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United We Stand, Divided We Fall: How I Missed Hearing My Hero By Monroe E. Trout (with Allen Packwood)

I remember the excitement. I had a ticket. I was going to hear one of my heroes: the man I would later describe as “the greatest person of the twentieth century.”[1] It was 24 April 1951, and I had just opened an envelope and seen the invitation card confirming that Winston Churchill, former wartime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was going to be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in the “Philadelphia Municipal Auditorium at eight-thirty o’clock in the evening, Tuesday, May the eighth,” which would be the sixth anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.[2]

Churchill had been invited to deliver the address on the occasion of the Convocation celebrating the Bicentennial of the founding of the University Library. The occasion was to be accompanied by an exhibition bringing together some of Churchill’s papers with those of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the university.[3] It was the sort of Anglo-American celebration that was designed to appeal to Churchill’s sense of the “special relationship” and which would provide a powerful backdrop for another important speech on world affairs. I could not wait!

Why was it so special? Well, I was a child of the Great Depression, one of fourteen children born into poverty and forced to work hard to secure my place at college. The war had been brought viscerally home to me through the loss of my elder brother, who was killed in France in 1944.[4] Now I had the chance to hear one of the leaders who had led the Allies through those dark days to victory. In my own archives, I still have the envelope and card with an undated newspaper cutting, presumably from the local university paper The Daily Pennsylvanian entitled “Applications Taken Now for Churchill Address.” It encouraged students desiring tickets to submit applications “to the office of the dean of their respective schools.” Such was the level of interest that the students had to be chosen by lot. [5]  Not so, me. As president of the Junior Class, my invitation had come direct from “The President, The Faculty and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.”[6] I was one of the lucky ones. Or so I believed.

Thanks to Allen Packwood and researches in the Churchill Archives, I now know that the driving force behind the invitation to Churchill was the President of the University of Pennsylvania, Harold E. Stassen. A Republican politician, Stassen had run for President in 1948 (and would go on to do so a further eight times).[7] He was clearly not a man to take no for an answer. Having dined with Churchill in 1947 and participated in the Convocation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at which Churchill spoke in 1949, Stassen had been trying to get the former Prime Minister to Philadelphia since 1950. He crossed the Atlantic to lobby in person; smoothed the diplomatic channels by securing President Truman’s support; got the national broadcasters to confirm that they would cover the speech; mobilised the local business and university leaders to write in support of the idea; and confirmed that the university would cover flights and “all expenses of every kind and more.”[8]

For Churchill the moment must have seemed right. Though still the leader of the British Conservative opposition, he had narrowly failed to dislodge Attlee’s Labour Party in the General Election of February 1950, and there were some in his own Party who were plotting his removal. Meanwhile, on the international stage, different approaches to the war in Korea were causing tensions between the British and Americans. Here was an opportunity for Churchill to reassert his authority at home and abroad, to reaffirm the Anglo-American alliance and the unity of the English-Speaking Peoples, and to raise his profile and prestige in advance of another widely anticipated British General Election.

Once Stassen had been able to assure him that President Truman was “pleased with projected Bi-Centennial address” and would host a luncheon for him afterwards in Washington D.C.,  Churchill embraced the concept and threw himself into the planning. His party was to comprise ‘Mrs Churchill and myself, two lady secretaries, one (or two) Scotland Yard officers, a valet and a maid.” He would fly out on the third or fourth of May, stay several nights in New York with his great friend and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch, before travelling to Philadelphia on Tuesday, 8 May and speaking at the university that evening. He would tour the bicentennial exhibition the next morning before departing for Washington, where he would stay two nights at the British Embassy, lunching with the President and meeting with General Marshall before departing for Britain on the evening of Saturday, 12 May. He was prepared to contemplate an “off the record” briefing at the DC Press Club and wanted to keep open the possibility of an event with the Society of Cincinnati,[9] (who were keen to present him with their Eagle and Diploma, recognising that his great-great grandfather had been an officer in the Revolutionary War.)[10] Churchill told Clementine that “It is a week of one’s life, but it might be a week well spent…and there is no doubt I could make a helpful speech.”[11] He ended his acceptance letter to Stassen: “My message is simple and old, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’”[12]

Thereafter, things began to move quickly. Plans were laid for the Churchills to see their daughter Sarah and her husband Anthony Beauchamp, as well as Britain’s UN Ambassador Sir Gladwyn Jebb,  US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and others.[13] Clementine persuaded Churchill to take along his doctor Lord Moran, suggesting that she certainly saw this as a potentially stressful working trip.[14] The details for the ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania were also firmed up. Churchill’s train would arrive at Broad Street Station, Philadelphia at 12:40, where there were expected to be large crowds in City Hall Square and in the streets. He would lunch in his suite at the Barclay Hotel in Rittenhouse Square before resting in the afternoon. A snack of oysters and consommé in bed would then fortify him for the speech in the Convention Hall, for which he would leave at 8 pm. Honorary degrees would be presented to Bernard Baruch, Senator Tom Connally, and the President of Yale University. Churchill would speak at 9 pm before being awarded his own Degree of Letters, honoris causa. The ceremony would end to the strains of the university anthem “Hail Pennsylvania.”[15] The national television and radio networks were primed to beam Churchill’s words across the United States and around the globe.

And then Truman fired MacArthur.

The President announced the sacking of the Supreme Allied Commander in the Far East on 11 April 1951. General Douglas MacArthur had been directing the campaign in Korea and had started to escalate the conflict to take on the Chinese, who were supporting the North Koreans. It was a policy that was opposed in Washington and London, as it was feared that any escalation might draw in the Soviet Union and lead to a global nuclear war. MacArthur was one of the American heroes of the Second World War, having taken the formal Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. His dismissal dominated the international news and caused huge controversy in the United States with some calling for the President’s impeachment.

Churchill’s initial instinct was to stand shoulder to shoulder with Truman. In a telegram of 11 April, he accepted the President’s invitation to lunch on 10 May at Blair House (the White House then being under repair) and looked forward to their conversation. Moreover, Churchill backed the President in his dismissal of MacArthur stating, “May I also assure you that your action in asserting the authority of the civil power over military commanders, however able or distinguished, will receive universal approval in England.”[16] Yet behind the scenes Churchill was already assessing the implications of the changed situation and had a phone conversation with Stassen, who telegraphed on 12 April, clearly desperate to keep his great event on track:

Confirming conversation. I will be alert to developments. Will confer with Baruch and keep you advised. My present appraisal is that situation will stabilize within a week and that with bipartisanship of Bicentennial Convocation firmly established your message and your number 1 conference [talk with President Truman] are more needed and will be of even greater service than originally contemplated.[17]

Churchill told the British Ambassador in Washington Sir Oliver Franks that he was “naturally watching the situation daily so as to avoid being mixed up in any American Party dispute” but was still hopeful, observing that “Should MacArthur climax pass before end of April my opportunity might be enhanced.”[18] But this was not a crisis that was going to blow over quickly, and it was clearly one that threatened to derail Churchill’s objectives of promoting Anglo-American unity. Within days, Bernard Baruch was warning that Churchill would not be able to avoid questions on the matter, and further stating that “As I have written you before, the feeling against England is stronger than I have seen it for a long time.”[19] Oliver Franks sent Churchill a full report on 21 April:

At the moment there is throughout the country a wave of popular emotion. The traditional sympathy for the man who is up against authority, the national pride which is starved of heroes to worship, the appreciation of oratorical power, and the love of a good show have attracted to MacArthur Americans from every group, from every stratum of society and from both parties.

The General has also become the focal point of the deep-seated prejudices of this country. His most vocal and enthusiastic supporters are drawn from the people who are anti-Roosevelt, anti-European and anti-British.[20]

Franks still wanted Churchill to come, comparing the importance of any intervention now to Churchill’s speech at Harvard during the war in which he had taken on the “Pacific Firsters.” As the Ambassador told Sir William Strang, his boss in the British Foreign Office, “His [Churchill’s] voice is one of the few which they [the Americans] are prepared to listen to at this time.”[21]

Baruch was more wary. Also writing on 21 April, he confirmed the increasing anti-British feeling, noting that the American people do not understand the position of Britain in Hong Kong and the Far East “and we do not like Britain’s recognition of China.” He warned that “the way it looks now, you would be getting here right in the midst of the MacArthur discussion and you are not a man who would duck.” He ended with a reference to Churchill’s proposed theme of standing united: “I agree that we will hang together or hang separately. Let us be sure that none of us hangs back and that no-one of us hangs alone.” In other words, if he came now, Churchill might find himself a lightning rod and scapegoat for feeling against Britain and be forced to make a choice that would either alienate MacArthur’s many supporters or the President. [22]

This was echoed by Stassen, who felt only events in Korea would vindicate either Truman or MacArthur. He wrote that “It is my further estimate that anti British feeling has increased on the part of the American people. Many blame Britain in part for the summary removal of their hero. Most disagree with Britain’s reported view that communist China be now seated in the United Nations with a veto vote….” The short-term situation remained volatile, and the timing of any intervention by Churchill would need to be carefully considered.[23]

Churchill clearly did consider it and decided that the time was not ripe. He would not be able to escape being drawn into the controversy and being forced to declare publicly his support for the President. His aims of promoting unity and bipartisanship were no longer achievable. He telegraphed the British Ambassador that “…on no account will I get embroiled in an internal American quarrel. This would destroy any usefulness I may possess.” From Stassen he sought a postponement.[24] To Truman, he sent a personal message explaining that his visit has “fallen through for the time being in the movement of events.” He deleted a reference at the end of this draft to his hope that in future he might proclaim “to your people the not entirely novel or original maxim: ‘United we stand: divided we fall.’”[25] I suspect he felt it no longer seemed appropriate in the light of his cancellation.

Until recently, I never knew the real reason for my disappointment. Indeed, by the time I was opening my envelope on 24 April, Churchill had already informed Stassen that he was no longer coming, though this was not officially announced till the 27th.[26]  In spite of this, or in a funny way perhaps partly because of it, I remain a “Churchill nut” (my own words).  I am now a board member for the National Churchill Museum and a supporter of Churchill causes worldwide. Though the Convocation was deferred in the hope that it could include Churchill on another date, a visit later in the year was also prevented by a British general election that resulted in Churchill once again becoming Prime Minister. The Franklin-Churchill exhibition for the Library Bicentennial did go ahead, and it featured some of the key papers now housed at the Churchill Archives Centre. In the end, it was Stassen himself who spoke at the opening followed by a two-day symposium on library research. This was not quite the great event the University President had planned.[27]

[1] Monroe Trout, Winter Galley: The Autobiography of Monroe E. Trout (2008), p191.

[2] Invitation kept by Monroe Trout (copy now at Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill Additional Papers, WCHL 6/80).

[3] See Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286 for correspondence relating to the invitation, especially CHUR 2/286/9-10, copy of telegram from Harold Stassen to Churchill, January 1951.

[4] Winter Galley, prefaces and chapters 1–3.

[5] Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill Additional Papers, WCHL 6/80, undated cutting donated by Monroe Trout “Applications Taken Now for Churchill Address.” Presumably from the Daily Pennsylvanian.

[6] Invitation kept by Monroe Trout (copy now at Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill Additional Papers, WCHL 6/80).

[7] See Albin Krebs, Harold E. Stassen, Who Sought G.O.P. Nomination for President 9 Times, Dies at 93, New York Times obituary, 5 March 2001. Accessed online April 2018.

[8] See Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286 – especially pp 2-3, 9-17, 85-97, 103-121, 138. Also CHUR 2/156/114-118 for dinner with Churchill in 1947.

[9] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/122-130, correspondence between Churchill and Stassen, 29 March-4 April 1951.

[10] Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America, (Pocket Books, 2006), pp1-2.

[11]  Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America, p396.

[12] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/129, letter from Churchill to Stassen, 4 April 1951.

[13] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/20 Itinerary for visit & CHUR 2/285/36 letter by Ambassador passing on dinner invitation from Acheson to Churchill.

[14] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/62, note from Clementine to Winston, 9 April 1951.

[15] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/3-4, itinerary for Churchill’s visit, April 1951.

[16] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/231, telegram from Churchill to Truman, 11 April 1951.

[17] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/141, telegram from Stassen to Churchill, 12 April 1951.

[18] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/102, Churchill to Franks, 13 April 1951.

[19]  Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/ 56, letter from Baruch to Churchill, 14 April 1951.

[20]  Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/98, private and personal letter from Franks to Churchill, 21 April 1951.

[21]  Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/89, copy of note from Franks to Strang.

[22] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/44-46, Memorandum from Baruch to Churchill, 21 April 1951.

[23] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/142, telegram from Stassen to Churchill, 22 April 1951.

[24] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/151-152, telegram to British Ambassador, 22 April 1951.

[25] Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/286/229, annotated draft message from Churchill to Truman, 26 April 1951.

[26] Envelope for Trout invitation (see copy at Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill Additional Papers, WCHL 6/80). For details of official announcement see Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/285/87.

[27] Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill Additional Papers, WCHL 6/80, undated cutting donated by Monroe Trout ‘Franklin, Churchill Papers displayed at Library Bicentennial Celebration’. Presumably from the Daily Pennsylvanian.

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