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Churchill and the Cold War: Why did Churchill make his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946?

Source 5

Carbon copy of a letter from Churchill to Truman


CHUR 2/158/68-69

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

My Dear Mr President

As your pilot is flying back to Washington tomorrow I am taking this chance to send a few lines.

It is very kind of you to make a plane available and I am going to use it to go to Cuba for a week. I am not going to Trinidad as I originally planned, it is too long a trip. I am thinking about going to Veracruz to do some painting.

I am very glad to hear you will be sailing around the Florida Coast. I need to talk with you before I make my speech at Fulton. I have a message to give to your country. I think we will agree on what I am going to say and I think it will get a lot of attention. I see it as an opportunity to some good in this confused world.

With kind regards and all respects,
Yours very sincerely

Original Transcript

As from/ 5905, North Bay Road,
Miami Beach,
January 29, 1946.

My Dear Mr. President,

I avail myself of the fact that your personal pilot is going from here to-morrow to Washington to send you these few lines.

It is very kind of you to place a powerful plane at my disposal and I am going to Cuba in it on Friday for a week. I have abandoned my plan of going to Trinidad as it is too long a hop for pleasure-time, but I am examining the possibilities of going to Veracruz, which is on the sea level and where I hear the scenery is very fine for painting. I shall be back here on February 10.

I am very glad to know you are coming along this coast. I will certainly come out and see you on your ship if you would wish it. I need a talk with you a good while before our Fulton date. I have a Message to deliver to your country and to the world and I think it very likely that we shall be in full agreement about it. Under your auspices anything I say will command some attention and there is an opportunity for doing some good to this bewildered, baffled and breathless world.

What is this source?

A copy of a letter from Churchill to President Truman, 29 January 1946.

Background to this source

Churchill is no longer Prime Minister, and is in the United States on a vacation trip, arriving on 14 January. As ever, Churchill mixed business with pleasure, arranging the publication of his wartime memoir, receiving honorary degrees from various universities, making several high-profile speeches, and doing some swimming and painting. The trip also gave him a much-needed break from his critics in the Conservative Party. Churchill even took part in lobbying for a post-war reconstruction loan for Britain. Tensions between the two superpowers [the Soviet Union and the USA] continued to grow, especially as Stalin tried to get more control over Turkey and Iran. 

Churchill refers to making the Fulton speech as “our Fulton speech” and making it under Truman’s auspices (ie with Truman’s blessing). In October 1945, Churchill had been invited to make a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Fulton was a small town in the rural Midwest and Churchill would not normally have accepted such an invitation. However, the invite came endorsed by Truman “This is a wonderful school in my home state. Hope you can do it. I’ll introduce you. Best regards- Harry S. Truman”. Given Fulton’s size and location, the impact of Churchill and Truman visiting the college and speaking together there would be sure to attract a lot of attention.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why Churchill made the Iron Curtain speech in 1946. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. According to Churchill, what state is the world in?
  2. What does he plan to do about it?
  3. What part has President Truman to play in this?
  4. Does this sound like a vacation?
  5. Why, in your opinion, does Churchill need a talk with Truman?
  6. The note at the top of this letter explains that it is a copy of a handwritten letter sent by Churchill to Truman. Why did Churchill take the trouble to hand-write the letter?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Churchill is getting no special treatment now that he is no longer Prime Minister

Churchill can say things that a Prime Minister or President can't say

Churchill is being used by Truman to stir up the people of America

Churchill was not interested in politics, he just wanted to do good

Churchill respects Truman and is keen to impress him

This source helps to explain why Churchill made the Iron Curtain speech

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • This source raises some interesting issues about the Fulton speech. Churchill’s treatment by Truman is potentially revealing – historians can probably infer a lot from that about how the Americans view Churchill. There is also the question of how much Truman knew about the speech. We know Churchill intended to talk to him, but we cannot be sure about how Truman reacted.

Explore the guide to interpreting letters

Source 6

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