Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt

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Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt

7 May 1947 [The White House]

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

It was thoughtful of you to write me, as you did in your letter of April 17, telling me of your concern over recent world developments and giving me guidance. The Greek-Turkish matter which you mentioned has, I think, caused me more worry and soul-searching than any matter in these past two years. I felt the grave responsibility of the decision and the drawbacks to any course of action suggested. But it has also brought me, when the decision was made and as the issues have developed here and abroad, a growing feeling of certainty in the rightness of our step.

Your own concern and the concern of the sender of the wire you enclosed seem to be mainly, first, that we should not try to stop Communism by throwing our economic weight in at points which are of strategic importance but deficient in democracy, and, second, that we must outsell Communism by offering something better, that is, a constructive and affirmative program which will be recognized as such by the entire world and which can be effected without resort to the totalitarian methods of the Communist police state.

On the first half of this I would argue that if the Greek-Turkish land bridge between the continents is one point at which our democratic forces can stop the advance of Communism that has flowed steadily through the Baltic countries, Poland, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, to some extent Hungary, then this is the place to do it, regardless of whether or not the terrain is good.

The necessity at this point for formulating and carrying out a detailed operation to improve the situation is urged by Mr. Williams in his wire to you. While the details may differ considerably from those outlined by him, I am determined that the instructions to our mission will be worthy of the "support of all democratic nations", and will give no basis for the fear that it may be solely a "futile attempt to stop communism without offering anything better than the strengthening of autocracy and dictatorship."12 A great deal of study is being carried on in anticipation of the successful passage of the legislation. The FAO Report and the Report of the Porter Mission will be considered and used along with the exceptional knowledge of our two Ambassadors.13

In answer to the second part of your concern, I would not disagree that we must have a democratic, constructive and affirmative program of wide scope. But I would argue with deep conviction that we have led in evolving, have helped to build, and have made clear to all who will understand, the most comprehensive machinery for a constructive world peace based on free institutions and ways of life that has ever been proposed and adopted by a body of nations. And I would urge that in evaluating the step we are about to take, we should keep clearly in mind all the efforts this country has engaged in sincerely to make possible a peace economically, ideologically and politically sound.

I know that I do not need to catalogue for you the international organizations to which I refer. Besides this machinery for peace, we have tried to eliminate the sources of war and, by our proposal for a four-power pact for the disarmament of Germany, we have tried to remove from Europe what may be the greatest basic cause of friction: the fear of German aggression or of the use of German territory for purposes of aggression.14

To what seems to me nearly the limit, we have made concessions to Russia that she might trust and not fear us. These include: Agreement at Tehran to support Tito's Partisans in Yugoslavia; Agreement at Yalta to give the Kurile Islands and southern Sakhalin to Russia, to recognize the independence of Outer Mongolia and Soviet interests in Dairen, Port Arthur, and the Chinese Eastern Railway; also at Yalta, agreement on the Curzon line as the western border of the Soviet Union, and to the admission of Byelorussia and the Ukraine to the United Nations; at Potsdam, agreement to the annexation by Russia of the northern portion of east Prussia, to the recognition of Soviet claims for preferential reparations from western Germany, to the necessity for modification of the provisions of the Montreaux Convention. In the peace treaty negotiations we have made concessions, particularly in regard to reparations from Italy and in our efforts to meet the Yugoslav and Soviet points of view on boundaries and administration of Venezia Giulia and Trieste.15

In addition, we have contributed to the defense of Russia during the war in lend-lease eleven and a quarter billion dollars and provided them with military and technological information. Since the war we have contributed to Russian relief through UNRRA two hundred and fifty million dollars and sold them on thirty-year credit goods totaling another one quarter billion dollars.

We have also protested, so far in vain, against what seemed to us violation of democratic procedures pledged at the Yalta Conference, in Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

To relieve suffering and to take the first steps toward material rehabilitation we have appropriated nearly four and one-quarter billion dollars and have asked for three hundred and fifty million dollars more in post-UNRRA relief.

Let us think, therefore, of Greek and Turkish aid against the background of these positive measures.

The results of our efforts thus far disappoint and dishearten many in this and other countries. I think we must place the blame not only on the obstructive tactics of elements opposed to our ideas of a democratic peace, but, also, to a certain extent, on our own reticence in stating the democratic purposes we have in mind.

So it seems to me, as it did to 67 senators who voted for the Bill that we must take our stand at this strategic point in a determined effort not to let the advance of Communism continue to overtake countries who choose to maintain a free way of life, who have requested our aid, and who do not wish to submit to subjugation by an armed minority or by outside pressure.

I have emphasized what seems to me to be the inescapable fact that this country has gone to great lengths to develop and carry out a constructive policy in world affairs. I have not discussed specifically the point you make that our domestic policy has a great influence on the manner in which we carry out our foreign policy. I am in complete agreement with you that what happens within this country is perhaps the most decisive factor in the future of world peace and economic well-being. We simply must not fall into political division, economic recession, or social stagnation; there must be social progress at home.16 I shall continue to point out to the country what seem to me the measures most suited to accomplish this progress. I shall continue to take every action within my own power to see that the United States has a progressive domestic policy that will deserve the confidence of the world and will serve as a sound foundation for our international policy. I shall at all times be grateful for any suggestions and criticisms which you may care to send me.

Nor does it seem to me that we can overlook the fact that as much as the world needs a progressive America, the American way of life cannot survive unless other peoples who want to adopt that pattern of life throughout the world can do so without fear and in the hope of success. If this is to be possible we cannot allow the forces of disintegration to go unchecked.

I certainly appreciate your kind personal message to Mrs. Truman which I was glad to convey to her, and your expressions regarding Margaret's singing are especially gratifying. She too will be greatly pleased.17

                                          Very sincerely yours,

                                Harry Truman

It was necessary to check the facts before I could answer. It took some time—hence the delay. I regret that it took so long. H.S.T.


1. See Document 208.

2. "Speech of Senator Claude Pepper Over ABC Network," 27 March 1947, Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University.

3. Vandenberg's amendment required Truman to stop aid to Greece and Turkey if any one of three conditions were met: if a majority of the members of the UN Security Council or the General Assembly requested the program end; if a majority of either of the two nations' governments asked that the program stop; or if Truman thought "the purposes of the program have been accomplished, or are incapable of being accomplished" ("Mr. Vandenberg's Amendment," NYT, 1 April 1947, C26; C. P. Trussell, "Senate Gives U.N. Mid-East Aid Veto," NYT, 10 April 1947, 1).

4. Aubrey Williams to ER, 15 April 1947, AERP.

5. ER continuously misspelled Averell Harriman, whom Truman appointed secretary of commerce in September 1946.

6. Social worker, New Dealer, editor, and civil rights activist, Aubrey Williams (1890–1965) worked closely with Harry Hopkins and ER in his positions as deputy director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, administrator of the Civil Works Administration, director of the National Youth Administration, and advocate for the FEPC. A close friend of ER, who defended him when Congress attacked him for refusing to denounce Communists and the New York Times accused him of working "to introduce socialism through the back door," Williams then served as publisher and editor of the Southern Farmer (ANB).

7. Admiral William D. Leahy (1877–1959), one of FDR's most trusted aides, first began working with Roosevelt in 1915 when he served as an aide to navy secretary Josephus Daniels. After 1933, Leahy served in a variety of positions in the Roosevelt administration: chief of the Bureau of Navigation, chief of Naval Operations, governor of Puerto Rico, ambassador to the Vichy government, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, finally, chief of staff to FDR himself, a position which allowed him to accompany FDR to Tehran and Yalta, where he questioned British intentions and worried that FDR trusted Stalin too much. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs for both FDR and Truman, Leahy remained strongly anti-Soviet, so much so that Truman once called him one of the "only hard-boiled hard hitting anti-Russians around." Leahy also expressed distrust of those whom he labeled State Department "pinkies" (ANB).

8. Lewis W. Douglas (1894–1974), who left Congress after four terms representing Arizona in the House of Representatives to become director of the budget, turned into one of FDR's most vocal critics when FDR abandoned his promise to balance the budget. Accusing FDR of creating "collectivism," Douglas advised Alfred Landon in 1936 and headed Democrats for Wilkie in 1940. In 1947, Truman, who had first tried to nominate Douglas as head of the World Bank only to have him refuse the position, appointed him ambassador to Great Britain. As ambassador, he embraced both the Marshall Plan and the containment doctrine and presided over the secret Canadian-American negotiations that led to the formation of the North American Alliance (ANB; HSTE).

9. Margaret Truman, the president's daughter, who aspired to a singing career, made her debut on national radio in March 1947 (Hamby, Man, 476).

10. Dean Acheson to Bill Hassett, 6 May 1947, RG59, NARA II.

11. Elliott Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., and Joe Lash.

12. See n4 above.

13. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations presented its mission's study on the conditions of Greece in a report in March of 1947. UN experts found Greece devastated by war, both in material and economic conditions. They emphasized, however, that Greece would be able to fully redevelop its economy and agriculture with international assistance. The report recommended an international loan in an initial amount of $100 million. American policy regarding Greece and Turkey thus superseded the recommendations of the FAO report, but used their findings to support the argument for immediate and direct aid. In addition to the findings of the FAO report, the Truman administration sent Paul A. Porter (1904–1975) as head of the American Economic Mission to Greece in December 1946 "to do a firsthand evaluation of Greek economic needs." Lincoln MacVeagh (1890–1972), the American ambassador in Greece, and economist Paul R. Porter wired Marshall on February 20, 1947, recommending that the United States immediately implement a policy "not to permit foreign encroachment, either from without or within, on independence and integrity of Greece." On March 28, 1947, Porter reported the results of his two month study to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, emphasizing that he found the Greek economy in great peril. He stated, "If this country assumes obligations … I have confidence that Greece will not forfeit what I believe to be her last clear chance for independence" (Richard E. Prince, "Lincoln MacVeagh Dies at 82," WP, 17 January 1972, C4; Donovan, 277; Hamby, Man, 390; Thomas J. Hamilton, "FAO Greek Project Off Agenda of U.N.," NYT, 28 March 1947, 10; Mazuzan, 61; John T. McQuiston, "Paul A. Porter, Capital Lawyer Who Held New Deal Posts, Dies," NYT, 27 November 1975, 36; SDB, 4 May 1947, 842-47; "What Greece Might Be," NYT, 17 March 1947, 22).

14. See n4 Document 198.

15. See n4 Document 140.

16. Truman deleted the original first clause of this sentence in the Acheson draft, which read, "I believe that the leaders of the Democratic Party and the officials in public office are all aware that …" (Harry Truman to ER, draft, 5 May 1947, attached to Dean Acheson to William Hassett, 6 May 1947, RG59, NARA II).

17. Truman also inserted this paragraph into the final version of his letter (ibid).

On Wallace's European Lecture Tour

Henry Wallace's announcement in January that he would lecture in Europe generated swift reaction. Immediately, seventy prominent self-identified "liberal" Americans telegraphed British foreign minister Bevin that Wallace's sole source of support was "a small minority of Communists, fellow-travelers and what we call here totalitarian liberals." More than a hundred of Wallace's most famous supporters countered the telegram with a scroll of friendship declaring that "the success of the United Nations depends upon the continued cooperation of Great Britain, Russia and the United States." Four days before Wallace's April 7 departure, Secretary of the Navy Forrestal suggested during a cabinet meeting that the president revoke Wallace's passport.1

Tensions escalated after Wallace's April 11 speech in London's Central Hall in which he rejected the Truman Doctrine and argued that the "devastated and hungry" world "is crying out, not for American guns and tanks to spread more hunger, but for American plows and machines to fulfill the promise of peace." In a BBC broadcast the following day, Wallace delivered a more ringing criticism:

A great national awakening has occurred in Asia and in other parts of the world which we used to think of only as colonies. This new nationalism will turn to communism and look to the Soviet Union as their only ally, if the United States declares that this is the American century of power politics rather than the Century of the Common Man.

Churchill, whose "Iron Curtain" speech had also been criticized, labeled Wallace "a cryp-to-communist." An outraged Congress debated revoking his passport and the French political leaders who supported his appearance in Paris now distanced themselves, announcing that none would be present when he delivered his speech.2

ER's April 16 column reflected a calmer viewpoint. She admitted that she had been "troubled" by a question she received during a Connecticut forum as to whether "the Truman policy had hurt the United Nations." She continued:

That, of course, is basically what troubles Henry Wallace. He feels that we are pulling further and further apart, and that, without realizing it, we may be setting the stage for a two-world catastrophe.

I am rather sorry that Mr. Wallace had to go to England to make his speeches in order to get them printed in this country, because I do not like criticisms of our country made abroad. I prefer them made at home. But in all fairness we have to recognize that Mr. Wallace's rather dramatic action has brought an amount of attention which probably nothing else would have brought.3

After reading her column, C. B. Baldwin wired ER asking her to co-sign the following message from a "group of distinguished progressives" to the leaders of the four major French political parties who had invited Wallace to lecture in France:

We the undersigned Americans wish to convey our wholehearted support for the sentiments for peace as expressed by Mr. Wallace. Mr. Wallace's trip to Europe is a continuation of his vigilant and constant fight for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's concept of one world. His deep conviction that only through the United Nations can the nations of the world be assured of lasting peace echoes the sentiments of the majority of the American people. We take this opportunity to reaffirm the deep feeling of amity and good will which has long existed between [the] peoples of our nations and to pledge our unflagging energy by your side in the fight for peace. It is our hope that Mr. Wallace's visit will set a pattern in this one world for the free interchange of opinion between the leaders and the peoples of all nations of good will.4

ER refused Baldwin's request.

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Harry Truman to Eleanor Roosevelt

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