A Chronicle of Truman’s Point Four Program






AP History


Mr. Houston


April 11, 2005


Emily Bates






A Chronicle of Truman’s Point Four Program


            Harry S. Truman was the 32nd President of the United States. He became President upon the death of the Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12th 1945. Truman was elected President in 1948 through his own campaign. He made his inaugural address on January 20th 1949 in Washington D.C. (Harry Truman 1). In this speech Truman made four points addressing the foreign policy of the country. Point Four of Truman’s 1949 inaugural address was influenced by prior policies regarding the foreign affairs of the United States and established a precedent for modern era involvement in international politics.


            In the years preceding Truman’s presidency, other American leaders had different views on involvement with other nations. For example, at the beginning of the century when Theodore Roosevelt became President in 1901, he was interested in expanding through a policy of naval power, imperial command of the Pacific and to control the Western hemisphere (Editors of American Heritage 630). He felt that the United States played an important part in the world and that it was up to the policies of the country to allow involvement and control throughout the world (630). He wanted his country to take on more responsibility with the other nations and to be a leader among other countries. Roosevelt served as a pioneer for his thinking on foreign policy and led the way for other leaders, like Truman, to come up with their own interpretation of a more comprehensive plan. His ideas and theories were very advanced for the time period. However, many American citizens were not comfortable with expanding into international affairs as much as Roosevelt had wanted and his ideas on foreign policy were never fully put into effect (Jennings and Brewster 30). The former position of the United States and the rest of the world was one of isolationism and naivety. He was able to effectively implant ideas of a greater expansion and involvement in future leaders of the United States.


            The U.S. president elected in 1932 was Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his inaugural address he expressed one of his ideas as using the good neighbor policy, meaning that he wanted the United States to be respectful of the rights of other nations of the world and of its own rights (Editors of American Heritage 801). The previous U. S. administrations had not made any drastic changes in the foreign policy and still took as an isolationist approach when relating to Europe and Asia. In 1933 the tension in Europe began to intensify as Germany was led by the powerful Hitler. Even when this ruler of Germany renounced his portion of the Versailles Treaty, which had concluded World War I, and started an intense military buildup, the United States was against an intervention and participation with Europe (802). This potential threat did not cause a change in the President’s foreign policies. The theories of isolationism would prove not to be useful in the following years of the upcoming World War II and they would ultimately change. During his third term as President, Roosevelt’s health began to worsen and, as the campaign for his fourth term approached, his choice for a vice president for this 1944 election became very crucial. The President was not as concerned as he should have been so a group of Democratic Party leaders became responsible for the endorsement of Harry Truman as his Vice Presidential running mate (Ferrell 107)


            Truman started his career as a local political leader in Jackson County, Missouri with no particular ambition of ever becoming president. In 1934 he was elected as a senator from Missouri and he was re-elected in 1940 (Jenkins 29, 47). Through his position as Senator, Truman became a national figure because of his creation of the Truman Committee, a war investigating organization (Ferrell 106). Since he was from a border state, there was the potential to get more votes from both states for Roosevelt and he had a good record in dealing with the rights of black people (106). This gave Truman a well rounded position as a Democrat and gave him a considerable advantage as a candidate for the Vice Presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. He originally confessed that he felt the Vice President position was only a figurehead who was waiting on the death of the real President (106) Truman ultimately changed his mind when he received his nomination for the position in 1944 and he realized that Roosevelt was quite ill and that, as Vice President, he might take over as the President very soon. Truman did not have to long to wait because Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12th, 1945, less than three months after the inauguration.


            When Truman became President, his energies were focused on ending World War II and stopping the Japanese powers. Truman was wisely in cooperation with the other nations in the world. For example, after the war in Europe had ended, he was involved in such meetings as the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 which included the Prime Minister of Britain, Clement Atlee, and ruler of Russia, Joseph Stalin (127). The communications among these countries had showed an example of the support and collaboration in which the United States was willing to take part.  In order to end the war in the Pacific, Truman supported the use of nuclear weapons and two bombs were used in the Japanese conflict. One bomb was used on August 5th, 1945 on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and on August 8th on the city of Nagasaki (Hamby 469). The end to the war in the Pacific came on August 14th and the Japanese formally surrendered on September 2nd (469). Truman and the United States had endured the time of war and now had to deal with the transition to peace in the world.


            In 1948 Harry Truman decided to run for the Presidency of the United States for a full term. He had to work hard for his Democratic Party nomination. Truman’s Republican opponent was Thomas E. Dewey. In this election it was unanimously predicted by the media that Truman would lose the election (Jenkins 147). In the end Truman had won over the Republican Dewey with an electoral vote of 303 to 189 and a popular vote of 24, 105,812 to 21,970,065 (Editors of American Heritage 893). This was a very close election that came down to the last hours of the voting.  Truman later had said about the election that: “At six o’clock I was defeated. At ten o’clock I was defeated. Twelve o’clock I was defeated. Four o’clock I had won the election. And the next morning (…) in St. Louis, I was handed this paper which said, ‘Dewey Defeats Truman!!’ ” (860) Upon his election, Truman continued his foreign policies to accommodate the world’s relations at that point in the 1940’s. 


            After World War II ended the Cold War developed between the Soviet Union and its former allies in the war. The Soviet Union was no longer linked with the United States as it had been during in World War II. By the end of the 1940’s the countries of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and, until 1948, Yugoslavia were under the influence of the Soviet Union (Peduzzi 642).  Czechoslovakia was taken over when the USSR staged a coup and overthrew its president, Jan Masaryk (642). This displayed the Soviet Union’s growing influence throughout the world and the great lengths it would go through to expand and spread its communist ideals. On February 9th 1946, Stalin, the ruler of the Soviet Union, gave a speech in which he claimed that communism and capitalism were not capable of existing together and that the world economy had to eventually transform through communist influence (641) Truman hoped to be able to control Soviet expansion and communism by a policy that would help the nations with weak economic democracies and by placing nuclear weapons in allied countries (643). This theory was one of several that Truman had in order to regulate the Soviet Union’s activities.


            Many different strategies were used in figuring out what to do with the Soviet Union expansion. Truman’s Open Door Policy allowed Eastern Europe freedom of independence to try to convince these countries to become democracies on their own (642). Another policy was that of containment which was the theory that communism could be controlled through political influence (643). This containment strategy failed in China in 1949 when the government of Chiang Kai-Shek was taken over by a communist revolution led by Mao Zedong (647).  Throughout the tough times of the aftermath of World War II the United States began to put forth an effort to help the other countries of the world. On June 26th 1948, during the Cold War when Russia blockaded Berlin in order to create a border for their communist areas, Truman ordered military planes to fly food and supplies to Berlin (Ferrell 150). In addition, the United States attempted to lead the rest of the world and to influence the other war-torn allies. In 1946 Congress loaned Great Britain $3,750,000,000 to get their economy and country together (Hamby 470).


            An era of unparalleled danger in foreign relations demanded unprecedented decisions. Truman saw the flaring problems in Russia, Iran, China, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, India, Israel, and Korea as sparks that could start a Third World War. Each of these required a decision which was in its own way momentous, and had to be made with one idea in mind ---- eventual world peace. (Ferrell 169)


Truman was not afraid to make the necessary decisions with the information that he knew about the other countries of the world.


            The Cold War brought forth many issues that were not expected during World War II. The United States had to adapt their foreign policies by creating new ones to offer aid in the areas needed. One of the documents created by Truman to go along with the foreign nations after World War II was the Truman Doctrine. This was introduced on March 12th, 1947 as an international resistance to Communist aggression (Hamby 470). The Truman Doctrine gave aid to countries to buy their allegiance and to establish democracy. It “guaranteed American aid to free nations resisting Communist propaganda and sabotage” (470). Truman was urged to make this doctrine because of the war-torn countries of the Eastern world. Greece was poverty stricken, England was bankrupt, and Turkey had 19 million people and only a 600,000 man army bordering Communist Russia (Ferrell 176) The Truman Doctrine made it possible for the United States to provide $250 million dollars to Greece and $150 million to Turkey (177). After the Cold War began the United States started to become involved with the other nations and to attempt to help the war-torn countries as much as possible.


            Other policies were created by Truman to go along with the theme of helping more nations in post World War II. The proposal of the Marshall Plan was to assist and restore the European economies after the war and protect them from Communist control (Tuleja). This was created to maintain healthy trading partnership between the U.S. and Europe. The idea for this plan came from a Cub Scout Troop in Maryland which wanted to raise money and then send it abroad to suffering children similar in age to them. The kids called their idea the “Junior Marshall Plan” and submitted it to the Secretary of State George Marshall (Jennings and Brewster 301) In George Marshall’s speech of his proposal of the Marshall Plan, he stated the plan was “against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” (Weisberger 28). The goals of this proposal were not to just hand out money to individual nations but to help the economy of Europe as a whole (26). Another key element of this application was to continue an American commitment in Europe for many years. The United States wanted proof from the countries that its financial aid was being put towards the restructuring of their economies (Peduzzi 645) On April 3rd, 1948 the European Recovery Program passed in Congress when the sixteen nations involved in this plan proposed a four year recovery plan to be financed by the U.S. (Ferrell 177). The Marshall Plan was a big step for the United States in shedding its isolationist emphasis. It required a commitment to help other nations and a main goal of involvement in other nations. The end result of the plan was a positive outlook for the future and for the European nations.


            Under the Marshall Plan there were immediate signs of improvement of these underdeveloped nations. Malnutrition in Europe was eased, factories were restarted, new deliveries of fuel gave hope of heat, and every day 150 ships were either bringing cargo to Europe or unloading it on ports (Jennings and Brewster 301) Countries such as Greece, Turkey, and other areas of the Europe were helped greatly through this plan. In the years between 1948-1952, $13.5 million in funds, goods, and trade benefits helped these struggling foreign nations (Tuleja). After the success of the Marshall Plan the United States was able to see the positive aspects of involvement with other countries and the isolationism approach was no longer the only approach to foreign policy. The United States were proud of the success attached to the Marshall Plan and a feeling of savior that American business would change Europe from to make it strong and healthy once again (Jennings and Brewster 302). Projects and proposals such as the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan created an opening for other plans similar to this and ultimately for the creation of Truman’s Point Four program.


            In Harry S. Truman’s inaugural address of January 20, 1949, he introduced his ideas on foreign policy and let the country know his upcoming plans for his next four years as president.


Roosevelt had been the leader of the free world at war, when, after Pearl Harbor the commitment of America was relatively easy to sustain, and the acceptance of its leadership automatic. Truman achieved the more difficult feat of being the leader of the free world at peace, or something fairly near to peace. (Jenkins 4)


Truman had this difficult task in front of him as he approached his second term and his inaugural address allowed him to present his policies in hopes that the country would approve and that peace time would be achieved in a successful way. In his speech he had four points that focused on his main goals of his foreign affairs. The first point was to continue support to the United Nations and to search for ways to strengthen the United States’ authority and increase its effectiveness (Harry Truman 3) The second point was to continue the programs for world economic recovery by supporting the European recovery program and to also reduce the barriers to world trade (3). The third point in Truman’s inaugural address was to strengthen free nations against the dangers of aggression and to provide military advice and equipment to these nations (3). Truman’s first three points were mostly continuances of past policies and the strengthening of bonds already made. The fourth point in his address was a new policy that introduced new ideas and a plan for more involvement of the United States with foreign nations.


            The fourth point in Truman’s speech was the most unlike the foreign policy of previous presidents although it was influenced by their lead and the current situation of post war nations. “Fourth, we must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.” (4) Truman clearly stated the urgency and desperation for his proposal of advancing other nations. “More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas.” (4) The other areas of the world were struggling with the post-war situation. Truman felt it was necessary for the U.S. to become involved and help as much as possible. Benjamin Hardy who was from the State Department came up with the idea for the Point Four program (Margaret Truman 401). Truman took this suggestion and applied some of his own experiences with this type of strategy on a local level. Earlier in his career he had witnessed a similar program on a domestic level called the TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought prosperity to the underdeveloped valleys of Tennessee (401). Truman was also an ex-farmer who had witnessed the rise in productivity brought by the scientific and educational programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which added to his anticipation for the Point Four Program (401).


            After Truman’s speech he waited to find the response of the world and his fellow American citizens. Jacob K. Javits was a Republican from New York who expressed his views about the speech and said, “I consider the proposal for extension of technological help to other democratic nations represents one of the most fruitful concepts for the future development of the world and for resisting communistic influences.” (Trussell 5) Truman also received supportive reviews from both political parties about his proposals regarding the other nations of the world (1). The Congress also approved of this program and in 1950, in the year following this speech, approved $35 million to begin the first part of the Point Four Program (Hamby 471). Unfortunately the Point Four program ended in the middle 1950’s when the Republicans took office (Margaret Truman 401). People in Indonesia, Iran, and Brazil were taught improved methods on growing food, purifying their water, and educating their children by over 2,000 Americans from hundreds of towns before the Point Four Program was eliminated (401). The Point Four Program was greatly influenced by previous doctrines providing help to other nations such as the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Truman took from those successful attempts and created a major impact in the lives of the people in other foreign nations.


            Truman’s placement of the Point Four Program into the foreign policy of the United States led the way for future polices relating to the cooperation and aid to other nations. In the Spring of 1949, shortly after Truman’s inaugural speech, the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, and eight other countries came together to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called NATO (Hamby 471).  This bond created a documented cooperation and promise for a future of united countries instead of disputing ones. NATO was also the first military alliance of the United States in a time of peace and also their first political alliance in a century and a half that was made with a European power (Peduzzi 646). This alliance was inspired by the success of the Point Four Program which required good relations with various other countries.


            The President after Truman was Dwight D. Eisenhower. His foreign policy components were very different from that of Truman. He made a drastic change and focused on resorting to nuclear warfare and did not rely on alliances and positive relationships with the other countries. Proposals such as his plan for “massive retaliation” which threatened the use of nuclear weapons displayed this extreme transformation from Truman’s era (Editors of American Heritage 921). The next President to resort back to a foreign policy much like that of Truman was the next Democratic President, John F. Kennedy. He created an organization called Peace Corps which originated from Truman’s Point Four Program. (Margaret Truman 401). The ideas for this proposal were influenced by prior policies of foreign aid introduced in this program. The Peace Corps was set up for volunteer workers to be sent to underdeveloped countries to help out (Editors of American Heritage 943). This program of the Peace Corps remains a very visible reminder of Truman’s approach to foreign policy as a way to help the other nations of the world, years after his idea was conceived.


            Based on his changes in American foreign policy, people adjusted their opinions of Truman. For example, at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain and a World War II ally, admitted his very low regard for Truman (864). Later, after Truman’s administration was over, Churchill stated to him “you, more than any other man, saved Western Civilization.” (864) Churchill distinguished Truman as a great leader who was able to save the Western Civilization with his foreign policies which included the Point Four Program. “Truman’s containment policy had worked well in Europe. The Marshall Plan and its extension, Point Four, were rebuilding the Western democracies.” (863) Truman was able to aid in the post war reform of the West into a successful and prospering nation.


            Truman’s inaugural address was interpreted in Washington as one of the most ambitious statements on foreign policy that had ever been made by an American President (Beston 1). Truman had a long lasting effect on the United States and its foreign policy and no other subsequent President returned to the former isolationist approach. He received praise by many colleges and universities by receiving twenty-two honorary degrees (Ferrell 244). Truman is regarded by various historians to be the eight or ninth greatest President in the history of the country (Margaret Truman 580). Based on the initial and introductory policies of Theodore Roosevelt and the state of the nations in post World War II Harry Truman was forced to make crucial foreign policy decisions which ultimately ended with the implementation of his Point Four Program. This proposal of Truman led the way for future actions taken to open up the United States involvement and aid to other nations of the world.


















Works Cited


Beston, James. “Speech Seen as Aid to Western World.” New York Times 21 Jan.  1949


Editors of American Heritage, The Magazine of History. The American Heritage …..Pictorial History of the Presidents of the United States. Volume 2. 1968, 923 V.11


Ferrell, Robert H., Truman a Centenary Remembrance. New York, Viking Press, 1984, …..Chatham Library, 921


Hamby, Alonzo L. “Truman, Harry S.” The World Book Encyclopedia 1997 ed., 031 …..V.19


Jenkins, Roy. Truman. New York, Harper & Row Publishers, 1986, Brooks Library 92


Jennings, Peter, and Todd Brewster. The Century. New York, Banton Doubleday Dell               …..Publishing Group Inc. 1998


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Trussell, C.P. “Praise in Congress, Members Hail Truman’s Bold Stand, But are Wary on …..New Aid” New York Times 21 Jan. 1949. 1+5


Tuleja, Tad, “Marshall Plan”, New York, The Stonesany Press, Inc. and the New York     …..Public Library, electric library


Weisberger, Bernard A. “The Plan the East Rejected” American Heritage Apr. 1990 26+    28