The Alger Hiss
Hiss spy case held Americans spellbound to the news media and
television coverage. The case launched a then obscure California
congressman named Richard Nixon into national fame, and also set the
stage for Senator Joseph McCarthy's Communist-hunting escapades.
In the summer of 1948, Congressman Richard Nixon, a member of the
House un-American Activities Committee, confronted Hiss about his Communist
Excerpts from grand Jury Hearing relating to the Alger
Hiss Case: December, 1948
Table of Contents
of Congressman Richard M. Nixon
December 13, 1948
Testimony of Alger
Hiss (Answers on which perjury charges based)
What was the
Hiss Case?, An answer for Tricia, by Richard Nixon, from Six Crises
Hiss Case... Other Site Links
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of Congressman Richard M. Nixon
December 15, 1948
|The following excerpts are from
Richard Nixon's testimony before a federal grand jury
investigating espionage charges. In various excerpts
below, Nixon explains both HUAC's and his own role in the
In the first excerpt below,
Richard Nixon is examined by Assistant U.S. Attornies
Raymond Whearty and Alexander Campbell. The questions
concerned the so-called "pumpkin papers," actually
35 mm film found by House Un-American Activities Committee in
a hollowed-out pumpkin on the farm of Whittaker Chambers.
HUAC, rather than turning over the undeveloped film to the
FBI, had it developed by a technician from the Veterans
Administration. Unfortunately, part of the film was exposed to
light, causing a loss of content. HUAC's refusal to turn
the film over to the grand jury precipitated the following
RICHARD M. NIXON called as a witness,
having first been duly sworn by the Asst. Foreman, testified
Q. You have the film? We see that you
have them there. There is nothing there that means anything to
I will explain one other item
which will explain the testimony which probably Mr. Chambers
gave before the grand jury.
These two rolls of film had already
been developed and they were not in paper of this sort, but
they were wrapped in a - both were pushed together; both just
wrapped around the other - and in one piece of paper. They
weredeveloped film and no harm can come to them. That's why
they were outside the containers. Off of these two rolls of
film came the documents which were clear enough for you ladies
and gentlemen to read.
So far as these two rolls, I have in
my hand, which were not injured by reason of having been
opened, due to the fact that they had not been developed for
ten years had remained in there, the pictures which we were
able to get out were extremely blurred. Those were the ones
that were introduced, which Mr. Wheeler brought before you,
which were not clear, having mainly, incidentally, the Navy
Bureau of Aeronautics report which were worth nothing
whatever. We found in our own investigation, the Bureau of
Aeronautics, which the Navy by looking at them could tell what
the pictures were. The Navy indicated that they were not - at
least at that time - strictly confidential or even
confidential under the Navy code, and they had wide
As far as these two rolls are
concerned, on these rolls appear only to date that we have
been able to find this Navy material. These were the two rolls
that had the State Department material, the aide memoire,
which some of you probably have seen, and the messages
involving China, which Mr. Bullitt wrote in four series,
which, incidentally, is one of the messages that Mr. Sumner
Welles and Mr.Purifoy in testimony before the committee
indicated could not be released even at this time, ten years
after the message was written, due to possibly injury to the
Have you established the age of
Let me show you what we have
done in that respect, and I will show you exactly how the age
of the film - let me sayon this point I would be most happy to
have representatives of the Attorney General's office, if
they're not satisfied with the experts we call, I might say
that the best source that I think is available are the people
who made the film, or anybody else to come down to the office
and examine it and reach another conclusion. I want to say
this in appearing before the grand jury, this will be
difficult for you to understand, when you say a member of the
Un-American Activities Committee, we realize that we are
subject to a great deal of criticism. Some suggestion has been
made in some quarter that the committee is trying to frame the
individuals involved here and wouldn't want the truth if we
could find it. I have been very close to this Chambers case
from the beginning, and my only interest in it has been in
attempting to get to the truth of the matter. I do not intend,
Mr. Campbell, to make a speech to the jury, but I want to say
why I insisted myself, when I first returned, upon an
examination of these films. I realized that you ladies and
gentlemen are faced with probably the conundrum of the age for
a grand jury, with conflicting testimony, with individuals who
have concealed testimony and then have come forth with
testimony later, and with the same conundrum with which our
committee was faced, one individual saying that he knows a
group of other individuals, and the other individuals not only
denying the charges that individual made, but saying, "We
have never seen that individual before."
That was the problem, I might say,
with which our committee was concerned, and faced with,
immediately after the testimony of Whittaker Chambers on
August 3rd. Mr. Hiss came down on August 5th and said, "I
have never seen this man before in my life. I do not know why
he would say I was a Communist if I have never been a
I might say that it was at that time
that every member of the Un-American Activities Committee who
heard Mr. Hiss that day with the exception of myself, felt
that there was no question whatever but that what Mr. Hiss was
telling the truth. But I felt it was essential to proceed and
find out whether or not these two individuals knew each other,
on the issue of whether one was a Communist or another was a
Communist that couldn't be determined, but whether one man
knew another, that can be determined, because if one man knew
another, that can be determined, and that's the way we solved
the problem because Mr. Hiss after a good deal of persuasion
and faced with certain facts changed his story, and changed it
considerably, as most of you are aware.
Hiss was asked if he knew
"Whittaker Chambers," and even Chambers conceded
Hiss did not know him by that name. At that time, Hiss had
realized that Chambers was actually George Crosley, a man he
had known 12 years before.
In bringing that out, I was
interested only in getting at thetruth. If I had found as a
result of that Mr. Chambers had lied when he said he knew Mr.
Hiss, I would be here before this grand jury, I would have
gone to the Department of Justice, and I would have insisted
that Mr. Chambers be prosecuted for telling a lie, and I think
he should pay for whatever he has done, which is wrong..
Yes, I want to make that
absolutely clear. I want to say that we didn't develop these
films in our office. I want to make it clear they were
developed in the Veterans Administration. Another story that
has been circulated, and it is a completely malicious slander
that we destroyed two rolls of the film, because, we were
trying to do it in apparently the laboratory which we have in
our office, and this gentleman well knows we have, no
laboratory in the House Office Building for this kind of work.
This was done by experts by the Veterans Administration.
Incidentally, I might say, Mr. Donegan, for your information,
it was a man who was formerly with the FBI, one of their best
men, whowent over to V. A. And V. A. of course, has thousands
- in fact, thousands of cases of identification. We felt that
was a good place to get this information.
It seems to me that there is some
particular reason why you submitted it to the Veterans Bureau
rather than the FBI. Now, what reason is that?
Well, the Committee, as I have
indicated - strike that. And I will say this as briefly as I
can. The Department of Justice is, of course, over the FBI;
that is, the FBI is a part of the Department at Justice. And
the Department of Justice, for reasons that may be very
diligent, I might say, has not been particularly taken with
the work of the Committee on Un-American Activities.
Consequently, the Committee on Un-American Activities has not
been able, frankly, to avail itself of FBI investigators and
FBI laboratories to carry on our investigations, due
apparently to the fact that the Department of Justice has so
iinstructed the FBI. We took it, in other words, to the
Veterans Administration because we had to have the work done
and we knew that they would do it for us. We didn't want to
get into that argument with the Department of Justice again as
to whether we had any jurisdiction to have this work done. As
I say, I for one think it's, frankly, a very unfortunate thing
that the Department of Justice feels as it does concerning the
Committee and therefore has seen fit to inform the FBI that
that should be its attitude toward the Committee. But I can
assure you that if the Committee had felt that we could get
this work done through the Department, we would certainly have
BY MR. CAMPBELL: May I say this: that
in all of my 13 years of experience as a United States
Attorney the investigative agencies of the United States
Attorney and the FBI did not permit any person to keep
evidence which is vital and essential to the case. We don't
permit the sheriffs to keep them, we don't permit anybody to
keep them, because it's a highly important piece of evidence.
A. As an attorney - I think all three
of you are attorneys - you will know that what I am discussing
has been a matter which for 150 years has been the rule of the
House and of the Congress. All that I can tell you is that
this is the situation. I mean, of course, if I were a sheriff
I would turn it over to you, certainly; a sheriff can't keep
it. But I mean there is a slight difference. I mean not much.
I mean, I don't mean to say anything derogatory about a
sheriff or about a Congressman.
BY THE JURY:
And in addition to Hiss,
you have gone a step further to see anybody up the line?
Oh, yes. I might suggest these two
lines of inquiry that Mr. Stripling may not have covered when
he was before you. I don't know what witnesses the Grand Jury
has heard. But of course this is a process of deduction, to a
certain extent. And as you will note, the documents which
appeared on the microfilm, a great number of them came from
the office of Mr. Sayre. You can tell that by the stamp that
appears on the document. We have taken testimony from those
who were familiar with the State Department procedures, which
have indicated that where a confidential document - of course,
and you obviously have taken testimony, I assume, in this
regard too - a confidential document is distributed in the
State Department, there is a distribution list which is
relatively small. Where Mr. Sayre's stamp appears on it that
means that document was delivered to the office of Mr. Sayre,
was kept there in a locked compartment and was available only
to the people that worked in that office. There were four
people that worked in his office: Mr. Sayre; Anna Belle
Newcomb, who is Mr. Hiss' secretary; and Miss Lincoln, who was
the administrative assistant to Mr. Sayre.
The problem of determining how the
document which could definitely be traced from Mr. Sayre's
office, in that respect, of course will involve to a certain
extent those four individuals. And I would think that the
Grand Jury would want to hear all four of them on that point
as to how those documents would have been removed from the
office and not returned, because this is an important thing to
note: The documents that appeared on the microfilms have Mr.
Sayre's stamp and do not have a stamp which indicates that
they were filed in archives; in other words; that they had
left Mr. Sayre's office and had been filed finally in
archives. For that reason the document therefore is traced
that far. It is therefore - and beyond that point it
means that it is pretty clear that the document had tocome
from that office.
Now, of course, there are other
explanations that could be given, but probably - and I won't
go into that - but that is one line of inquiry which I think
would interest you.
Another matter which I don't think you
have taken up, and you may of course, is this: Of course,
involved in this matter of whether or not Mr. Hiss could have
been the one who furnished the information that came from Mr.
Sayre‘s office - and of course there was another information
in addition to that - is of course the basic problem of
whether or not Mr. Hiss was or was not a Communist. Now, that
point of course, is a most difficult one and one of the
weakest points of the case, that is, from the standpoint -
from the standpoint of pointing any finger of guilt, shall we
say, at Mr. Hiss is that there has been little evidence other
than Mr. Chambers' statement that Mr. Hiss was a Communist. I
do not know whether or not the Committee has investigated
Hiss' association with Mr. Noel Field.
MR. WHEARTY: You mean the Grand Jury.
I meant to say the Grand
Jury; I'm sorry.
If the Grand Jury has investigated
his association with Mr. Noel Field. If not, I'm sure the
Grand Jury would want to do that. I also think the Grand Jury
would be interested in checking on Mr. Hiss' associations with
Mr. Zabodowsky.. I assume all these cases, not knowing what
the Grand Jury has considered, that there might be
possibilities that you have. But our own investigations, I
might say, prior to the time of the discovery of the
documents, brought out some very interesting information in
that field which would be of help to you on that particular
issue. And I would say, in that regard, that it particularly
would be helpful to you in cross-examining Mr. Hiss. I might
say that you are dealing here with two witnesses speaking now
of Mr. Hiss and Mr. Chambers and leaving out Mr. Wadleigh, Mr.
Pigman and the others who have been named - you are dealing
here with two witnesses who are most difficult to deal with.
And I am sure that the representatives of the Department of
Justice have been doing what they can to bring the facts out
before the Grand Jury and you also have done so in your
questioning. But we found, ourselves, in dealing with Mr. Hiss
particularly, that Mr. Hiss is a very persuasive witness. When
he first came down before the Committee and made his now
famous statement that he didn't know Mr. Chambers, he
convinced ninety per cent of the press and virtually all of
the members of the Committee. The only way that Mr. Hiss can
be cross-examined is by obtaining basic information and then
confronting him with that information and then cross-examining
him relentlessly and I mean relentlessly, until the truth
Hiss made several inaccurate
statements before HUAC. His memory of events of a dozen years
before was faulty, and he could not get access to records to
check details. To read about the accuracy of Chambers'
charges, read his August 7 testimony before HUAC.
BY THE JURY:
Would you state again those four
persons in Mr. Sayre's office?
Miss Lincoln, Miss Anna Belle
Newcomb and Mr.Sayre
And Miss Newcomb was Mr. Hiss'
Yes. She is now in Europe with Mr.
Sayre, or may have just returned.
Q. Well, that's only three,
A. Well, I meant including Mr. Hiss;
Mr. Hiss, of course.
Q. Oh, I see; Mr. Hiss, Mr. Sayre and
the two -
A. Yes, a total of four.
Q. Was one of them his personal
A. Well, Miss Newcomb did much of his
secretarial work but also did work in the office for - I
assume for Mr. Sayre as well.
Q. For the period of time -
A. During this period of time.
Q. And who was the other chap with
the long name that you mentioned?
A. David Zabodowsky. I think
the Bureau people are all familiar with his record and also of
Mr. Hiss' connection with him.
Q. Well, Congressman Nixon, you
indicated that to determine whether or not Mr. Hiss was a
Communist was an important factor. Have you developed anything
along that line that would be helpful as far as we are
A. I would say in the way of evidence
that could be presented before the Grand Jury, no, on the
issue of whether or not he was a Communist.
Q. Well, any other evidence?
A. Nothing; except that if the jury
has not heard it, I think they should take into consideration
Mr. Hiss' provable
contacts with Mr. Field and Mr.
Zabodowsky, both of whom have rather extensive records.
Q. Nothing beyond that that you can
A. I would say at the moment that's
all that I can think of.
Q. Have either one of these men that
you mentioned stated that Hiss is a Communist?
A. Oh, no, we have heard neither one
of the men ourselves.
A. They are not available. Mr. Field
was out of the country when it came before our Committee.
Q. Did Mr. Hiss commit perjury
before the Committee, when he said he didn't know Mr. Chambers
and then later on he admitted he did?
A. Technically, he may not have
committed perjury. He did lie.
Q. How does Mrs. Hiss - did you have
Mrs. Hiss before the Committee?
A. We had Mrs. Hiss before us under a
very interesting circumstance which meant that we could not
cross-examine her, as we should have. Arrangements were made
for Mrs. Hiss' appearance while Mr. Hiss was in the room
before the Committee, and then the suggestion was made that
she appear, Mrs. - Mr. Hiss asked the Committee chairman, Mr.
Thomas; whether or not he could appear with her in executive
session, and Mr. Thomas said yes. Well, as a result, when Mrs.
Hiss came in with Mr. Hiss, all that we could do was have a
perfunctory examination. Understand, I want to point out that
our Committee always allowed counsel to come with a witness.
But to allow Mr. Hiss to come with Mrs. Hiss of course made it
impossible for us to get any information.
Q. Did her testimony sound convincing
A. It didn't.
Mr. NIXON: There is only one point
that we have, of course, been concerned about, and I would be
remiss unless I mentioned it, and I will finish with this,
because this extremely important: It is a point which I have
made publicly, which I wish to make before the jury.
We have here a difficult problem of
law, as well as a problem of who furnished the information,
which is a problem of fact, and that is that there is a
possibility that due to the expiration of the statute of
limitations that the individuals who furnished this
information to Chambers might go scot-free, and that the grand
jury would have no power whatever to indict them, due to the
fact that the statute of limitations would have run on the
crime that they committed.
That is where the Committee on
Un-American Activities have a responsibility that they must
meet because I think you ladies and gentlemen will agree with
me that the important matter in this case, as of the present
time - now that Chambers has confessed - of who turned the
information over to him, and the fact that the Grand Jury is
not able to indict because of the statute of limitations, does
not mean that the investigation should stop, and the spotlight
placed upon those who are responsible, and I want to point out
that we feel a solemn responsibility on that point, that if
because of legal technicalities some of those who were as
guilty as Chambers, and in some cases more guilty; because
they took an oath of allegiance - to the Government that those
individuals, because of technicalities are able to go
scot-free, and I want to assure you that if you feel you are
unable to indict because of those technicalities, you will
feel assured that we will go ahead with our investigation of
of Alger Hiss (Answers on which perjury charges based)
December 15, 1948
to top of page
Mr. Hiss was questioned by Thomas
Donegan, Special Assistant to the Attorney General:
Q. Mr. Hiss, you have probably been
asked this question before, but I'd like to ask the question
again. At any time did you, or Mrs. Hiss in your
presence, turn any documents of the State Department, or of
any other Governmental organization,over to Whittaker
A. Never, excepting, I assume,
the title certificate to the Ford.
Grand juror: To nobody else did
you ever turn over documents? To any other person?
A. And to no unauthorized
Q. Mr. Hiss, Mr. Chambers has
testified that he obtained typewritten copies of official
State Department documents from you.
A. I know that.
Q. Did you ever see Mr.
Chambers after you went into the State Department?
A. I do not believe that I did.
I cannot swear that I did not see him some time, say, in the
fall of 1936....
Q. Can you say definitely that
you did not see him after January, 1937?
A. Yes, I think I can
definitely say that.
Testimony of Alger
Hiss (Answers on which perjury charges based)
December 15, 1948
"What was the Hiss Case?, An answer
by Richard Nixon, from Six
Crises, (Doubleday, 1962).
....Now, I would like to attempt an answer to the question my
daughter, Tricia, asked me.
"What was the Hiss case?"
Whittaker Chambers, with typical insight, perhaps came
closest to the truth when he wrote in Witness that the
situation which involved Alger Hiss and himself was not simply
"human tragedy," not just "another fat folder
in the sad files of the police," but rather was a
"tragedy of history." Here, "the two
irreconcilable faiths of our time, Communism and Freedom, came
to grips in the persons of two conscious and resolute
In this sentence, he compressed whole chapters of world
history: the rise, development, and-as some would argue-
partial decay of the philosophy called "liberalism";
the parallel emergence of a liberal heresy called Communism;
the assumption of world leadership by two superpowers, America
and Russia, each wedded to a competing faith and each
strengthened and yet limited thereby; and, :finally, the
present confrontation of these two faiths and these two
superpowers at speci:fic times and places in every part of the
world. The issue at stake, to put it starkly, is this: whose
hand will write the next several chapters of human history?
The Hiss case aroused the nation for the :first time to the
existence and character of the Communist conspiracy within the
United States. It focused attention sharply on the
conspiratorial aspects of the Party. The prevailing opinion in
the country prior to the Hiss-Chambers case was probably that
the Communists were nothing but a handful of noisy but
relatively harmless left-wingers attempting to exercise their
rights of free speech and political action. A substantial
number of Americans believed the investigations of the House
Committee on Un-American Activities were
"Red-baiting" for partisan purposes only. The
unpopularity of the Committee, whatever the reasons, caused
many political leaders and opinion-makers to dismiss without
investigation anything the Committee might discover and
disclose about Communism in the United States. Upon learning
that Communists and fellow-travelers were holding important
positions in government, in education, or in labor, many
people simply responded-"so what! All they are doing is
exercising their legitimate freedom of speech and political
opinion." Some went even further and charged that the
members of the Committee, and their allies, were really
"Fascist agents," bent on denying free expression to
The Hiss case, for the first time, forcibly demonstrated to
the American people that domestic Communism was a real and
present danger to the security of the nation. As Herbert
Hoover wrote me after Hiss's conviction, "At last the
stream of treason that has existed in our government has been
exposed in a fashion all may believe." Chambers testified
that his espionage ring was only one of several that had
infiltrated the American government. Yet he had turned over to
the Committee and the Justice Department hundreds of pages of
confidential and secret documents from the State Department
and other government agencies. And he testi:6ed that on at
least seventy different occasions, the members of his ring had
obtained a like number of documents-all of which he had
transmitted to Soviet agents.
Hiss was just one of the members of the group from which
Chambers obtained government documents. Chambers' contacts
included four men in the State Department, two in the Treasury
Department, two in the Bureau of Standards, one in the
Aberdeen and one in the Picatinny Arsenal, two in the Electric
Boat Company, one in the Remington Rand Company, and one in
the Illinois Steel Company. The individuals he named, almost
without exception, held positions of influence where they had
access to confidential and secret information. But the purpose
of the Hiss-Chambers group was not limited to stealing
documents and passing information to Soviet agents like common
spies. Some, like Hiss, reached positions so high in
government that they could influence policy directly. As I
said in a speech in the House of Representatives in 1950, this
type of activity "permits the enemy to guide and shape
our policy; it disarms and dooms our diplomats to defeat in
advance, before they go to conferences; traitors in the high
councils of our own government make sure that the deck is
stacked on the Soviet side of the diplomatic table."
The Hiss case thus demonstrated the necessity of screening
federal employees in sensitive positions for loyalty and
security-rigorously, fairly, and with sophisticated insight
into the many-sided Communist apparatus.
The Hiss case exposed the blindness of the Truman
Administration and its predecessors to the problem of
Communist subversion in government. It demonstrated the need
for congressional investigatory bodies, like the Committee on
Un-American Activities, which could expose such laxity and,
with the help of a mobilized public opinion, could force the
Executive branch to adopt policies adequate for dealing with
The record of negligence was almost too flagrant to
believe. Chambers first made his charges in 1939 and he
repeated them to government officials several times
thereafter. Yet as far as the public record is concerned, the
only action taken on his charges until the Committee started
its investigation in 1948, was to promote each of the
individuals he named to higher positions of power and
influence within the government. The most damning proof of
negligence on the part of the Executive branch was that Hiss
himself had to be indicted and convicted not for espionage,
the crime of which he was originally guilty, but for
perjury-for lying when he denied committing espionage. The
statute of limitations, requiring prosecution for espionage
within three years after the crime had been committed, had
already long expired.
The conduct of President Truman in this case was
particularly hard to understand. No one would question the
tough-minded anti-Communism of the man who had so boldly
initiated the program of Greek-Turkish aid and the Marshall
Plan. One can understand why he might have felt justifIed in
terming the case a "red herring" when Hiss first
testifIed before the Committee. But he did a disservice to the
nation and to his own party by stubbornly maintaining that
position as evidence to the contrary piled up. His error was
sheer stubbornness in refusing to admit a mistake. He viewed
the Hiss case only in its political implications and he chose
to handle the crisis which faced his Administration with an
outworn political rule of thumb: leave the political skeletons
hidden in the closet and keep the door locked. He denied
outright the evidence in front of him and he stumped the 1948
political trail flailing away at the "red herring,"
thus putting himself in a needlessly untenable position on an
important issue and-of infinitely graver consequence- leading
a large segment of the public away from a deeper understanding
of the true threat of the Communist conspiracy in America.
I have no doubt that President Truman personally had just
as much contempt for Alger Hiss as I had when the full import
of his activities became known to him. An indication of his
attitude was a report Bert Andrews gave me shortly after
Hiss's indictment. He said Truman was shown copies of the
stolen documents by a representative of the Justice
Department. As he thumbed through page after page of the
incriminating evidence, he muttered, over and over, "Why,
the son of a bitch-he betrayed his country!" Yet when
asked in his next press conference if he still thought the
Committee's investigation of the Hiss case was a "red
herring," he replied in the affirmative! When a friend
asked him how he could possibly make such a statement in light
of the new evidence, his reply was: "Of course Hiss is
guilty. But that damn Committee isn't interested in that. All
it cares about is politics, and as long as they try to make
politics out of this Communist issue, I am going to label
their activities for what they are-a 'red herring.'"
President Truman spoke quite properly and effectively of
the need for bipartisanship in meeting the threat of Communism
abroad. Along with a substantial number of the Republicans in
both House and Senate, I responded to his pleas in this
respect by voting for and supporting the Greek-Turkish Aid
Program and the Marshall Plan. What he did not seem to
understand-and here is the really crucial point-was that
Communism in America is part and parcel of Communism abroad.
The problem, like Communism itself, is indivisible. If, in
other words, he had recognized the need for bipartisanship in
fighting Communism at home as well as abroad, he would not
have persisted in making his "red herring"
statements with regard to the Committee investigations. And
furthermore, there would have been no need for that
investigation to be continued as it was, simply in order to
force the Justice Department to take the action demanded by
Once the FBI was given the green light in its investigation
of the Hiss case, it did a magnificent job. The blame for
failing to act before that time rests not on the FBI but
squarely on those officials of the Executive branch who had
full access to FBI reports and who failed or refused to order
a full investigation.
The Hiss case taught the nation some major lessons, too,
about the most effective methods for fighting Communism in the
United States. Communism cannot be fought successfully by
brushing off or ignoring the danger because of the small
number of Communist Party members, or by concentrating solely
on "removing the causes of Communism by making democracy
work." The nation finally saw that the magnitude of the
threat of Communism in the United States is multiplied a
thousandfold because of its direct connection with and support
by the massive power of the world Communist conspiracy
centered in Moscow. But while we should not underestimate the
danger, we also must not resort to Communist methods to fight
Communism. We would then become little better than the
Communists themselves-playing their game, by their rules. We
must not be so blinded by the threat of Communism that we can
no longer see the principles of freedom. The most effective
weapon the Communists and their supporters use against their
opponents is to complain of unfair play and abridgment of
their civil liberties, in order to divert public attention
from the charges being leveled against them. Even when the
most impeccably correct procedures are used, they will cry
"foul." When the investigators' conduct gives even a
hint of unfair procedures, the Communists are able to make
their accusers, rather than themselves, the issue. There is
nothing more irresponsible than for the radicals of the right
to make a racket of anti-Communism. By exaggerating and making
charges they can't prove, they raise doubts as to the very
real danger that Communist agents in the United States in fact
present. On the other hand, it is just as irresponsible for
the radicals of the left to pooh-pooh the danger of Communism
at home by denying it exists, even in the face of facts like
the Hiss case-thereby adding fuel to the fire of the
demagogues on the right.
We succeeded in the Hiss case for three basic reasons.
First, we were on the right side. Second, we prepared our case
thoroughly. Third, we followed methods with which few
objective critics could find serio, is fault. This is not the
easy way to conduct a congressional investigation and
certainly not the best way to make sensational headlines. But
it is the way which produces results. In dealing with
Communists, any other procedure can play into their hands and
To give an extreme example. If we were to accuse X of
having killed his mother, his two brothers, and five friends,
X and his allies would shout back, "That's a lie! X never
hurt a hair on his old mother's head and he only wounded one
brother. Foul and unfair!" The Counterattack would be on,
with attention diverted from the five friends and the other
brother whom X had, indeed, actually killed. Thus, if someone
charges that there are fifty-eight Communists in the State
Department, he is at once attacked on the exact number and on
the fine distinction between Communists and security risks.
The tactic of exaggeration and the deliberate "fishing
expedition" does, to be sure, attract public attention to
the problem. But it also tends to undermine the effort to
develop an effective program for weeding out the actual
security risks in the government bureaucracies. The best
tactic in the face of suspicion from a large segment of the
press and public is to be certain you can prove every
statement you make about Communist activities.
These lessons from the Hiss case are important. But more
vital still is that we understand why a man like Alger Hiss,
with his education and background, joined the Communist Party
in the first place. The tendency too often is to try to find
some convenient excuse for his conduct and thereby avoid
facing up to the real reasons. But none of the typical excuses
fit Alger Hiss. He did not join the Communist Party, accept
its rigid discipline, and steal State Department secrets for
money, position, or a desire for power, or for psychological
reasons stemming from some obscure incident in his early life,
or because he had been duped or led astray by his wife. He
joined the Communist Party and became a Communist espionage
agent because he deeply believed in Communist theory,
Communist principles, and the Communist "vision" of
the ideal society still to come. He believed in an absolutely
materialistic view of the world, in principles of deliberate
manipulation by a dedicated elite, and in an ideal world
society in which "the party of the workers" replaces
God as the prime mover and the sole judge of right and wrong.
His morality could be reduced to one perverted rule: anything
that advances the goals of Communism is good. Hiss followed
his beliefs deliberately and consciously to the utmost logical
extreme, and ended up in the area of espionage.
At a less rigorous level-somewhere in a vague area that
goes by such names as "positivism" or
"pragmatism" or "ethical neutralism"- Hiss
was clearly the symbol of a considerable number of perfectly
loyal citizens whose theaters of operation are the nation's
mass media and universities, its scholarly foundations, and
its government bureaucracies. This group likes to throw the
cloak of liberalism around all its beliefs. Eric Sevareid's
term "liberalists" probably describes them most
accurately. They are not Communists; they are not even
remotely disloyal; and, give or take a normal dose of human
fallibility, they are neither dishonest nor dishonorable. But
they are of a mind-set, as doctrinaire as those on the extreme
right, which makes them singularly vulnerable to the Communist
popular front appeal under the banner of social justice. In
the time of the Hiss case they were "patsies" for
the Communist line.
The "liberalists" now stand self-accused in all
their vulnerability by a most damaging fact. As soon as the
Hiss case broke and well before a full bill of particulars was
even available, much less open to close critical analysis,
they leaped to the defense of Alger Hiss-and to a
counterattack of unparalleled venom and irrational fury on his
accusers. Some of the reasons may have been simply political.
The New Deal had fallen hard for the popular front tactic and
now it was going to be called to account for its past
errors-or, perhaps, for its past "innocence." Some
thought it had to be defended at any cost. Typical of this
attitude was a conversation I had with a New Deal lawyer who
had served in the Roosevelt Administration during World War
II. The Hiss case was being discussed at a Washington dinner
party shortly after the "pumpkin papers" came to
public attention. He shouted at me, "I don't give a damn
what the facts are. Even if Hiss admits he's guilty, these
investigations are dangerous and will have a terrible and
disastrous effect on the country-because the net result is to
cast reflection on the United Nations and all the other
progressive aspects of the Roosevelt-Truman foreign
What then is the answer to the appeal Communism seems to
have, not only in the so-called "underdeveloped"
countries abroad and not just among the "downtrodden
masses," but to those with excellent intellectual
backgrounds and material security right here in the United
Certainly more is needed than a purely negative militant
"anti-Communism." Nor is it enough to answer
Communism's constant claims of "we shall win-we represent
the wave of the future" with a static position in which
we say, "All we want is peace, and we will only defend
what we have."
And we must never be put in the position of meeting the
appeal of the Communists on their ground alone. A watered-down
materialism of our own will be no match for the authentic
article, with all its trappings, peddled by the Communists. If
materialism is all we have to offer, then men like Hiss,
impatient with compromise and anxious for faster progress,
will turn to Communism as the simpler and swifter vehicle for
the realization of purely materialistic goals.
Our goal cannot and must never be to force our way of life
on others. But our fundamental belief that every nation has a
right to be independent, that individual freedom and human
rights are grounded in religious faith and because they come
from God cannot be taken away by men, must be instilled in the
new generation. And our beliefs must be combined with a
crusading zeal, not just to hold our own but to change the
world-including the Communist world-and to win the battle for
freedom, individual dignity, and true economic progress
without a hot war.
Foster Dulles, in commenting on Alger Hiss's conviction,
said: "The conviction of Alger Hiss is human tragedy. It
is tragic that so great promise should have come to so
inglorious an end. But the greater tragedy is that seemingly
our national ideals no longer inspire the loyal devotions
needed for their defense." In these words, Dulles summed
up the greatest lesson of the Hiss case for our generation,
because the case so dramatically demonstrated the intellectual
confusion of our time. Since 1917 Moscow had been successful
in convincing all too many of our best educated citizens of
the superiority of Communism and caused them to abandon
Western ideals and values for the chimera of Soviet
"idealism" which unconsciously became their moral
standard. To this day, many "liberalists" are
incapable of facing the brutal reality of Soviet
totalitarianism and dealing with it accordingly.
The Hiss case was, of course, also a lesson for me. I
learned first-hand about the true nature of the Communist
conspiracy at home and abroad. I learned, too, some valuable
lessons in crisis conduct-the necessity for thorough
preparation for battle; the need for handling a crisis with
coolness, confidence, and decisiveness; the importance of
guarding against a letdown in that most dangerous period of a
crisis, after the battle is over.
The Hiss case brought me national fame. I received
considerable credit for spearheading the investigation which
led to Hiss's conviction. Two years later I was elected to the
United States Senate and two years after that, General
Eisenhower introduced me as his running mate to the Republican
National Convention as "a man who has a special talent
and an ability to ferret out any kind of subversive influence
wherever it may be found, and the strength and persistence to
get rid of it."
But in politics, victory is never total. The Hiss case
brought me national fame. But it also left a residue of hatred
and hostility toward me-not only among the Communists but also
among substantial segments of the press and the intellectual
community-a hostility which remains even today, ten years
after Hiss's conviction was upheld by the United States
Supreme Court. Bert Andrews once gave me his opinion about the
primary motivating force for much of this attitude. "The
surest way to make yourself unpopular with anyone who
considers himself an intellectual," he said, "is to
prove him wrong once he has gone out on a limb on an issue so
charged with emotion as the Hiss case."
Ironically enough, I not only gained the deadly enmity of
the Communists and others who, for a variety of reasons,
defended Hiss; I was to receive, at best, lukewarm support and
at times outright opposition from many of those who claimed to
be the annointed apostles of anti-Communism in America. There
were two reasons, I think, for this attitude. First, they
deeply resented the fact that I would not go along with their
extremes. The second reason is perhaps more controlling.
Earlier in this section I pointed out the inexcusable
attitude of some officials and apologists who could see the
danger of Communism abroad but were blind to the threat at
home. Strangely enough, many of those who speak up most
vigorously about the threat of Communism at home simply
reverse the blind spot: they oppose programs designed to deal
with the same threat abroad. Because I have consistently
supported what some of them consider to be "liberal"
international policies-like foreign aid, reciprocal trade,
collective security pacts, and adequate appropriations for our
information and foreign service programs-the credentials I had
gained as an anti-Communist because of my work in the Hiss
case became somewhat tarnished with a tinge of
And there were still others who were to mistrust me because
of the Hiss case-without exactly knowing why. I remember one
amusing incident demonstrating this attitude which occurred
during the 1952 campaign. Bill Rogers, who was traveling on
our campaign train at the time, used to make a practice of
wandering among the audiences while I was speaking so that he
could pick up reactions and pass them along to me. He heard
one eminently respectable elderly lady say to another, "I
like Eisenhower but I don't like Nixon." When she was
asked why, she replied: "Oh, he was mixed up with that
awful Alger Hiss!"
In any event, one of the personal aftermaths of the Hiss
case was that for the next twelve years of my public service
in Washington, I was to be subjected to an utterly
unprincipled and vicious smear campaign. Bigamy, forgery,
drunkenness, insanity, thievery, anti-Semitism, perjury, the
whole gamut of misconduct in public office, ranging from
unethical to downright criminal activities-all these were
among the charges that were hurled against me, some publicly
and others through whispering campaigns which were even more
difficult to counteract.
And so, in retrospect, I suppose there may be a grain of
truth in both of the observations I quoted at the very
beginning of this section: had it not been for the Hiss case,
I might have been President of the United States. But equally:
had it not been for the Hiss case, I might never have been
Vice President of the United States and thus a candidate for
But whichever of these propositions is "truer"
-and neither of them is subject to proof-of this much I am
sure: I shall always be grateful that at a period in my life
when I had the requisite energy and drive to cope with it, I
had the opportunity to meet the challenge which that case
presented. Because through that case, a guilty man was sent to
prison who otherwise would have remained free; a truthful man
was vindicated who otherwise would have been condemned as a
liar; and the nation acquired a better understanding, vital to
its security, of the strategy and tactics of the Communist
conspiracy at home and abroad.
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Visiters looking for additional information on the Hiss trials are
advised to visit "The
Alger Hiss Story," a site constructed with the support of
the Alger Hiss Research and Publication Project of the Nation
Institute. Readers should note, however, that the site maintains
a decidedly sympathetic view of Hiss, the funding for the site and the
fact that its managing editor is Jeff Kisseloff, who assisted Alger
Hiss in the preparation of his coram nobis petition.
Hiss Story (N.Y.U.)
Nixon - The Peacemaker is
a web site by JPCohen. Copyright © jpcohen publishing.
All other copyrights are that of their owners and I stake no claims to
Contact me at JPCohen@rvv.com.