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In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall grew increasingly concerned about the situation in Europe. He assembled a team of experts to develop ideas for helping European nations recover from World War II. The recovery was to be funded by the U.S., and it helped save western Europe.
While attending the Moscow Foreign Ministers Conference in March–April 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall grew increasingly alarmed that the Soviet Union seemed to be moving away from previous agreements about Europe’s recovery.
On the evening he returned to the United States, Marshall made a radio address to brief the nation on the conference, and he made his case for assisting Europe right away. Many Europeans were starving and had no shelter from the bitter winter. Their cities lay in ruins, and they faced the collapse of their societies. Marshall declared “the patient is sinking while the doctors deliberate.”
The State Department had no firm plans to help Europe recover, so Marshall gathered a dozen experts from a variety of fields and named them the Policy Planning Staff. He gave the staffers two weeks to develop ideas and deliver them to him. They fulfilled their charge, and Marshall took the opportunity of an invitation to speak at Harvard in June 1947 as a way to introduce some of those ideas.
Marshall sought to present the proposal for helping Europe carefully; he wanted no reporters attending the speech and created a low-key press release. He hoped that the first discussion of the ideas would come from Europe, not the United States. He worried that if the first reactions came from the American press, the whole enterprise would be unable to gain traction.
In his speech, Marshall pointed out that Europe was going to need help over the long term and laid out ideas for how the United States might deliver it:
During the summer of 1947, sixteen European countries hammered out the details of the plan and delivered it to the U.S. State Department. George Marshall and his staff had a monumental task ahead of them to turn this plan into reality. After a long and costly war, Congress did not want to spend any more money in Europe, and Americans wanted to get back to normal life, not focus on European problems.
In 1948 Marshall and Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett began talking to Congress about the plan, called the “European Recovery Program.” It was first referred to as the “Truman Plan,” but the President suggested calling it the “Marshall Plan,” as Marshall had earned the reputation during his years as Army Chief of Staff for having unimpeachable integrity and being completely nonpartisan.
Michigan’s Arthur Vandenberg, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, supported the plan and worked with Marshall and the State Department staff in the uphill battle moving the legislation forward. After multiple hearings and many behind-the-scenes meetings, the bill authorizing the European Recovery Program passed Congress in March 1948 and was signed by President Truman in April, only 10 months after Marshall’s speech at Harvard. It was a herculean effort, and it saved Western Europe.
Explore resources relating to the Marshall Plan in our library catalog.
The history and chronology of the plan. Studies prior to the plan. Committee reports and funding statistics about the plan. The Marshall Plan Volume and the plan's relevance today.
See records and texts about the speech. Listen to the speech and read information about the drafting of the speech. Discover the European Response.