Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nixon and the Alger Hiss Case

This goes with my post from yesterday. I was so interested in Nixon’s involvement with the Hiss case that I did a little further researcher.

Richard Nixon first got national attention as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities when in 1948 they investigated Alger Hiss. Nixon was the one that pushed the investigation forward when it looked like Hiss might be let go. Ralph de Toredano, a Nixon biographer, said:
Nixon realized that once he had committed himself, that if everything collapsed, if Hiss was exonerated or if the charges were not proved to the hilt, he would be badly hurt. Now, I don't think he would have been permanently hurt, but certainly, I think if that had happened, Richard Nixon would never have become a senator and never would have become President of the United States… There was also another factor and which I think is very important and that was a kind of personal animus. Hiss was arrogant on the stand and he rubbed Nixon the wrong way and he snapped at Nixon a couple of times and so on. And it became, I think, also a personal thing for Nixon. He saw that it could be a big issue and his whole temperament made him want to pursue it.

The American Experience biography went to on to say:
He immersed himself in the case with an absorption that was almost frightening," Pat Nixon remembered. When others were ready to drop the case, Nixon and chief investigator Robert Stripling talked them out of it. They were sure Hiss was lying when he claimed not even to have known Chambers and they set out to prove it.

Eventually Whittaker Chambers produced the “pumpkin papers,” that linked Hiss:
The microfilm, thereafter known as "The Pumpkin Papers," provided the evidence and the publicity Nixon needed. Finally, after two controversial trials, Hiss was found guilty of perjury and imprisoned. The Hiss case polarized American opinion about Richard Nixon. To conservatives, he had fearlessly rooted out a dangerous subversive, but in the eyes of many liberals, Nixon had destroyed an honorable man and set the stage for more unscrupulous Communist hunters. But there was no doubt that, at the age of 35, the congressman from Whittier had become a national figure.

You can also read some of Nixon’s comments about the Hiss case from the Nixon Tapes.

Interestingly, David Greenberg gave a paper that compared these men as both very concerned with reputation and both willing to go to great lengths to cover up the past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hiding microfilms implicating Hiss in pumpkins harvested on Halloween strike me as typical of Chambers' wry sense of humor. What do YOU think?
Gabriel Banat