Eggleston to Evatt3

Dispatch 2/45 WASHINGTON, 20 April 1945

The death of President Roosevelt was one of those events which illustrate the extraordinary place which personality may play in human affairs. [1] The world is in the midst of an acute crisis.

Victory is in the grasp of the United Nations but after victory come the problems of peace which are infinitely more difficult than the problems of war. The significance of President Roosevelt is that he was not only an effective leader of the people of the United States, the most powerful nation of the world, but he was acknowledged by all peoples as perhaps the greatest protagonist of a better world order. He was the centre of a vast pattern of ideas and aspirations from which constructive action was expected to develop.

We are confronted by the tragic fact that this pattern is disrupted by his death and this apparently indispensable personality is no longer to be a partner nor an active inspiration in the work of peace.

It is too early to make a complete assessment of the difference his death will make, but not too soon to arrive at what conclusions we can to guide us in the policy we shall have to pursue at San Francisco.

In accordance with the United States Constitution the President’s place has been taken by the former Vice-President, Mr. Harry S.

Truman. The Vice-Presidency occupies a comparatively minor place in the United States system while the President is alive and the Vice-President’s role is not important enough to enable us to judge his capacity from his record.

The circumstances of Mr. Truman’s election were not propitious.

Before the last election the then Vice-President, Mr. Henry Wallace, was what we in Australia would call an advanced radical with strong views on progressive economic policy and a conviction that United States was required to stimulate its foreign trade. He was also the apostle of the common man. This was obnoxious to business interests, and Mr. Roosevelt’s advisers were afraid that his chance of election would be reduced if Wallace was his running mate. Truman was chosen not so much because he was anti-liberal-he is a ‘commoner’-but because he was neutral or undeclared on the great issues to which Wallace was pledged. That this judgment is correct, is shown by the strong opposition to Wallace’s appointment to the Department of Commerce.

This is not said to be derogatory to Mr. Truman. Mr. Truman is not a spectacular figure. His appearance is ordinary in the American sense but he is a hard and intelligent worker. His work in the Committee which reviewed the administration and finance of the various war-time organisations in the earlier part of the war was most effective. He showed great courage as well as industry and it is notable that he was a good team worker; he distributed the responsibility among his colleagues and used the staff to the best advantage. I am convinced that modesty is a great asset in public life where effective work has to be done, especially when it is combined with imagination and intelligence.

Mr. Truman is proving himself a good politician. He understands the rules and made an excellent impression at his first press conference, when his answers were shrewd and firm.

He will, of course, be confronted with some of the most momentous decisions which an American President has ever had to make.

President Roosevelt was a master in this role. He made his own estimate of public opinion and his decisions were nearly always such as to secure adequate agreement from the people. He certainly did some creative work in forming opinion and his anticipation of movements in opinion were usually correct.

Mr. Truman may prove a capable interpreter of opinion, but he will work in a different way. Mr. Roosevelt made the decisions himself.

He listened to advice but did not always follow it. He surrounded himself with men drawn for the time being from outside, and there was a gulf between these advisers and the Department of State and other regular Government agencies. There was a dualism in the conduct of policy. The departments were thinking on one line, the political amateurs were often thinking on other lines and the President often took his own line. Mr. Truman is likely to assert his own point of view less, to exercise far less creative influence in current opinion, to rely far more on the permanent departments and to be swayed by his party advisers on questions of political expediency.

Mr. Mark Sullivan, the conservative columnist in the Washington Post of 20th April, derives great satisfaction from the fact that Mr. Truman will represent the average man. ‘No man, or group, or party’, he says, ‘will have its way with Mr. Truman unless its purposes are in accord with the simple standards that he shares with the average man’. The whole point is that, on the great issues of the peace, Mr. Truman is not likely to do anything which flies in the face of traditional American opinion. The question is whether such an attitude is sufficient to enable him to deal with questions on which there is no traditional policy in the U.S.A.

The answer depends on the character of American thought and opinion today and, when one considers the influences which are at present at work, one cannot but feel apprehensive. There is a curious pluralism in American thought. Different groups pursue different ideas with great persistence, although they are quite contradictory. With the principle of the separation of powers there is no effective way of coordinating these antagonistic opinions until the moment for ultimate decision arrives, and then the result is very much a matter of chance, unless the President is a powerful man.

It is universally acknowledged, for instance, that there was a large majority of opinion in the U.S.A. for entering the League of Nations, but a small knot of Wilson’s [2] enemies in the Senate were able to prevent it. At the Hot Springs Conference of the I.P.R. [3] the British Commonwealth was bitterly criticised for not being sound on the government of colonial territories. It is not at all clear now whether Congress will maintain the principle of accountable trusteeship. It is possible to listen to a lecture from Mr. Clayton, Under Secretary of State, on the virtues of multilateralism and free trade though the Hawley Smoot tariff [4] is still in existence and pressure groups may yet succeed in killing the Hull system of reducing duties by bilateral treaties.

Mr. Truman has announced that he will support the Bretton Woods agreement and employment policies and other items of the policy pursued by his predecessor; but it is not at all clear that he is strong enough to work up opinion against the pressure groups who are seeking to destroy that policy. It is quite possible that he will simply accept Congressional decisions on these matters.

The difficulties here are far greater than most people, including leading politicians, think. The uncoordinated nature of an individualistic capitalist economy were never so evident. Most economic controls are relatively ineffective. War profits are enormous. The paramount influence of these pressure groups is shown by the fact that there is no reaction in favour of the rank and file, who are suffering from the rise in prices. The tendency towards inflation is very strong and, when the war ends and various restricting influences are relaxed, it is difficult to see how inflation can be stopped. The dollar is overvalued and the national pride prevents any admission of the fact.

In this key country of the world, therefore, forces exist which may make all our plans for post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation, Bretton Woods and the lot, seem futile.

The paramount need is a strong farseeing man to handle all these things. One goes to the San Francisco Conference therefore with considerable misgivings. The plan of Dumbarton Oaks is difficult and complex. The United States representatives will probably support it with some amendments. The position of the U.S.A. as one of the great powers is flattering-the Americans are ruthless and see nothing obnoxious in the use of power. The fact that the U.S.A. has a veto is acceptable to them. If it were not in the charter, the Senate would probably put it in. I have seen much evidence that the U.S.A. will assist Russia and Britain to push the plan through without much amendment. But, without strong leadership, inspired by deep conviction, and a readiness to sacrifice the traditional nationalism, it is doubtful whether the active economic co-operation necessary for a stable peaceful order will be adequately supported by this country.

It is not necessary, of course, to be gloomy. It is perhaps true that the gulf left by the untimely removal of President Roosevelt appears wider at the moment than subsequent developments may show it to be. The next month or two will in any event disclose more clearly the true character of President Truman and his prospects of guiding the United States through the post-war period.



1 Roosevelt died on 12 April at Warm Springs, Georgia.

2 i.e. Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President, 1913-21.

3 Institute of Pacific Relations.

4 A protective tariff introduced in 1930.


[AA : A4231/2, WASHINGTON 1943, 1-19]