It will be the most powerful administration in the memory of man–and he will be a good party man. He will run the party. A man of God who is practical–you cant [sic] beat that combination.” (Emphasis added.) Apparently Burling had forgotten his inability to get along with Hoover at the U.S. food Administration in 1917. Ned also did not anticipate the Great Depression and FDR.
  • Soon after the start of what became World War II, Ned observed that “the thing for old men to do is to be as gay as we can be and just recognize that all things are subject to change. . . . There is something in us that craves permanence, finality; and yet we should be able to see that it is and always has been an idle dream. I am not in the least an optimist. . . . I think it is quite possible that for centuries the world will get worse, and that the world will be ruled by murder, treachery, brute force, but if that is the kind of animal man is, the thing to do is to recognize it and made such adjustments to it as are necessary. We always knew that in the past civilization had fallen before inroads of vigorous barbarians. What we did not foresee was that barbarians may organize in our very midst. But if that is what it is, we must deal with it as it is. . . .” Burling continued, “Although . . . society may proceed downward for centuries, I am rather inclined to think that will not be true. I rather think that this is like the eruption of a violent disease, and that the disease will subside. I think there must be many many people in the world who would like to surpress the armed murderer [Hitler?], and I believe that sometime they will be able to assert their power and that there will be an armed force controlled in the interest of a peaceful world that will keep the law breakers down.”
  • In the Spring of 1950 while touring Europe, Ned thought it not apparent “why the U.S.A. is first power in the world. Europe as a whole seems to me to have a sturdier population with more dependable qualities, the soil is fertile and it has all the natural resources. In the long run it may be that Europe will maintain its primacy.”
  • In the summer of 1952 Ned reacted to the presidential nominations of Adlai Stevenson and Dwight D. (“Ike”) Eisenhower. Stevenson, he believed, “will be hard to beat. His two speeches before the [Democratic] Convention were different from most political addresses. In the contest with Ike, he is going to be on his own ground. Ike is a novice. But in any case we are fortunate in having two such candidates.”
  • Ike and Nixon, of course, won the 1952 election, and four years later, Ned reflected on a re-run of the 1952 election.  He was most pleased by “the way Truman fell on his face [at the Democratic Convention]. He seemed to me like a bouncy monkey on a stick” or “a very cheap little ward politician.” Ned added, “The charm that Eisenhower’s personality exerts is an extraordinary phenomenon. But the Republican Party is relying too much on that. . . . After all, since 1952 the Democrats have been winning about every election–local and national. And [Adlai] Stevenson is a much abler campaigner that he was four years ago. And many, many people will not vote Republican because of Nixon.”
  • During the 1964 presidential campaign, Ned supported Lyndon Johnson, the Democrat, against Barry Goldwater, the Republican. At a White House dinner, Burling told Johnson that as the sole survivor of the Bull Moose Party, Burling could assure Johnson that he had the unanimous support of that Party.
  • Just after the inauguration of Lyndon Johnson as President in January 1965, one of Burling’s friends reported that at the annual dinner of one of their clubs, Richard Nixon had given a very witty “acceptance” speech for their satirical nomination of him for President. Nixon described himself as “the most over-nominated and under-elected man in history.” Nixon continued by saying that  he was opposed to the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren because at 73 the justice was an old man and instead should be retired by setting age 72 as a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court Justices and that “Bobby Kennedy was engaged in the process of becoming the father of his country.”

Conclusion

The above tidbits were discovered in my rummaging through Judge Learned Hand’s file of correspondence with Ned that was part of the Hand Papers at the Harvard Law School Library. When I finished reading the file, I was disappointed that most of the letters discussed what seemed like trivial matters and did not engage in intelligent discussions of the important issues of the day. I had forgotten that they were dear friends who enjoyed staying in touch and looking forward to  being together again.

The next and penultimate chapter in this account of the life of Burling will discuss the character of the man.

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[1] Citations to the sources for this post are found in this blogger’s Edward Burnham Burling, The College’s Quiet Benefactor (April 2008)(18-page essay and bibliography; on file in Grinnell College’s Special Collections and Archives).

[2] The definitive biography of the judge, Learned Hand: The Man and the Judge (2d ed., Oxford University Press, 2011), was written by Gerald Gunther (1927-2002), a prominent constitutional law scholar and professor at Stanford Law School.

 

 

 

 

United States Ratification of the Genocide Convention

On December 11, 1946, the United Nations General Assembly in its first session unanimously adopted a resolution affirming that “genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns” and requesting the U.N. Economic and Social Council “to undertake the necessary studies, with a view to drawing up a draft convention [treaty] on the crime of genocide.”

John Maktos
John Maktos

Thereafter that Council established a U.N. Committee on Genocide to prepare a draft of such a treaty. The draft that subsequently was approved by that Committee and other U.N. agencies had been prepared at the U.S. Department of State by a U.S. diplomat, John Maktos, who also served as the Chair of the U.N. Committee.

On December 9, 1948, by unanimous action of the U.N. General Assembly that draft was adopted as the Genocide Convention. Two days later (December 11th) President Harry Truman signed the treaty on behalf of the United States.

President Harry Truman
President Harry Truman

Six months later (June 16, 1949) President Truman transmitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate and requested its advice and consent to ratification. In his transmittal message, President Truman said the General Assembly’s approval of the treaty was “one of the important achievements” of its first session and that the U.S. had played “a leading part” in that accomplishment. The Senate’s approval would demonstrate that the U.S. was “prepared to take effective action on its part to contribute to the establishment of principles of law and justice.”

Such Senate action, however, did not happen until early 1986, and it was not ratified by the U.S. until late 1988 or nearly 40 years after its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly and its signature by the U.S.[1]

Here are some of the highlights or lowlights of the Genocide Convention’s journey to U.S. ratification.

In January and February of 1950 a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the treaty and favorably reported it to the full Committee in May 1950. The full Committee, however, took no action on the treaty, and it did not reach the Senate floor. For the next 20 years the treaty apparently gathered dust in the files of the Foreign Relations Committee.

President Richard Nixon
President Richard Nixon

That changed on February 19, 1970, when President Richard Nixon reiterated a presidential request for Senate advice and consent to ratification. His message to the Senate stated that the U.S. had “played a leading role in the negotiation” of the treaty and that “ratification at this time . . . would be in the national interest” of the U.S. and would demonstrate “our country’s desire to participate in the building of international order based on law and justice.”

In response to President Nixon’s request, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970 held hearings on the treaty and favorably reported the treaty to the entire Senate. The latter, however, took no action.

The Foreign Relations Committee did the same in 1971, 1973, 1976 and 1978, but it was not until February 19, 1986, that the Senate voted, 83 to 11, to give its advice and consent to such ratification.[2]   It did so with two reservations that required specific U.S. consent for the submission of any dispute involving the treaty to the International Court of Justice and that stated the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution over any of the treaty’s provisions. The Senate also imposed five understandings limiting the meaning of certain parts of the treaty. Finally the Senate declared that the instrument of U.S. ratification could not be deposited until after the U.S. adopted implementing legislation required by Article V of the treaty.[3]

President Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan

That implementing legislation was adopted on November 4, 1988, with President Ronald Reagan’s signature of the Genocide Implementation Act of 1987, 18 U.S.C. § 1091. That statue makes genocide a crime for offenses committed within the U.S. or by U.S. nationals. The statute imposes punishment of life imprisonment and a fine of not more than $1 million or both for genocide by killing; imprisonment up to 20 years or a fine of not more than $1 million or both for other acts of genocide; and imprisonment up to five years or a fine up to $500,000 or both for incitement of genocide. There is no statute of limitations for these crimes.

When President Reagan signed the statute, he made a public statement that by this signing the U.S. would “bear witness to the past and learn from its awful example, and to make sure that we’re not condemned to relive its crimes. . . . During the Second World War, mankind witnessed the most heinous of crimes: the Holocaust.” Reagan added that he was “delighted to fulfill the promise made by Harry Truman to all the peoples of the world, and especially the Jewish people. I remember what the Holocaust meant to me as I watched the films of the death camps after the Nazi defeat in World War II. Slavs, Gypsies, and others died in the fires, as well. And we’ve seen other horrors this century — in the Ukraine, in Cambodia, in Ethiopia. They only renew our rage and righteous fury, and make this moment all the more significant for me and all Americans.”

Reagan concluded by saying that the “timing of the enactment is particularly fitting, for we’re commemorating a week of remembrance of the Kristallnacht, the infamous ‘night of broken glass,’ which occurred 50 years ago on November 9, 1938. That night, Nazis in Germany and Austria conducted a pogrom against the Jewish people. By the morning of November 10th, scores of Jews were dead, hundreds bleeding, shops and homes in ruins, and synagogues defiled and debased. And that was the night that began the Holocaust, the night that should have alerted the world of the gruesome design of the Final Solution.”

On November 25, 1988 (three weeks after the adoption of that federal statute), President Ronald Reagan deposited notice of U.S. ratification with the U.N. Secretary-General. This constitutes the actual act of ratification.[4]

The 40 year delay between U.S. signing and ratification apparently was the result of many factors. Many Senators were hostile to approving any treaty that might be deemed to infringe on U.S. sovereignty. Some were concerned, especially during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, that U.S. officials might come under frivolous accusations of genocide. Others worried that if the U.S. ratified, it would be obligated to send military forces to distant countries to enforce it. Others felt the Convention’s definition of genocide was unclear. The American Bar Association opposed it through 1977. Some Southern Senators were concerned that genocide charges might result from the region’s history of segregation, lynching, and Ku Klux Klan activities. In addition, although the treaty was not retroactive, some feared it would be used to define the nineteenth century U.S. treatment of Native Americans as genocide.[5]

The Genocide Convention went into force on January 12, 1951, after 20 states had ratified or acceded to the treaty. Today 142 states are parties thereto.

This tale of the belated U.S. ratification of an important multilateral human rights treaty shows the complexity of the negotiation and adoption of such treaties and of their ratification by the U.S.  There is a similar history of the U.S. ratification of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


[1] See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Fran Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 139-40 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009).

[2] In January and February 1974 the Senate debated the treaty, but there were insufficient votes to stop debate and proceed to vote on the treaty itself.

[3] I have not had the opportunity to research the original historical record regarding the U.S. and this treaty during these years. I ask anyone who has knowledge of the details of this record, to share that knowledge with a comment to this post.

[4] In accordance with Article 20 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 12 states thereafter objected to or commented unfavorably on the U.S. reservation regarding the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution while three states objected to the U.S. reservation regarding submission of disputes to the International Court of Justice.

[5] Perhaps a more complete analysis of the historical record on the ratification of this treaty can be found in Lawrence LeBlanc, The United States and the Genocide Convention (Durham, NC; Duke Univ. Press 1991). Again I ask anyone who has knowledge of the details of this record, to share that knowledge with a comment to this post.