Lifting the Iron Curtain
Though out of office in Britain, Churchill retained huge prestige and influence on the international stage. In March 1946, at the encouragement of President Harry Truman, he traveled to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, to speak. His speech was a call for closer Anglo-American cooperation in the post-war world, but it is now best remembered for its warnings about the threat of Soviet expansionism, eloquently captured in the phrase “Iron Curtain.”
Churchill continued to speak out on the great issues—the Cold War, the atomic bomb, and European unity—always stressing the importance of a "special relationship" between the British Empire and the United States. Then, in October 1951, the Conservative Party won the general election, and he returned as Prime Minister.
During his second premiership Churchill worked hard to strengthen Anglo-American relations, retain British global influence, and, above all, initiate a summit meeting with Stalin's successors in the Kremlin. He felt that strong negotiation might obtain an end to the nuclear arms race and establish détente in the Cold War. In this goal he was frustrated, partly by his own failing health, partly by the opposition of President Dwight Eisenhower and other Western leaders who favored a harder line against communism and the Soviet Union, and partly by the new Soviet leaders who resisted détente.
Churchill's 1946 trip to the United States mixed business and pleasure. After arriving on January 14, he renewed old friendships, painted, swam in the ocean, and visited Cuba. He also lobbied for an American reconstruction loan for Britain, began negotiations for arrangements to publish his wartime memoir, and made a series of speeches on important topics. He and Clementine are shown here as they disembark from the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth in New York.
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After his trip to Fulton, Missouri, Churchill, accompanied by Clementine and General Eisenhower (then Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army), went by train to Richmond, Virginia. There he addressed the Virginia General Assembly.
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Controversial in many quarters, Churchill's “Iron Curtain” speech brought to worldwide public attention the division in Europe and the beginnings of the Cold War: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Behind that line was most of Central and Eastern Europe. He called for a firm, unified stand against Soviet encroachments: “There is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.”
Winston Churchill and Harry Truman Speaking at Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946. Sound disc. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (252)
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Arriving at the Virginia state capitol during a rainstorm, Churchill paused in the Rotunda to view a statue of George Washington, in whose armies some of Churchill's ancestors had fought during the American Revolution. Speaking to the Virginia General Assembly, Churchill repeated the call he had made earlier in his “Iron Curtain” speech: “Above all, among the English-speaking peoples, there must be the union of hearts based upon conviction and common ideals. That is what I offer. That is what I seek.”
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Shown here is the emended reading copy, in Churchill's characteristic “psalm form,” of his March 8, 1946, speech to the Virginia General Assembly. He referred to his forthcoming visit to the restored colonial town of Williamsburg: “This was the cradle of the Gt. Republic in which more than 150 years afterwards the strong champions of freedom were found to have been nursed.”
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President Harry Truman and Churchill are shown arriving in Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College. Many people around the world, including Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, objected to Churchill's call for a unified approach to halt communist aggression. Although Truman would later deny having had advance knowledge of the speech's controversial content, there is some evidence to indicate that he was shown a mimeographed copy while on board the train carrying them both to Missouri.
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Churchill paid his respects at the grave of his wartime colleague Franklin D. Roosevelt at Hyde Park, New York, on March 12, 1946. Roosevelt's widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, stands to his right.
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The personal rapport between Truman and Churchill after Fulton was very close. They often exchanged handwritten letters and addressed one another as Harry and Winston. In this letter, written to thank Churchill for his gift of the first volume of his war memoirs, Truman refers to his election campaign as a “terrible political ‘trial by fire’.” He mentions the defeat of Nazism and fascism and talks of Communism as the “next great problem.”
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1949 saw the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), designed to confront the possibility of communist aggression with Western unity and firmness. Churchill favored the new organization, which he said indicated “a very considerable advance in opinion as far as the United States are concerned.” This Soviet poster shows stalwart marchers for peace—“Against those who would ignite a new war”—as an alarmed Churchill and moneybag-clutching Uncle Sam look on.
Za Prochnyi mir! Protiv Podzhigatelei Novoi Voiny! [For a stable peace! Against those who would ignite a new war], 1949. Poster. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (269)
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The leaders of NATO's newly created military arm, the Allied Command Europe, were taken from the ranks of the coalition that had won World War II in the west. The first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, was American General Dwight D. Eisenhower; his British Deputy was Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. They are shown here at a reunion of the British Eighth Army on October 19,1951. Churchill, leaning across a seemingly disgruntled Eisenhower, would again become Britain's Prime Minister five days later.
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Early in 1952, the newly reinstalled British Prime Minister once again crossed the Atlantic to confer with the U.S. President. Churchill's visit was seen by one cartoonist as merely one of a host of different problems facing Harry Truman, including economic troubles, difficulties within NATO, the dangers of the atomic age, the perennial entanglements in the Middle East, and racial integration in the United States. The Korean War, which had begun in 1950, was not in the front rank.
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In January 1953, during yet another trip to the United States, Churchill met with President-elect Eisenhower and with their mutual friend, Bernard Baruch (center). Eisenhower found Churchill “as charming and interesting as ever,” but also “showing the effects of the passing years.” He resisted what he felt was Churchill's attempt to establish closer Anglo-American ties than the current international situation warranted. Churchill, in turn, resisted Eisenhower's pleas for stronger British leadership in securing European unity.
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While highly regarded in the United States, Churchill's popularity was by no means universal. As Churchill met with Eisenhower in Bernard Baruch's New York City apartment (January 1953), picketers from a group called the “Irish Minute Men” demonstrated outside.
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Churchill visited Washington early in 1953, shortly before the end of Harry S Truman's presidency. Here he is shown pinning a flower onto Truman's lapel before a dinner at the British Embassy in Washington. After dinner Churchill discussed one of the most pressing questions of the day—the problem of safely rearming Germany, within the context of NATO and European military integration, as a bulwark against a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Churchill referred to the proposed multilateral force of the European Defense Community as a “sludgy amalgam,” which he thought would be less effective than a coalition of national armies.
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After several vicissitudes, including a debilitating stroke, Churchill met President Eisenhower and French Premier Joseph Laniel at the Bermuda Conference in December 1953. Churchill as always called for greater Anglo-American solidarity, but he was opposed to Eisenhower's professed willingness to use atomic weapons should the Communists once again launch an attack in Korea. This photograph shows the two leaders at the end of the meeting, as Eisenhower left Bermuda for New York.
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In December 1953 President Eisenhower, Prime Minister Churchill, and French Premier Joseph Laniel met for an international summit in Bermuda. This was Churchill's brainchild and reflected his preference for face-to-face talks on big issues. In the aftermath of Stalin's death, and in light of the development of the hydrogen bomb, Churchill wanted Eisenhower to consider a meeting with the new Soviet leadership. Churchill's hopes, thwarted by Eisenhower until after Churchill's retirement, are touched on in this telegram.
Sir Winston Churchill to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, November 12, 1953. Telegram. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (288.1). © Crown copyright 1953, Archival Reference # CHUR 6/3A/83
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Churchill's resignation of the premiership and his accompanying withdrawal from public life sparked this letter of reminiscence from President Eisenhower. The two old soldiers had been comrades-in-arms since 1941.
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Churchill must have produced this draft for a letter to President Eisenhower on one of his last days in 10 Downing Street, as he left office on April 5, 1955. It sets out his reasons for resigning—old age and failing health—and ends with a firm statement of his belief in Anglo-American brotherhood and opposition to communism.
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The Final Decade
Churchill finally retired from public life in April 1955, at the age of eighty. He retained his seat in the British Parliament until 1964 but no longer played an active role in politics.
The final decade of Churchill's life has been described as a “long sunset.” He continued to be feted and honored, and he enjoyed a final visit to the White House in 1959. During this period he published his last great work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. In Britain, he established Churchill College, Cambridge. In America, he became the second person after Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette to receive honorary U.S. citizenship.
Sir Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965, seventy years to the day after the death of his father. He received a state funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral and, in recognition of his American ties, the congregation rose to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Churchill is buried with his parents in the small village churchyard at Bladon, within sight of Blenheim Palace, the place where his remarkable life had begun ninety years earlier.
Churchill, his son Randolph, and his grandson Winston are shown in this joint portrait by Toni Frissell. In April 1953 Winston accepted an offer by Queen Elizabeth II to become a member of the Order of the Garter, an honor he had declined after World War II. In this photograph, taken in June 1953 during the Queen's Coronation ceremonies, Sir Winston Churchill is shown wearing the Garter Mantle and the badge of the Order on a chain around his neck.
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In this photograph, probably taken in 1953, Churchill stands as he observes the ceremony of Trooping the Color in London. The pageantry marks the official birthday celebration of the monarch.
Toni Frissell. Winston Churchill Observes the Ceremony of Trooping the Color, 1953. Copyprint. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (287). LC-F9-04-5306-100-34
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A ghostly figure (“Churchill's Training”) steadies the helm as Anthony Eden succeeds Churchill as Britain's Prime Minister. The two men had been colleagues since the 1930s, when they had worked together to move British policy away from appeasing Hitler and the Nazis. Eden, who served as Churchill's Foreign Minister in the 1940s and 1950s, was also the husband of Churchill's niece Clarissa.
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Queen Elizabeth II is greeted by Winston and Clementine Churchill as she arrives for a dinner given at 10 Downing Street on April 4, 1955. In leading his guests in the loyal toast to Her Majesty, Churchill noted that as a young cavalry officer he had proposed similar toasts during the reign of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria. He resigned as Prime Minister on the following day.
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Serious differences arose between the United Kingdom and the United States during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. Without consulting their American allies, British forces invaded Egypt in an attempt to regain control of the waterway, which Egypt earlier had nationalized. Although publicly supportive of his government's action, Churchill privately expressed his dismay at the resulting split between the Americans and the British. This letter to publisher Henry Luce indicates his unhappiness.
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In May 1959, at the age of eighty-four, Churchill returned to the United States as a personal guest of the President Eisenhower. He crossed the Atlantic by jet plane, was entertained at the White House, and flew with the President by helicopter to Gettysburg where Churchill viewed the Civil War battlefield, about which he had written, from the air. It was all a far cry from the steamships and carriages of his first American visit.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Sir Winston Churchill, May 26, 1959. Typescript letter with signature. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (303)
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Though no longer in power, Churchill cared passionately about the future of his country. He helped found Churchill College at the University of Cambridge as a center of excellence for scientific and technological research and training. The college was dedicated as the National and Commonwealth Memorial to Sir Winston. Today, Churchill College continues to thrive, teaching all subjects, still specializing in science and technology. The college also houses the Churchill Archives Centre.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Sir Winston Churchill, May 12, 1958. Typescript letter with autograph. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (303.1)
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Shown here are letters sent by first-grade school children from Locust Valley, New York, which Churchill kept as a souvenir of his 1959 visit. Churchill, who as a young boy was interested in history, had become an old man and now the subject of history.
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Briton Hadden to Sir Winston Churchill, May 1959. Holograph letters. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (304 a-b)
Carol to Sir Winston Churchill, May 1959. Holograph letters. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (304 a-b)
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Churchill returned to the United States in 1961, for his final visit, on board the yacht of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. In New York he was able to see his old friend Bernard Baruch, but his weakened condition did not permit him to accept President John F. Kennedy's invitation to be flown to Washington. In June 1962, Churchill injured himself in Monte Carlo. Determined to die in England, he returned home in an RAF jet. His recovery was accompanied by thousands of messages from well-wishers, including this one from Kennedy. Churchill would outlive the President; Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, would later marry Onassis.
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Ed Ford. Churchill & Baruch Talk in Car in Front of Baruch's Home, 1961. Photograph. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (305)
President John F. Kennedy to Sir Winston Churchill, July 6, 1962. Telegram. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (307)
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On April 9, 1963, Kennedy signed a Congressionally authorized proclamation conferring honorary U.S. citizenship upon Churchill. Too frail to travel to America to attend the ceremony, Churchill watched from England via live satellite broadcast. This cartoon, which was published in London's Daily Mail on the following day, illustrates the personal connection by which Churchill bridged the destinies of two nations.
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The Library does not have permission to present this object online. NBC. Winston Churchill Becomes A Citizen, 1963. Sound Reel. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (309)
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Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965—seventy years to the day after his father. Queen Elizabeth, in a rare tribute to a commoner, accorded to him a state funeral. Churchill's family selected a few of his lifelong-favorite hymns to be sung at the service. Among them was Julia Ward Howe's magnificent song from the American Civil War, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
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World War II veteran and cartoonist Bill Mauldin drew this symbol of a grieving Britain on the occasion of Churchill's death.
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