December 4, 1945: The Day the Senate Surrendered Our Sovereignty

By:  Jack Kenny
December 4, 1945: The Day the Senate Surrendered Our Sovereignty

On December 4, 1945, the United States Senate passed the United Nations Participation Act, committing the United States to full, active participation in the United Nations.

While the date does not have the kind of national recognition and observance given to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or the November 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, December 4 is a date on which the U.S. Senate — often called "the world's greatest deliberative body — voted to seriously compromise a significant feature of the nation's sovereignty. The bill was approved by the House and signed into law by President Truman later that month.

The lopsided 65-7 vote followed seven days of debate. Six Republicans — Senators William Langer of North Dakota, Edward Moore of Oklahoma, Chapman Revercomb of West Virginia, Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota, Robert Taft of Ohio, and Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska — voted against the bill. Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana was the only Democrat opposed. Langer and Shipstead cast the only votes against ratification of the UN charter when that passed the Senate by a vote of 89 to 2 the previous July.

As the New York Times reported, the United Nations could now call upon the U.S. military "for prompt and decisive action in international emergencies, once the size, state of readiness and general deployment of the United States peace-enforcement forces had been approved by majority votes of the two houses of Congress." Congress, in other words, may authorize the size and general terms of deployment of its UN peacekeeping contingent, but not whether a specific crisis or event warrants its commitment to military conflicts and confrontations in any part of the world. That authority would reside with the UN Security Council.

Senator Taft offered an amendment to require the American representative on the Security Council to urge "immediate action" in seeking amendments to the UN Charter for a limitation of armaments and prohibition of the use of such weapons as the atomic bomb, rockets, and poison gas. The amendment was defeated, 54 to 16. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) a delegate to that year's United Nations Conference in San Francisco, was the first to rise in opposition.

"We are not yet prepared," said Vandenberg, "to make a statutory approach to this problem. We can not legislate toward the outlawing of weapons, particularly the atomic bomb, until we have discovered an inspection system which would make the prohibition secure." Apparently the inspection system is still undiscovered.

Senator Taft's varied positions regarding the United Nations appear somewhat contradictory.

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