10/20/13

In Connecticut, Faith and Freedom

My journey last week to Boston felt like a tour of the world capital contenders of New England, as the exit signs on interstates, turnpikes, and parkways announced the names of familiar places from Greenwich and Stamford in Connecticut to Quincy and Dedham in Massachusetts. On the way home, I had the opportunity to stop at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, which has the papers of Mayor William H. Mortensen.  In October 1945, just after the first recommendation within the United Nations to place the organization in the United States, Mortensen heard from one of his predecessors, Thomas J. Spellacy.  A Hartford resident, Fred L. Rice, already had suggested his home city as a potential world capital in a letter to the Hartford Courant, but Spellacy carried the idea into official channels with an appeal based on Hartford’s foundations of history, faith, and freedom:

Thomas Hooker leads his congregation from Massachusetts to Connecticut (1893 drawing by Charles H. Niehaus, Library of Congress)

Thomas Hooker leads his congregation from Massachusetts to Connecticut (1893 drawing by Charles H. Niehaus, Library of Congress)

Dear Mayor Mortensen:

The United Nations Preparatory Commission decided last night that the permanent seat of the United Nations will be in the United States. In view of this decision, will you not be so kind as to accept a suggestion?

Our city was founded by a band of Pilgrims from Massachusetts led by the Rev. Thomas Hooker. Some three hundred years ago, here in Hartford, he preached a sermon that for the first time enunciated the doctrine that under God, all power is derived form the people.

This sermon, unfortunately not stenographically recorded, was translated into the Fundamental Orders. This document was the first written constitution in the history of the world. Under it the Colony and State of Connecticut was governed for generations. Democracy as we know it was conceived, born and nurtured in Hartford.

As the site of the birth of freedom, would it not be most appropriate that Hartford be selected as the home of the permanent seat of the United Nations? Would it not be a good omen, as history does repeat itself?

My suggestion would therefore be for you as Mayor, representing all of us, to petition our President to consider the location of the United Nations Organization in our Hartford. I am certain that all of us will join with you in such an appeal.

(Signed) Thomas J. Spellacy

The next step fell to Mortensen’s successor, Cornelius Moylan, who took office in December 1945, as the UN’s interest began to turn toward New England. In a telegram on December 24, 1945, he added more practical considerations such as Hartford’s location midway between Boston and New York. Along with climate, transportation, and educational institutions, Moylan also mentioned Hartford’s “high class industries” as a selling point.  This was not enough to entice the UN’s site-searching team, however. The diplomats focused on the Connecticut suburbs closer to New York City and initially settled on Greenwich — where they surprised and enraged local residents who viewed the prospect of becoming the Capital of the World as a threat to the historic character of their town.

Related: The Parent Generation and Defense of Home

03/18/13

Why Not Morristown?
(It Was Good Enough for George Washington)

This weekend, The Press of Atlantic City highlighted the visit of United Nations diplomats who spent a weekend at the seaside resort in January 1946 as part of their search for a home for the UN. Their hosts were sure that they would see their honored guests again. Why? Because the leader of the mission allowed sand to be poured into his shoes. By local custom, this guaranteed a return visit.

Morristown's attachment to its colonial and Revolutionary-era history is clear in the advertisement calling residents together to consider their mayor's plan to attract the United Nations. (Morristown Daily Record)

Morristown’s attachment to its colonial and Revolutionary-era history is clear in the advertisement calling residents together to consider their mayor’s plan to attract the United Nations. (Morristown Daily Record)

While the diplomats visited the shore, communities in North Jersey towns within commuting distance of New York also scrambled to attract attention. Among the most vigorous of contenders was Morristown, located 30 miles west of New York City.

Morristown Mayor Clyde Potts was sure that he had the best possible argument for placing the United Nations in his town. Like world capital promoters in Philadelphia and Boston, Potts viewed his community’s connection to the world in terms of local and American history. In Morristown’s case, this meant the town’s connection to George Washington. While Commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Washington had selected Morristown as one of his headquarters – so why shouldn’t the United Nations do the same? Continue reading