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Henry Reiff Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Henry Reiff

Legal specialist on international organization, U.S. Dept. of State, 1944-46; technical expert with the U.S. delegation, U.N. Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, 1945; and tech. adviser to the U.S. delegations to the U.N. executive committee, the preparatory commission, and the First General Assembly, London, 1945-46.

Arlington, Virginia
May 23, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie

See also Henry Reiff Papers finding aid


Oral History Interview........Pages 1-44
Appendix A -- "Reminiscences of the Formation of the United Nations" Delivered Before SLU International Relations                        Club April 15, 1965........ Pages 45-76
Appendix B -- Narrative from Diary of Final Session of UNCIO, San Francisco, California June 25-26, 1945.........                        Pages 77-88

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened January, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Henry Reiff


Arlington, Virginia
May 23, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie


REIFF: I was brought up in a Republican family and anybody interested in a Democratic president or party was synonymous with having a covenant with sin or something. However, I was very much intrigued by what Woodrow Wilson was saying in 1912, and increasingly so during the war years. As a matter of fact, in 1916, in the fall, I went down with the so-called Progressive Republicans from New York to Shadow Lawn, New Jersey, where President Wilson was having his summer White House. There I had a chance to meet him and shake hands with him and give him some advice. The advice was simply that he should not mind the jingos. He laughed and said he wouldn't. So, that's my entry into the field of foreign affairs.


I pursued that interest in American foreign relations thereafter very steadily. When I got to Harvard in 1921, I went to the meetings at the Harvard Union and there I heard Manley O. Hudson talk about the League of Nations and the types of agreements it was making, and its objectives and plans. Of course, I was very much interested in the American contest at the time, the discussion as to whether we ought to join or not join.

Mr. Hudson, who was Bemis professor of international law at the Harvard Law School, talked about the growth in what he called the multipartite agreements, which are, of course, the multilateral, many-participant types of agreements. He held out great hope for their use in international affairs as a form or sort of statutory enactment of international obligations. So when I got a chance to write my doctoral thesis later as a graduate student at Harvard, I chose the subject of "The United States and Multipartite Administrative Treaties." From that voluminous thesis I was able to publish various articles from time to time. One of the articles was entitled "The United States and International Administrative Unions: Some Historical Aspects." This was published in


International Conciliation by the Carnegie Foundation in a pamphlet form.

In 1928, I became a member of the St. Lawrence University faculty and taught international law and international organization there for the next 38 years.

MCKINZIE: It must have been a very new kind of course in 1928.

REIFF: Yes, the "organization" course was. I also taught international law. I forget precisely when the "organization" course started -- maybe in the '30s. But I realized that in order to give a certain realism to my teaching I ought to have government employment sometime in the field. I got my degree in international law, but as a political scientist writing in treaty law, so I needed the experience in government.

Well, I tried. I had tried to enlist in the First World War but was rejected on the grounds of a slight heart defect. I also tried to enlist in the Second World War for the occupation forces when they were taking men. They thought that I had not had sufficient administrative experience, although I'd been head of the department at St. Lawrence for some time.


So, I was frustrated again and again to get the type of experience I felt necessary to give some sense of background reality to what I was talking about and teaching.

Then came an offer -- twice, from the State Department for me to head up the section on commercial treaties. For some reason or other they had heard of my study in the treaty field, my academic experience, but I realized my interest was not in commercial treaties, but in the organizational type of treaty that dealt with international structures rather than bargaining treaties, even if they were multipartite.

So, in a very bold way I turned down both invitations, one which came about 1943, and another one in 1944 -- the same position was open as I recall. I told my wife, "Well, here goes, I turned down my last chance to get the service which I wanted."

But then, it happened that I sent to Denys Myers, who died recently, some reprints of my articles. I usually sent them around to colleagues and friends. Lo and behold comes this invitation from Mr. [Harley] Notter in the Department of State in a division, or a section, dealing with international organization affairs which was planning toward


an organization in the postwar period. This was 1944.

This, of course, was just the sort of thing I would want. I went down to Washington from Canton, New York, and had a nice chat with Mr. Notter. He hired me on the spot.

So, I joined this section, or division, called International Organization Affairs in August 1944. The man in charge of it was Durward V. Sandifer. He was a marvelous chief for the division.

Apparently, one of the bits of evidence used to show some of my qualifications for the work they were doing was that very pamphlet on international administrative unions which showed the course of American participation in these unions since the 1840s. It suggested that I had some notion of the American record in that regard, and also indicated that I had some knowledge of treaty structure.

That brought me to the State Department just at the time the Dumbarton Oaks agreement was being worked out. I attended a few sessions of those "conversations" and then settled down to my prescribed work in that division. In that division, then, under Mr. Sandifer, I was charged with work relating to the responses to the Dumbarton Oaks agreement,


which were circulated among the various United Nations, as these responses came in to my division. I worked on proposals for amendments to a forthcoming charter, or agreement: on the subject of the privileges and immunities of the organization and the delegations to it; some work on the court; on inconsistent obligations and some other clauses. You see, the whole subject matter was broken up and various of us were given the chores. It was my job to analyze these returns and prepare memos for my superiors as to the feasibility, desirability of the proposals, what was good about them, what was bad about them, and so on.

MCKINZIE: Which were particularly difficult to deal with? Was the proposed amendment procedure of any particular difficulty?

REIFF: I don't have a very clear recollection of it. I do know this, that the Latin-American states were very ambitious in their proposals. They thought they could write the millennium into a document. I found myself frequently cutting them down to size and demonstrating their non-feasibility more often than their feasibility.


The toughest question I had to deal with was really privileges and immunities because we knew that this would be a much larger organization, and since the United States had not been a member of the League, we didn't have much experience with representation at a large-scale conference. There was always a possibility, of course, that the organization might locate in the United States, although we didn't anticipate that clearly at that time. If it became so, there would be many, many difficult questions arising.

Aside from that, the basic problem about privileges and immunities was how much privilege and how much immunity to give the representatives in a new organization. It had caused a lot of difficulty in the League of Nations. Any new organization, of course, would include the United States, as we had expected it would. The problem was multiplying into sort of geometric proportions because a large number of nations and a large number of delegates or personnel attached to these delegations would be really a big problem.

The problem would be one of privileges and immunities, that one thing, and the status of the organization. of course, many people thought it ought to be some type of a "super" state in order to safeguard it that way, but we didn't look


at it that way in the State Department.

MCKINZIE: Were there any longish discussions on the world organization as a "superstate?"

REIFF: At that time, I don't recall any long discussions about it. Our view, as experienced technicians in this field, was that we couldn't create any kind of a super state. All we could do was give it adequate status, which would give it immunity and protection and the right to make certain types of minor agreements for its proper functioning. And that's the way it got written into the Charter, which is, I think, correct. Many of the suggestions coming in were of this lofty character. Oh, you g