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FDR’s Last Official Act, April 12, 1945

Each year around the anniversary of FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, we are often asked if we know the last official action taken by Roosevelt as president. Thanks to presidential secretary William D. Hassett, who often traveled with FDR and was in Warm Springs on that fateful trip, we know the answer to this question.

Because of President Roosevelt’s love of stamps and stamp collecting, he was always very involved in the design and issuance of new and commemorative postage stamps. With the first United Nations Conference scheduled to begin on April 25 in San Francisco, Postmaster General Frank Walker sent a memo to FDR on April 9th asking him to select his preferred design for the UN Conference commemorative stamp. A typed notation made at the top of this memo shows that on April 11, the day before the President died, he selected Design No. 1 to be issued as a five cent stamp and printed in blue.

But this was not the last official act. As William Hassett wrote in a memorandum to Postmaster General Walker on April 16th, FDR’s last official directive–given just a half hour before he was stricken–was to agree to the Postmaster’s request that the President purchase the first issue of the UN Conference commemorative. FDR also instructed that gift albums of the new stamps should be presented to all of the Conference delegates by the Secretary of State.

As we look back on the life of Franklin Roosevelt, it is fitting that his last official act involved the intertwining of two things he loved so deeply: stamp collecting and the United Nations.

Block of U.S. United Nations stamps, part of the United Nations Conference Issue. Four "Toward United Nations, April 25, 1945" ultramarine 5¢ stamps (Scott 928), number printed at the left "23267," first day of issue April 25, 1945.

We thought this would be a great photo to share in celebration of International Women’s Day:

Eleanor Roosevelt and Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt displays a Spanish language version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lake Success, NY, November 1949.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 in the midst of an especially bitter phase of the Cold War. Many people contributed to this remarkable achievement, but most observers believe that the UN Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the declaration, would not have succeeded in reaching agreement without the leadership of the Commission’s chair: Eleanor Roosevelt. ER herself regarded her role in drafting and securing adoption of the Declaration as her greatest achievement.

Read the whole story of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

June 16, 1953

“HIROSHIMA, Japan…To arrive in Hiroshima is an emotional experience. Here is where the first A-bomb ever to be dropped on human beings, actually was used.

The people of the U.S. believe that the President and our military leaders thought long and carefully before they used this dreaded weapon. We know that while the head of the state must think first of the welfare of his own people, consideration was given to the fact that if the war went on, there would be in many parts of the world great loss of life and much damage done, and in Japan itself step by step fighting from one end to the other would mean complete devastation and incalculable loss of life. In spite of this conviction we still cannot see a city and be told of the area that was destroyed, the people who died or were injured, some of them still suffering from the results of those wounds; we cannot go and look at the model of the city showing what it looked like after the bomb had dropped and fire had swept through the city; we can’t see the photographs of some of the victims without a deep sadness. To see the orphanage where children whose parents died are still being cared for is impossible without wishing with our whole hearts that men could learn from this that the time has come when we know too well how to destroy and we must learn instead how to prevent destruction.

It is useless to say that Germany started the war and began the research which we were then obliged to take over and which led to the discovery of the atom bomb.

I can remember only too well my husband’s feeling and the feeling of the people of the U.S. when we first heard of Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was only the final action which resulted from years of growing misunderstandings and antipathies throughout the world. Out of all this came Hiroshima. But it is not only here that civilian men and women suffered. All over the world civilians suffered as a result of the last war and the increase in our power of destruction. So it seems to me the only really helpful thing we can do is to pledge ourselves to strive for the elimination of the causes of war and for the greater awareness of the people, and to bringing about such arrangements as can only be made through the use of the U.N.. If we use the machinery set up through an organization such as the U.N., time must elapse before wars can be begun, people may then understand a little better and may have more chance to be heard.

As one contemplates Hiroshima, one can only say God grant to men greater wisdom in the future.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

February 25, 1952

“KARACHI, Pakistan, Sunday…The All-Pakistan Women’s Association showed me also a small maternity clinic which they started in a refugee camp under considerable difficulties, since water in the area is only turned on for two hours in the morning and two at night and they have no running water as yet in the clinic. They have no electricity, so that if they have night cases they must use lamps. But the conditions certainly are better than in the refugee huts, for they are clean and sanitary. In this same maternity center, all children of that area of refugees come in with cups every morning and get a spoonful of cod liver oil and a cup of milk.

We visited another camp of refugees a little later where I thought conditions were particularly bad. They had animals right in with them—goats, sheep, chickens and cows, all tied to the door or staked down and scratching around in the sand. The smell in some parts was not very pleasant and the flies were something beyond description. These conditions are what make the health problem so difficult at the present time, but I must say the women are valiantly struggling to do their share in meeting the problems.

Friday afternoon I saw a demonstration of the activities of the Pakistan Women’s National Reserve and National Guard. They paraded for us, did exercises, and demonstrated the work of their various branches in civil defense by simulating an air raid. They are trained in clerical work, nursing, fire fighting and self-defense. While the work seemed to me as yet not very professional, it is of great value to get it started.

I’ve seen schools which the women have started for refugee children, and it seems to me the teachers are doing a wonderful job. I’ve also visited industrial centers and shops were cottage industries sell their products. All this is again the work of women.

In the evening I addressed a group of university students at the YMCA and later attended a dinner given by the Pakistan United Nations Association. It was indeed gratifying to see what an active association there is here and to know that they observe United Nations Day and are actively trying to promote knowledge of the work of the United Nations.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

February 18, 1960

“NEW YORK—Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took the opportunity of his visit to India to attack foreign aid given by the United States as being purely selfish, whereas that given by the Soviet Union is, by implication, unselfish.

As a matter of fact, foreign aid given by any nation is never totally unselfish, because helping a nation to improve its economic condition means that that nation will produce something that is salable and, therefore, become a better market for the goods of some other nation. This means a better economic world atmosphere and is much to be desired by all nations.

Mr. Khrushchev also spoke slightingly of the new idea of several nations joining together to give foreign aid. Yet, this is a much more unselfish way of giving aid and is designed to give the country receiving the aid more sense of security, because then no one nation can be accused of attempting to dominate.

Mr. Khrushchev should understand that his remark, “If aid is to be rendered, we will render it ourselves,” will not be too reassuring to those nations that are rather hopeful of keeping themselves not only politically but economically free from the domination of any foreign nation. Also, his slighting remark about United Nations aid will not be acceptable in India, I believe, for India is very conscious of the value of work done by various of the U.N. specialized agencies.

President Eisenhower’s message asking our Congress for a foreign aid appropriation called for half the aid to be of a military kind, the other half economic aid.

I always question the value of military aid, though the assurance that this aid is given to strengthen other nations against possible Communist attack has an attractive sound for our Congress.

In reality I greatly doubt whether any nation receiving aid of a military kind could stand up long against a Communist attack, but I realize the advantage of having much of this money spent in this country, since it will relieve us of arms that have already, for us, become obsolete…”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

February 9, 1948

“HYDE PARK, Sunday—I went to speak for one of the Y.M.C.A. groups at New York University Medical College late Friday afternoon, and I was interested to see that a good cross section of our New York City population was represented in the audience. There were Protestants, Catholics and Jews, as well as boys of many racial strains, including Negroes. It was easy to talk to them about human rights and the United Nations, for many of them knew, either from personal experience or through affiliations with different people, what the abrogation of human rights means to any group of people.

In this connection I would like to say a word about the reception accorded by a group of Southern Democratic Senators and Representatives to the President’s message sent with the report of his Committee on Civil Liberties. Anyone who has worked in the international field knows well that our failure in race relations in this country, and our open discrimination against various groups, injures our leadership in the world. It is the one point which can be attacked and to which the representatives of the United States have no answer.

I wish these Southern gentlemen had a little more faith in the white race and believed that we were capable of associating with and doing justice to another race without of necessity being swallowed up by that race. It seems to me that this hue and cry on the subject of segregation is nothing but an expression of fear. This fear is more understandable in the South, where in certain areas a larger section of the population is colored. Yet if proper conditions existed and there was equal opportunity for education, for economic security and for decent living, there need be no fear. It is because we do not grant civil and economic rights on an equal basis that there is any real reason for fear.

There can be no real democracy where 15,000,000 people feel that they are discriminated against and cannot live on equal terms with their neighbors. Neither will there be real unity in this country until we conquer our prejudices. All of us have them in one form or another, but the time has come when the fight must be made by each one of us to live at home in a way which will make it possible to live peacefully in the world as a whole…”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

February 4 – 11, 1945: FDR meets with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference to discuss post-war ideas and the United Nations.

Roosevelt is pictured in a jeep at Saki Airfield on his way to Yalta for the conference with Churchill and Stalin. FDR is speaking to Special Assistant Harry L. Hopkins. L-R: U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyachslav Molotov, Harry L. Hopkins, FDR.
February 3, 1945
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 73-200:2

Roosevelt is pictured with Stalin during his first call on the President upon his arrival at Livadia Palace in Yalta. L-R: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt
February 4, 1945
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx 48-22:3659(45)

Roosevelt is pictured with Churchill and Stalin at the Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference. L-R: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin.
February 9, 1945
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 48-22:3659(66)



Did you know…..

  • President Roosevelt was the first president who visited Russia while in office.

October 24, 1945: The United Nations officially came into existence as its charter took effect.

Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the UN.
November 3, 1946
FDR Library Photo Collection. Npx. 56-480(1).

October 9, 1950

“HYDE PARK, Sunday—On Friday we met in Committee Three both morning and afternoon, when I tried, entirely without success, to explain to the rest of the committee the position of the United States on long-range and continuing activities to help the needs of children throughout the world.

In the case of many countries, these needs have existed for hundreds of years, and will continue to exist for many more years unless the basic economy of those countries can be improved. Many countries now in need of things for their children sympathized with the original establishment of the Children’s Emergency Fund and its operations, even though the fund operated primarily in Europe in countries that had suffered from World War II. The countries of Asia, Africa and South America, though they recognized that conditions for children in European countries were normally far superior to those of children in some other parts of the world, still were able to sympathize with these needs because they, themselves, had existed under these sad conditions for hundreds of years.

Now some countries, including my own, feel that the emergency brought about by World War II has in many countries come to an end. The problem now is how best the U.N. can help the world’s children to obtain more food, better medical care, better education and perhaps better legislation within their own countries for the protection of children in the field of labor. This being the case, the United States has emphasized that, in the establishment of a permanent fund, its main interest today does not lie alone in sending supplies.

Many countries, however, can envision their needs only in terms of supply. For instance, country X needs milk for its children. It thinks only in terms of obtaining so many cases of powdered milk from the United Nations fund. The immediate need clouds the realization that, while it is important to receive that milk this year, it is equally important that a project be set up to help country X produce that milk next year themselves.

Two of the things which my government, through the State Department, is trying to emphasize is that the board of the fund—which will now be the United Nations Children’s Endowment Fund—should have on it the representatives of the specialized agencies which should be called upon to pass on the need and the value of each permanent project undertaken for the future; and that these projects should be aimed at helping a country to produce its own supplies.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

June 14, 1952

“NEW YORK, Friday—We passed a resolution in the Human Rights Commission yesterday asking the Economic and Social Council to grant us time during the coming year to finish the two covenants and measures of implementation. This should mean that there will be no discussion of the unfinished work either in the Economic and Social Council or in the General Assembly this year, but that we will proceed to complete the work in the Human Rights Commission and bring it in its final form before our parent bodies in 1953.

If this is the way it actually works out we will save a great deal of time. If our work is discussed in its unfinished condition in both the Economic and Social Council and in Committee 3 of the General Assembly, only recommendations can be made. Those recommendations were made last year, so it would be a waste of time to do it all again before the final work of the Human Rights Commission is over.

It also was suggested that we ask for a divided period in our next year’s meeting in order that we might be sure to finish the other items on our agenda, which year by year have been postponed. We did not reach the discussion of any new articles for the convenants, and there are several new articles that must go in before the covenants are really complete.

We had an absurdly long argument about whether the articles as they now are should be temporarily rearranged and renumbered, with the understanding that this was not a final order or sequence and that if new articles were introduced we were not prejudging their positions in the covenant. But the mere numbering of new articles seems to frighten the Soviet delegate and he argued for a long time that they just go in with a description of what they contained over each article.

Finally, we are finished, except for the reading of the report, which will take place today.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

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