Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Churchill a great

Was Churchill a great orator?

Source 7

Telegrams from members of the American public to Churchill about his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton Missouri


CHUR 2/226 images 171, 174

Simplified Transcript

Telegram 1
1946 Mar 15 PM 2:29
Winston Churchill
Waldorf Towers Waldorf Astoria

As an American citizen I regard you as the world’s greatest statesman. I am glad that someone has had the guts to speak out about Russia. Our own government seems to be following the example of Neville Chamberlain. If Stalin can scare members of the US government to stay away from your speech tonight this proves we need to stand up to the Russians. This is a country of free speech and your country will be picketed by left-wing critics of yours tonight but they do not represent the majority of the American people.

Telegram 2
1946 Mar 15
Winston Churchill
Waldorf Astoria

Don’t say anything tonight that will tend to catapult civilisation into a war of destruction.
Henry Holt.

Original Transcript

Telegram 1

Western Union
NK 130 159 7 EXTRA=NEWYORK NY 15 156P
1946 Mar 15 PM 2:29
Winston Churchill=
Waldorf Towers Waldorf Astoria=

As an American citizen who regards you as the greatest statesman alive I congratulate you STOP I am glad that someone has the guts to speak so honestly and sincerely about Russia’s complete disregard of treaties and the rights of small nations while our own State Department seems to be following the pattern of Neville Chamberlain STOP If Joe Stalin can scare members of our State Department away from your dinner at the Waldorf tonight it shows the extreme need for more blunt speeches just like the ones that you have recently given STOP. This is a country of free speech and yet your hotel will be picketted tonight by a lot of left-wingers and there are plenty of them around New York and Washington but happily neither of these cities truly represents the American people STOP Best wishes for your continued health and I hope you keep right on talking=

Victor H. Todd President
Swedish Iron & Steel Corp.
17 Battery Place New York NY

Telegram 2

1946 Mar 15
NK230 15=SCRANTON PENN 15 719p

Don’t say anything tonight that will tend to catapult civilisation into a war of destruction. =

Henry Holt.

What is this source?

The sources are two telegrams written to Churchill after his speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.

Background to this source

In 1946, Churchill was invited to America. He was no longer Prime Minister, the British Conservative Party having been defeated in the election of 1945 by Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. At President Truman’s request, he made a speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri on 5 March 1946 where he was given an honorary degree. These telegrams illustrate a selection of opinions of and reactions to the speech.

The speech was to become one of Churchill’s most famous post-war speeches because of his warnings about the Cold War. At the time, the speech was reported worldwide. In it he talked about the Soviet Union. Firstly he discussed the prowess of the Russian people in war and referred to Stalin as ‘my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin’. However, despite welcoming the Soviet Union as a fellow great power and understanding the Soviet Union’s need for security against Germany, he warned about the lack of democracy in those states it dominated.

Additional information

Churchill expressed the difficulties that Britain and America were encountering in Germany with regards to the spread of communism in Europe and elsewhere (apart from Britain and America) and talked of an ‘iron curtain’ separating western democracies from the communist east.

He also said that the United Nations should stand firm against Communist Russia if democracy and peace were to be preserved.

The speech had the title the ‘Sinews of Peace’ speech but it has become more commonly known as the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech. The theme of this speech was echoed in others given by Churchill around the country. Churchill finished his tour in New York, staying at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where the telegrams were sent.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping this source can be useful to us in whether Churchill was a good orator. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Why does telegram 1 support Churchill?
  2. What does telegram 1 say about the situation inside the USA?
  3. What do you think telegram 2 means?

Deeper level

Which of the following areas of Churchill’s key features of public speaking can be investigated by using this source?


Tick if this is present

If you have put a tick, what makes you think this?

On a scale of 0-5 (0 being absent and 5 being strongly represented), indicate how important this attribute is to the speech.

Correctness of Diction

Is it clear what Churchill means even if some words are unfamiliar?



Does his speech seem like blank verse poetry?


Accumulation of Argument

Does he build his argument?



Does he use examples from the past or from people’s knowledge to illustrate his point?


Emotions of the speaker and the audience aroused

Do the audience know Churchill’s final point before he gets there?


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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Telegrams need careful use by the historian. Telegrams were typically used when the sender wanted to convey a message urgently: they were more expensive than a letter but much quicker. The charge for a telegram increased the greater number of words that were used so telegrams were usually short and to the point. The fact that these are telegrams sent to Churchill might suggest that those commenting on his speech are relatively wealthy. The poorer people might be those who are protesting (see telegram 1).
  • You can find out more about the Fulton Missouri speech in the Churchill Archive.
  • You can also read the analysis of Churchill’s New York postbag, which was prepared by the British Consulate-General. This breaks down 909 letters and telegrams sent to Churchill into various categories, and includes an analysis of the number of positive and negative responses. This provides a good demonstration of the division of opinion among those who were moved enough to write to Churchill.

Source 8

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