Marshall and the Foreign Assistance Act

On March 23, 2016, the Marshall Plan Speech was one of 25 recordings added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s remarks at Harvard University were a crucial first step in the United States’ efforts to help rebuild Europe after World War II and certainly represent the “richness of the nation’s audio legacy” that the Library of Congress seeks to preserve through the National Recording Registry. This announcement is particularly timely as the date of another important, but probably less well-known, event in Marshall Plan history approaches. On April 3, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Foreign Assistance Act, the legislation that made the Marshall Plan possible, into law.

imageThe signing of the Foreign Assistance Act into law 10 months after Marshall delivered his remarks at Harvard University is truly remarkable considering the monumental effort involved in getting it passed. In a 1956 interview with his biographer Dr. Forrest C. Pogue, Marshall recalled that he, “worked… as hard as if I was running for the Senate or the Presidency,” to gain support for the program. Marshall told Pogue that the reason for his extraordinary effort was, “because all America was opposed to appropriating anything else because of the way the first appropriation, right after the war, had been wasted.”

In a statement to Arthur Vandenberg, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in January 1948 former President Herbert Hoover expressed his concern that funding for the Foreign Assistance Act amounted to “about 18% of our whole Federal tax income during such a period,” and “36% of all the personal income tax.” Hoover’s statement also cited severe shortages in machinery and raw materials that, if sent to Europe, would undermine the strength of the U.S. economy. A February 1948 speech by Senator William Jenner of Indiana was even more critical referring to the Foreign Assistance Act as “a gambler’s chance”. Jenner’s statement that “Taking gamblers’ chances with our Nation’s future was a recognized New Deal procedure,” attempted to characterize the act as nothing more than an extension of Roosevelt-era New Deal programs.

Marshall’s efforts to gain support for the Foreign Assistance Act led him to speak to various groups including, “tobacco people, cotton people, New York Eastern industrialists, Pittsburgh people” to explain how the program would benefit them. By speaking to groups representing different interests and in different parts of the country Marshall contributed significantly to the tremendous support that the act received from the American public.

Marshall’s hard work was validated by the bill’s passage by a vote of 71-19 in the Senate and 333-78 in the House. Reflecting on the accomplishment of the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act, Marshall remarked to Pogue that, “It was just a struggle from start to finish, and that’s what I’m proud of, that we actually did it, and put it over.” President Harry Truman echoed Marshall’s sentiments in his statement after signing the act noting that, “It is even more striking in its proof that swift and vigorous action for peace is not incompatible with the full operation of our democratic process of discussion and debate.”