No. 21
The Secretary of State to the United States High Commissioner for Germany (McCloy)1

secret personal

Dear Jack: A serious problem has arisen here in connection with that paragraph in the Preamble to the General Convention which reads: “Whereas, the Federal Republic shares with the three powers a determination to abide by the principles of the universal Declaration of Human Rights.” There is in the Japanese Peace Treaty a somewhat similar phrase which reads: “Whereas, Japan for its part declares its intention…2 to strive to realize the objectives of the universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It will be noted that this language is considerably weaker than that in the Preamble of the General Convention in that it does not even imply a commitment on the part of the United States with regard to human rights. Nevertheless, this clause caused a great deal of trouble in connection with ratification of the Japanese Treaty. I think the difficulty is perhaps best expressed in the following language from the report of the Foreign Relations Committee:

“The Committee wishes to make clear that there is nothing in the Treaty that makes human rights a matter of international contract, nor which gives any Allied nation the right to interfere in Japanese internal affairs in order to enforce such rights.

“The Committee also wishes to make emphatically clear that the United States in ratifying the Treaty in no way undertakes any commitment with respect to human rights. The statement in the Preamble is for unilateral Japanese announcement. It is not even a commitment for Japan, much less so for the United States.”

The above passage reflects the concern of many Senators as binding the United States to an international agreement relating to human rights. This concern was further evidenced by the strong [Page 36] support of the so-called “Bricker” Resolution (S.J. Res. 130), which would amend the Constitution of the United States so as to prohibit treaties or agreements respecting the rights of citizens under the Constitution or which would vest in any international organization any of the powers vested in divisions of the United States Government, and for other purposes. The resolution has received the announced support of 58 Senators, many of whom, such as Saltonstall, Lodge, Wayne Morse, Gillette, Wiley, Smith and Flanders are looked to as reasonable leaders. This resolution is now in the Judiciary Committee of the Senate and has not been reported.

I have become very much concerned lest the reference to the Declaration of Human Rights in the German General Convention which is stronger than that in the Japanese Treaty cause similar or even greater difficulties when this document is laid before the Senate. We have taken a few highly confidential soundings on the Hill and these have strongly confirmed my fear that if the clause in the General Convention is left as it now is it will in all probability prevent Senate approval of the General Convention without a reservation.

That is the domestic political problem which is posed here. On the other hand, I am well aware of the situation in which we will be placed if we seek to eliminate or change this clause. I realize that it is inadvisable to reopen any provision of the General Convention without very good cause indeed, as this may lead any or all of the other three parties to propose the reopening of other provisions. I am also aware that many people in this country (the Jewish Groups have been especially vocal) feel very strongly that the Germans should express their intention to abide by the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights. A less practical but more substantial reason for not tampering with the particular clause in question is the embarrassing and unflattering light in which such a move would place the United States. Bearing in mind our past traditions and recent German history, I do not like the prospect of going to the Germans and asking them to remove or modify the clause in which they express their intention of respecting human rights, because of a strong political opposition in the United States to anything which remotely appears to suggest that the United States itself is committed to the observance of human rights.

After careful consideration of the pros and the cons I think you should approach the other parties to the Convention on a highly confidential basis and ask their agreement to change the language of the Convention to conform with that in the Japanese Treaty or to remove the clause altogether. In doing so you would, of course, have to give them an indication of the reason for our request. I realize that I am asking you to do a very difficult thing at almost the [Page 37] last minute. I should not do so were I not greatly concerned at the difficulties we will face in the Senate when the Convention comes before it.

Sincerely yours,

Dean Acheson
  1. Drafted by Lewis on Apr. 18 and cleared by Matthews. Attached to the source text was a note bearing the following handwritten notation: “I believe that this is about the best that can be done in regard to this very unsatisfactory matter. D[avid] B[ruce]”.
  2. Ellipsis in the source text.