Harry Truman Declares "in Spite of Palestine," he had a "Grand Birthday"

May 9, 1948

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Harry Truman Declares "in Spite of Palestine," he had a "Grand Birthday"
Autograph Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 646

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      Background

      Whatever doubts Harry Truman might have had about a Jewish state in Palestine,  he had none whatsoever about the man who did not want one: General George Catlett Marshall, his Secretary of State, was the greatest living American. He had, after all, saved the Allies in World War II, and was now about to save Europe from the Communists. Which is why, just three days before Truman held the most contentious Oval Office meeting of his presidency - with Marshall, about Palestine, on May 12, 1948 - he wrote to the man who could, in that meeting, do the one thing the president could not. Clark Clifford, Truman knew, would stand up to Marshall and maybe, even best him. Writing then on May 9th to thank Clifford and his family for helping to make his 64th birthday a grand one, Truman added a meaningful caveat. His birthday celebration, he said, was as nice as could be, "in spite of Palistine [sic]..."

      Dear Clark:  The plates were a "ten strike." Highly appreciated by "Miss Bess" and Margie as well as by me. The telegram from Marny, Gerry, Joyce & Randy was as nice as could be. In spite of Palistine [sic], R.R. Strike, and the D---n Republicans, it was a grand birthday. Your and your family's contribution made it so.

      Palestine of course had been on Truman's mind since the U.N. Partition vote in November 1947, and on Clifford's, too. As White House Counsel Clifford in '47, he had fought for a Jewish state in Palestine against the entire foreign policy bureaucracy - and won, having convinced Truman to support the United Nation's partition of British-ruled Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. Now, less than a year later, with Palestine in the midst of the First Arab-Israeli War and preparing to declare itself an independent nation on May 14th, Truman would again hand Clifford a crucial brief. "I would like you to prepare yourself and you be the lawyer for the position that we should recognize Israel," he said a day after sending his letter. To which he added ominously: "I am inclined to believe that General Marshall is probably opposed to it, but you get ready and we'll set up a meeting..."

      That meeting, at 4:00 in the afternoon on May 12, 1948, is much documented. Marshall argued Cold War realpolitik; Clifford argued morality, and atonement for Jewish suffering.  There was more to it, of course, but when Marshall had heard enough, he erupted, claiming that if he were to vote in 1948, based on what he was hearing, he'd vote against Truman. In the shocked silence, Truman ended the meeting. "Well," Truman told Clifford, "that was rough as a cob" - and then waited for the dust to settle. Two days later, it did, with Marshall proclaiming it was not his place to decide policy, and pledging to not publicly oppose the President. That was all Truman needed: on the 14th of May, at 6:11 p.m., the United States became the first country to recognize the nation of Israel.



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      THE WHITE HOUSE
      WASHINGTON

      May 9, 1948.

      Dear Clark: -

      The plates were a "ten strike."  Highly appreciated by "Miss Bess" and Margie as well as by me.

      The telegram from Marny, Gerry, Joyce and Randy was as nice as could be. In spite of Palistine [sic], R.R. Strike and the D-n Republicans it was a grand birthday. Yours and your family's contribution made it so.

      Sincerely

      HARRY TRUMAN

      Hon Clark Clifford
      White House, D.C.

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      Page 2 transcript
      THE WHITE HOUSE

      Mr. Clark Clifford
      White House
      D.C.