Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.
On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall addressed the graduating class at Harvard University. In his speech, Marshall noted that World War II had caused “the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy” with consequences for the U.S. economy, too. To stabilize the situation, he proposed a program of economic aid to European countries:
“It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.”
This speech led to the establishment of the European Recovery Plan, also known as the Marshall Plan, and the establishment of a new agency, the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), to administer it. While the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries ultimately did not participate in the Marshall Plan, they were invited to do so.
The Marshall Plan complemented the Truman Doctrine. President Harry Truman announced that initiative in a highly ideological March 12, 1947, speech to a joint session of Congress in which he requested approval for aid to Greece and Turkey as part of a global fight against communism.
Scholars continue to debate the origins and objectives of the Marshall Plan, which was a major departure in U.S. foreign policy. Whatever they may be, taking a broad suggestion such as that made in the speech and bringing it to fruition was no simple matter. It fell to the Department of State to make the vision a reality. Development of the policy surrounding such a major new initiative in U.S. foreign policy, securing passage of the necessary legislation (The Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, 62 Stat. 138) in the face of significant opposition, and setting up a new government agency took a tremendous amount of concentrated work on the part of the Department. All of those things took place within the relatively short span of 11 months, and the new Economic Cooperation Administration went into operation in May 1948. Continue reading