October 24, 1949
President Romulo, Mr. Lie, Governor Dewey, Mayor O'Dwyer, distinguished representatives, and fellow guests:
We have come together today to lay the cornerstone of the permanent headquarters of the United Nations. These are
the most important buildings in the world, for they are the center of man's hope for peace and a better life. This is the place
where the nations of the world will work together to make that hope a reality.
This occasion is a source of special pride to the people of the United States. We are deeply conscious of the honor of having
the permanent headquarters of the United Nations in this country. At the same time, we know how important it is that people of
other nations should come to know at first hand the work of this world organization. We consider it appropriate, therefore, that
the United Nations should hold meetings from time to time in other countries when that can be done. For the United Nations
must draw its inspiration from the people of every land; it must be truly representative of and responsive to the peoples of the
world whom it was created to serve.
This ceremony marks a new stage in the growth of the United Nations. It is fitting that it should take place on United Nations
Day, the fourth anniversary of the day the charter entered into effect. During the 4 years of its existence, this organization has
become a powerful force for promoting peace and friendship among the peoples of the world. The construction of this new
headquarters is tangible proof of the steadfast faith of the members in the vitality and strength of the organization, and of our
determination that it shall become more and more effective in the years ahead.
The charter embodies the hopes and ideals of men everywhere. Hopes and ideals are not static. They are dynamic, and they
give life and vigor to the United Nations. We look forward to a continuing growth and evolution of the organization to meet the
changing needs of the world's peoples. We hope that eventually every nation on earth will be a fully qualified and a loyal
member of this organization.
We who are close to the United Nations sometimes forget that it is more than the procedures, the councils, and the debates,
through which it operates. We tend to overlook the fact that the organization is the living embodiment of the principles of the
charter--the renunciation of aggression and the joint determination to build a better life for the whole world.
But if we overlook this fact, we will fail to realize the strength and power of this great organization. We will fail to understand
the true nature of this new force that has been created in the affairs of our time.
The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man's aspirations. The charter dearly shows our
determination that international problems must be settled on a basis acceptable to the conscience of mankind.
Because the United Nations is the dynamic expression of what all the peoples of the world desire, because it sets up a standard
of right and justice for all nations, it is greater than any of its members. The compact that underlies the United Nations cannot be
ignored--and it cannot be infringed or dissolved.
We in the United States, in the course of our own history, have learned what it means to set up an organization to give
expression to the common desire for peace and unity. Our Constitution expressed the will of the people that there should be a
United States. And through toil and struggle the people made their will prevail.
In the same way, I think, the charter and the organization served by these buildings express the will of the people of the world
that there shall be a United Nations.
This does not mean that all the member countries are of one mind on all issues. The controversies which divide us go very deep.
We should understand that these buildings are not a monument to the unanimous agreement of nations on all things. But they
signify one new and important fact. They signify that the peoples of the world are of one mind in their determination to solve
their common problems by working together.
Our success in the United Nations will be measured not only in terms of our ability to meet and master political controversies.
We have learned that political Controversies grow out of social and economic problems. If the people of the world are to live
together in peace, we must work together to establish the conditions that will provide a firm foundation for peace.
For this reason, our success will also be measured by the extent to which the rights of individual human beings are realized. And
it will be measured by the extent of our economic and social progress.
These fundamental facts are recognized both in the language of the charter and in the activities in which the United Nations has
been engaged during the past 4 years. The charter plainly makes respect for human rights by nations a matter of international
concern. The member nations have learned from bitter experience that regard for human rights is indispensable to political,
economic, and social progress. They have learned that disregard of human rights is the beginning of tyranny and, too often, the
beginning of war.
For these reasons, the United Nations has devoted much of its time to fostering respect for human rights. The General
Assembly has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on Genocide. Other important measures
in this field are under study.
I am confident that this great work will go steadily forward. The preparation of a Covenant on Human Rights by the Human
Rights Commission is a task with which the United States is deeply concerned. We believe strongly that the attainment of basic
civil and political rights for men and women everywhere--without regard to race, language, or religion--is essential to the peace
we are seeking. We hope that the Covenant on Human Rights will contain effective pro, visions regarding freedom of
information. The minds of men must be free from artificial and arbitrary restraints, in order that they may seek the truth and
apply their intelligence to making a better world.
Another field in which the United Nations is undertaking to build the foundations of a peaceful world is that of economic
development. Today, at least half of mankind lives in dire poverty. Hundreds of millions of men, women, and children lack
adequate food, clothing, and shelter. We cannot achieve permanent peace and prosperity in the world until the standard of
living in underdeveloped areas is raised.
It is for this reason that I have urged the launching of a vigorous and concerted effort to apply modern technology and capital
investment to improve the lot of these peoples. These areas need a large expansion of investment and trade. In order for this to
take place, they also need the application of scientific knowledge and technical skills to their basic problems--producing more
food, improving health and sanitation, making use of their natural resources, and educating their people.
To meet these needs, the United Nations and its agencies are preparing a detailed program for technical assistance to
The Economic and Social Council last summer defined the basic principles which should underlie this program. The General
Assembly is now completing and perfecting the initial plans. The fact that the Economic Committee of the Assembly voted
unanimously for the resolution on technical assistance shows that this is a common cause which commands united support.
Although differences may arise over details of the program, I fervently hope that the members of the United Nations will remain
unanimous in their determination to raise the standards of living of the less fortunate members of the human family.
The United States intends to play its full part in this great enterprise. We are already carrying on a number of activities in this
field. I shall urge the Congress, when it reconvenes in January, to give high priority to proposals which will make possible
additional technical assistance and capital investment.
I should like to speak of one other problem which is of major concern to the United Nations. That is the control of atomic
Ever since the first atomic weapon was developed, a major objective of United States policy has been a system of international
control of atomic energy that would assure effective prohibition of atomic weapons, and at the same time would promote the
peaceful use of atomic energy by all nations.
In November 1945, Prime Minister Attlee of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada, and I agreed
that the problem of international control of atomic energy should be referred to the United Nations. The establishment of the
United Nations Atomic Energy Commission was one of the first acts of the first session of the General Assembly.
That commission worked for 3 years on the problem. It developed a plan of control which reflected valuable contributions by
almost every country represented on the commission. This plan of control was overwhelmingly approved by the General
Assembly on November 4, 1948.
This is a good plan. It is a plan that can work and, more important, it is a plan that can be effective in accomplishing its purpose.
It is the only plan so far developed that would meet the technical requirements of control, and would make prohibition of atomic
weapons effective, and at the same time promote the peaceful development of atomic energy on a cooperative basis.
We support this plan and will continue to support it unless or until a better and more effective plan is put forward. To assure
that atomic energy will be devoted to man's welfare and not to his destruction is a continuing challenge to all nations and all
peoples. The United States is now, and will remain, ready to do its full share in meeting this challenge.
Respect for human rights, promotion of economic development, and a system for control of weapons are requisites to the kind
of world we seek. We cannot solve these problems overnight, but we must keep everlastingly working at them in order to
reach our goal.
No single nation can always have its own way, for these are human problems, and the solution of human problems is to be
found in negotiation and mutual adjustment.
The challenge of the 20th century is the challenge of human relations, and not of impersonal natural forces. The real dangers
confronting us today have their origins in outmoded habits of thought, in the inertia of human nature, and in preoccupation with
supposed national interests to the detriment of the common good.
As members of the United Nations, we are convinced that patience, the spirit of reasonableness, and hard work will solve the
most stubborn political problems. We are convinced that individual rights and social and economic progress can be advanced
through international cooperation.
Our faith is in the betterment of human relations. Our vision is of a better world in which men and nations can live together,
respecting one another's rights and cooperating in building a better life for all. Our efforts are made in the belief that men and
nations can cooperate, and that there are no international problems which men of good will cannot solve or adjust.
Mr. President, Mr. Lie, the laying of this cornerstone is an act of faith--our unshakable faith that the United Nations will
succeed in accomplishing the great tasks for which it was created.
But "faith without works is dead." We must make our devotion to the ideals of the charter as strong as the steel in this building.
We must pursue the objectives of the charter with resolution as firm as the rock on which this building rests. We must conduct
our affairs foursquare with the charter, in terms as true as this cornerstone.
If we do these things, the United Nations will endure and will bring the blessings of peace and well-being to all mankind.
NOTE: The President spoke at 12:30 p.m. from a stand erected on Forty-second Street, the southern boundary of the
permanent headquarters of the United Nations, between Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and First Avenue, New York City.
The President's opening words referred to Brig. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, President of the General Assembly; Trygve Lie,
Secretary General of the United Nations; Thomas E. Dewey, Governor of New York; and William O'Dwyer, Mayor of New
York City. The address was carried over all radio and television networks.
October 24, 1949