In 1947, Princeton was full of vim and vigor. The nation was at peace, the University was completing the celebration of its 200th birthday, and a record turnout of nearly 4,000 alumni, family members, and students came to the Feb. 22 Alumni Day festivities at Baker Rink.
But the day’s keynote speaker, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, warned that the rest of the world had not bounced back from the war as quickly as the United States:
“… In Europe and Asia fear and famine still prevail. Power relationships are in a state of flux. Order has yet to be brought out of confusion. Peace has yet to be secured. And how this is accomplished will depend very much on the American people.
“Most of the other countries of the world find themselves exhausted economically, financially, and physically. If the world is to get on its feet, if the productive facilities of the world are to be restored, if the democratic processes in many countries are to resume their functioning, a strong lead and definite assistance from the United States will be necessary.”
It was Marshall’s first speech as secretary of state and provided a preview of what would later be known as the Marshall Plan (officially, the European Recovery Program). Most historical timelines trace the plan back to Marshall’s June 1947 commencement speech at Harvard, made in the wake of unrest in Greece and Turkey and growing concerns about the spread of communism. But according to Harold James, Princeton’s Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies, the transcript from Alumni Day shows that the key ideas were in place months earlier.
Under the Marshall Plan, the United States sent nearly $13 billion in aid to European nations from 1948 through 1952, spurring economic growth and shoring up the postwar transition. The program continues to be viewed as one of the great success stories in economic policy — and “deservedly so,” according to James, the author of Europe Reborn: A History, 1914-2000.
While on campus, Marshall received an honorary doctor of laws degree, conferred by trustee Chauncey Belknap 1912, a prominent New York lawyer. The two men had served together in France during World War I, when Marshall was a lieutenant colonel and Belknap a second lieutenant. “We shared the same hut,” Marshall was quoted as saying in PAW, “but I must confess that I had the better bunk.”