Power  /  Comparison

From Truman to Trump: How U.S. Presidents Have Addressed the U.N.

With President Trump’s first address to the United Nations on Tuesday, here’s a look at past presidents’ first speeches.
Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images

In 1946, President Harry Truman welcomed the first session of the United Nations General Assembly to New York. After remarking on the pride that the United States felt in hosting the international body, his speech quickly shifted into a display of American strength in the wake of World War II.

That mix of high-flown diplomatic ideals and the force of American influence has long characterized presidential addresses to the body. In President Trump’s first address to the delegates on Tuesday, he castigated North Korea and Iran and emphasized an “America First” agenda. 

“If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,” he said.

Here’s a look at how other presidents used their addresses to frame the United States’ view of the world.

Nixon: “The time has come for peace”

President Richard Nixon’s inaugural address to the United Nations, in the fall of 1969, came as the United States had become a target of criticism abroad for its actions in Vietnam. The newly elected president, who had said during his campaign that he would bring an “honorable end” to the war, acknowledged those concerns directly. “The people of Vietnam, North and South, have endured an unspeakable weight of suffering for a generation, and they deserve a better fate,” he said.

But he also displayed his reluctance to end the war without concessions from North Vietnam. As The Times wrote, the address reflected the White House’s feeling that the many diplomats who had asked that the United States back off its aggression “have a moral obligation now to press the North Vietnamese for more serious negotiations.”

The speech received a “cool reception,” The Times reported. The war would go on for nearly six more years.

Ford: “The economy of the world is under unprecedented stress”

With much of the West facing an economic crisis — brought on, in part, by a union of oil-producing Arab nations — President Gerald Ford used his first United Nations address, in 1974, to underscore the degree to which the world economy had become interdependent.

“Let us not delude ourselves,” he said. “Failure to cooperate on oil and food and inflation could spell disaster for every nation represented in this room.”

But the president also used his speech to project American strength, scolding the Arab nations and using an ad-libbed portion of his remarks to compliment his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.