"Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of orator. ...He is an independent force in the world. ...whoever can command this power is still formidable." -
Winston Churchill, The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, 1898.
On March 5, 1946, the presence of Winston Churchill and President Harry Truman turned a college gymnasium in a small Midwestern town into a world state as Churchill delivered his most famous post- World War II address - "The Sinews of Peace."
That Churchill and Truman would travel to Fulton, Missouri, is a story of a college president with the boldness to ask for the seemingly impossible; of a Westminster College alumnus with access to the President of the United States; of a President of the United States with the willingness to endorse the invitation; and of a recently defeated British Prime Minister with the shrewdness to recognize an opportunity.
It is a story of coincidence and a moment boldly grasped - a combination Churchill capitalized on throughout his life.
"We not only speak the same language, we think the same thoughts."
Although recently defeated in an election, Winston Churchill remained a colossus on the world stage. He toured Europe, speaking to vast and adoring crowds. In America, he was arguably more esteemed than President Harry Truman who himself lived under the shadow of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It is difficult today to imagine the impact of Churchill's and Truman's visit to Fulton. Today, we are used to presidential visits to small towns across the nation. But, in 1946, it was a very big deal. Two world leaders for one ticket.
"I am glad to come to Westminster College this afternoon, and am complimented that you should give me a degree. The name "Westminster" is somehow familiar to me. I seem to have heard of it before."
Westminster College had no auditorium large enough for the number of people who wished to hear Winston Churchill speak. The gymnasium was pressed into service and a stage constructed. Loudspeakers carried Churchill's voice to the overflow crowd that shivered in a cool March wind outside the gym.
Befitting a formal academic setting, both Churchill and Truman were given honorary Doctor of Laws degrees. An academic robe displayed in the Museum is a replica of Churchill's own academic robe that he brought with him for the occasion. The pitcher and water glass were at his side.
Churchill and Truman traveled to Fulton by train. During the 24-hour journey, they enjoyed whiskey, poker, and each other's company - in equal measure. At one point Winston put down his cards and remarked, "If I were to be born again, there is one country in which I would want to be a citizen. There is one country where a man knows he has an unbounded future: the USA, even though I deplore some of your customs." When asked which customs, Winston replied, "You stop drinking with your meals."
The train arrived from Washington, D.C. at Jefferson City, Missouri. A map within the exhibit shows the route of the motorcade through Fulton.
Fulton residents greeted the dignitaries with homemade welcome banners, some of which hang in the galleries at the Churchill Memorial in Fulton.
"...this is certainly not the Liberated Europe we fought to build up. Nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace."
Opposition to Hitler united the "Grand Alliance," but little else did. Leaders of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union held two major wartime conferences to shape post-war Europe. They did not share the same vision.
At Yalta (4-11 February 1945) - The Allied Control Commission, including France, was established to plan Germany's occupation. Russia demanded Asian territories in exchange for declaring war on Japan. The "Declaration of Liberated Europe" guaranteed free elections to all German-occupied countries.
At Potsdam (17 July- 2 August 1945) - Churchill began the Conference, but a new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, would finish it. The Allies set terms for the Japanese surrender, agreed on holding war crimes trials, and - after much debate - confirmed that the Polish Provisional Government would hold "free and unfettered elections as soon as possible."
But despite high-minded assurances, the Soviet Army possessed Eastern Europe, and Stalin wanted
In the end, the position of the Soviet Army determined Europe's post-war map with Soviet tanks providing the iron in the "Iron Curtain." Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" speech sought to provide direction and vitality to the British-American alliance as relations with the Soviet Union collapsed.