My Day

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My Day

19 August 1948

Hyde Park, Wednesday—August 25th will be an interesting day when Mr. Alger Hiss and Mr. Whittaker Chambers meet.15 Both of them may have changed somewhat since the spy-ring days when Mr. Chambers says he knew Mr. Hiss so well and went to his house so often. It seems to me that the committee must begin to see how funny this whole situation is when they sit in secret sessions for several hours with each man and then have to say that "from the testimony, it is impossible to tell which one is telling the truth".

I have begun to wonder what the point of all this is. The self-confessed people who worked for the Soviet government during the war are now known. They have accused a number of others as being people who worked with them either consciously or unconsciously. It is well, of course, to find out whether people have been spies because they might be spies again, but it would seem that the FBI is the proper agency to find that out. I wonder if all this extra-curricular Congressional activity isn't making it more difficult for the FBI to do its job well.16 The only thing that really seems important to me at the present time is to know first, whether those who confessed they were once spies for the Russians are trustworthy today or not. Second, if they actually have proof that certain people now in or out of government positions, are untrustworthy. That should be checked, since it is well to know just where they stand. The best people to do this would be the FBI.17

The third important thing to know is whether the Soviet government is continuing to try to use Russians in this country, in one capacity or another, for work which is not described in their passports. Next, whether they are still organizing a group of American citizens in or out of the government to keep them informed of things which they want to know.

I am sure that both Mr. Hiss and Mr. Laughlin Currie are about as far from being Communists as is possible—and that they can fight their own battles.18 I can't help wondering, however, whether the gentlemen on the Congressional investigating committee who sneered at Mr. White because he said he had had a heart attack and asked for a few minutes rest in a private note, are not feeling just a trifle uncomfortable since Mr. White died yesterday of a heart attack.19


1. Lauchlin Currie (1902–1993), Canadian born and Harvard trained, became an American citizen in 1934, and then joined the "freshman brain trust" at the US Treasury Department. Working closely with Jacob Viner and Marriner Eccles, Currie outlined an "ideal" monetary system for the nation's weakened banking system and followed Eccles, as his personal assistant, when Eccles joined the Federal Reserve Board. While at the Fed, Currie drafted the Banking Act of 1935 and demonstrated the "strategic role" fiscal policy played in "complementing monetary policy" to revive an acute, depressed economy. In 1937, he convinced FDR, after a four-hour meeting, that the president's budget balancing had hurt rather than restored the economy. Two years later, FDR tapped Currie to serve as White House economist, where he helped direct taxation, social security, and production policy. During wartime, FDR asked Currie to speed up the Flying Tigers program in China, mediate relations between Chiang Kai-Shek and Joseph Stilwell, administer the Foreign Economic Administration, and lead the mission charged with freezing Nazi accounts in Swiss banks. Currie resigned from federal service upon FDR's death. Despite being blamed for "losing" China and his 1948 appearance before HUAC, in 1949 the World Bank selected Currie to conduct its first comprehensive study of a country. After his report on Colombia was released, the Colombian government requested that he return and implement his suggestions. In 1952, he returned to the United States to testify before the grand jury investigating Owen Lattimore's role in releasing state documents to Amerasia magazine. However, his 1954 request to renew his passport was denied, in theory, because he now lived abroad. After years of advising Colombian presidents, he received Colombian citizenship and continued to work as the chief economist for Colombia's National Planning Department and the Colombian Institute of Savings and Housing (ANB).

2. Harry Dexter White (1892–1948), an economist and international monetary policy expert, worked in FDR's Treasury Department beginning in 1934, rising to the rank of assistant secretary in 1945. White was instrumental in establishing the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1944, and aided Henry Morgenthau in crafting the "Morgenthau Plan" for managing postwar Germany. In November 1945, just as Truman was about to nominate White as executive director of the IMF, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover informed the president that White was under suspicion for Soviet espionage. Nevertheless, Truman went forward with White's nomination, and White served as IMF director for a year before resigning and entering private practice.

The espionage charge did not arise again until Bentley's testimony before HUAC on July 31, 1948. In testimony three days later, Chambers told HUAC that he thought White a "fellow-traveler" but never intimated that he thought White a spy. White, still in frail health from a severe heart attack the previous year, demanded to rebut the charges. August 13, he told the committee that:

I am not now and never have been a Communist, nor even close to becoming one; that I cannot recollect ever knowing either Miss Bentley or a Mr. Whittaker Chambers, nor juding from the pictures I have seen in the press, have I ever met them.

The Press reported that the witnesses claimed I helped to obtain key posts for persons I knew were engaged in espionage work to help them in that work. That allegation is unqualifiedly false. There is and can be no basis in fact whatsover for such a charge….

My creed is the American creed. I believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of criticism and freedom of movement. I believe in the goal of equality of opportunity, and the right of each individual to an opportunity to develop his or her capacity to the fullest.

I believe in the right and duty of every citizen to work for, to expect and to obtain an increasing measure of political, economic and emotional security for all. I am opposed to discrimination in any form, whether on grounds of race, color, religions, political belief or economic status. I believe in the freedom of choice of one's representatives in Government, untrammeled by machine guns, secret police or a police state. I am opposed to arbitrary and unwarranted use of power or authority from whatever source or against any individual or group.

I believe in a government of law, not of men, where law is above any man and not any man above the law….

I consider these principles sacred …

… I am ready for any questions you may wish to ask.

The statement, printed verbatim in newspapers across the country, drew strong public support to White.

White left the hearing, after going head-to-head with Representative Richard Nixon (R-CA). Three days after his testimony, White suffered another severe heart attack and died August 18 at his New Hampshire summer home. November 14, almost three months after White's death, Chambers claimed that like Hiss, White had passed along classified information (Rees, 410-18; "Harry Dexter White, Accused in Spy Inquiry, Dies at 56," WP, 18 August 1948, 1; Donovan, 173-75).

3. Joseph A. Loftus, "Currie Accused of Helping Spies; A Roosevelt Aide," NYT, 1 August 1948, 1.

4. ER repeated this theme in her August 16 column, writing,

I disapprove very much of the way in which these legislative committees work. Smearing good people like Laughlin Currie, Alger Hiss and others is, I think, unforgivable. Though we are told they have every opportunity to clear themselves, the fact that they have been smeared cannot be erased. Anyone knowing either Mr. Currie or Mr. Hiss, who are the two people whom I happen to know fairly well, would not need any denial on their part to know they are not Communists. Their records prove it.

On Alger Hiss, see Document 372 (MD, 3 and 16 August 1948).

5. "Due Process in Washington," NYT, 4 August 1948, 20; MD, 6 August 1948.

6. The National Security Agency's decades-long effort to decipher messages from KGB stations in the United States to Moscow, known as the Venona Project, revealed that many subjects of HUAC interrogation did, in fact, have associations with Soviet agents. The FBI and the congressional committees investigating Communist activity in the United States could not, however, use the Venona decryptions as evidence, lest the KGB discover its code had been cracked. The Venona documents that mention Currie do not specifically corroborate Bentley's testimony, but do indicate that Currie had handed over sensitive US documents directly to KGB agents during World War II, and had had frequent contact with a known spy, Gregory Silvermaster (Joseph A. Loftus, "Currie Accused of Helping Spies; A Roosevelt Aide," NYT, 1 August 1948, 1; C. P. Trussell, "Currie and White Deny Under Oath They Aided Spies," NYT, 14 August 1948, 1; "Lauchlin Currie, 91; New Deal Economist Was Roosevelt Aide," NYT, 30 December 1993, B6; Reeves, 211; Schrecker, 172-73; Haynes and Klehr, 6, 38, 145-50).

7. Elizabeth T. Bentley (1908–1963), a former member of the American Communist Party, confessed to the FBI in 1945 that she spied for the Soviet Union during World War II. Beginning in August 1948, she testified before HUAC, eventually naming thirty-seven former or current government employees as co-conspirators in her espionage activities. Bentley testified on July 31, 1948, that Lauchlin Currie was part of the "Silvermaster group"—a network of informants centered around the spy Gregory Silvermaster, whom Bentley had recruited. Bentley also stated that Currie had "furnished inside information on this Government's attitude toward China, toward other governments. He once relayed to us the information that the American Government was on the verge of breaking the Soviet code …" ("Elizabeth Bentley Is Dead at 55; Soviet Spy Later Aided US," NYT, 4 December 1963, 47; House Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government, 80th Cong., 2nd sess., 1948, 519-20; Schrecker, 172; Haynes and Klehr, 129-30).

8. Representative Karl Mundt of South Dakota, a member of the Thomas committee, in questioning Currie about his knowledge of Silvermaster's Communist affiliations, described Currie "as a high Government official, as a man in whose Americanism I believe." Before getting this assurance from Mundt, the two men had the following exchange:

Mr. Mundt. You would not be able to testify under oath of your own knowledge that you had never unintentionally recommended a man who did have a Communist affiliation because you assumed that if they were in the Government they were loyal?

Mr. Currie. That is right.

Mr. Mundt. You would not be able to testify under oath that you had never recommended somebody who did turn out to be a Communist or who was a Communist using your good name?

Mr. Currie. No. All I could testify to under oath is that I never wittingly recommended anybody who was a Communist.

Mr. Mundt. I think a lot of Americans have been under the same illusions that if a person has a job in the Federal Government that he is loyal. We all know now to our chagrin and regret that it is not true, that no test of loyalty, no check on membership in the Communist Party is made of an employee very frequently before he secures his position … (House Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government, 80th Cong., 2nd sess., 1948, 863-64).

9. At the start of his August 13, 1948, HUAC testimony, Currie read a statement giving his personal background, his professional history, and his relationship to Gregory Silvermaster and another American spy, Abraham George Silverman. In response to Bentley's accusations, Currie stated:

… I emphatically deny that I ever knew, believed, or suspected that any statement of mine was repeated to any person acting under cover for the Soviet Government or any foreign government. I have never lent, and would never lend, myself to such disloyal action. I have frequently met and carried on negotiations with accredited representatives of foreign governments, including the Soviet, in the discharge of my official duties, and in all such have been concerned only with the interests of the United States. Among the thousands of loyal Americans who have been my colleagues during my 11 years of Government service, I challenge anyone to find one person who ever doubted my loyalty to this country (House Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government, 80th Cong., 2nd sess., 1948, 855).

10. Alger Hiss (1904–1996), a Harvard-educated attorney who would be convicted of perjury relating to this exchange in 1950, joined the Roosevelt administration in 1933, rising quickly with-in its ranks. By 1936, Hiss left the Justice Department for the State Department, where he served as a key aide to Assistant Secretary of State Sayre and helped develop FDR's Asian and international economics policies. By 1944, as part of the Office of Political Affairs, Hiss worked alongside secretaries Acheson and Stettinius and played a key role in organizing the Dumbarton Oaks Conference. In 1945, he traveled to Yalta with FDR and Stettinius and served as secretary-general of and principal advisor to the American delegation to the UN organizing conference in San Francisco. In November, Attorney General Clark approved the FBI's request to "install technical surveillance." By March 1946, FBI Director Hoover had told Truman, Byrnes, and Clark that he considered Hiss a Soviet operative. Byrnes then ordered that Hiss not be considered for any "responsible duties" and that the department should determine if Hiss could be "dismissed summarily under Civil Service regulations." Hoover cautioned against a hearing, arguing that the evidence was too inconclusive and, with the strong support of Acheson and others within the department, could lead to Hiss's effective rebuttal of the charges against him. In early January 1946, Hiss, who thought he had deflected the suspicions leveled against him by his colleagues in the department, quickly discounted Dulles's offer to place his name before the Carnegie Endowment. When Dulles asked again, Hiss again refused, thinking that it might "look as though I was leaving under fire." However, by November, he wanted to leave the department and asked Acheson to see whether he "would no longer be in the position of resigning under fire." Acheson told him to take the job. Hiss resigned effective January 15, 1947, and two weeks later, he began working for the endowment (Weinstein, 316-29).

11. C. F Trussell, "Red 'Underground' in Federal Posts Alleged by Editor," NYT, 4 August 1948, 1.

12. "Never Saw Him, House Probers Told; Time Editor May Be Called Back," WP, 6 August 1948, 1.

13. MD, 16 August 1948.

14. MD, 8 October 1948.

15. Both Chambers and Hiss were scheduled to testify before the Thomas committee on August 25. But on August 17, the day before ER wrote this column, Hiss met again with members of the committee, this time in New York, to discuss his relationship with Chambers. At this meeting, which was not a formal hearing with sworn testimony, Hiss admitted that he had known Chambers under the pseudonym "George Crosley." According to newspaper reports, Chambers also attended this August 17 meeting, making this, and not the scheduled August 25 hearing as ER suggested here, the two men's first confrontation with each other since Chambers's August 3 accusation (C. P. Trussell, "Alger Hiss Admits Knowing Chambers; Meet Face to Face," NYT, 18 August 1948, 1; Edward F. Ryan, "Hiss Confronts Chambers on Stand Today," WP, 25 August 1948, 1).

16. After FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reviewed this My Day, which the Washington Daily News published under the headline "Isn't Spy Ring Inquiry Really a Job for the FBI?" (the Bureau regularly circulated the column among its directorate), he noted in the margin: "Well, well, I am amazed at her confidence in the FBI!!!" (FBI 62-62-735-26, FOIA, Eleanor Roosevelt).

17. Like Lauchlin Currie, Hiss also had some covert contact with Soviet officials and KGB agents, as revealed in decrypted Soviet spy communications, which were made public in 1995 (see n6 above). Code-named "Ales" by the KGB, Hiss was revealed in these messages to have been trying to obtain military and diplomatic information to pass on to the Soviets, and to have been associated with another group of American spies. These messages, like other Venona Project decryptions, were not presented as evidence during the Hiss case before HUAC, though they corroborated some of Chambers's allegations (Weinstein, 319-29, 419-46, 486-513; Haynes and Klehr, 170-73).

18. For ER's defense of Lauchlin Currie, see header Document 371. As the Hiss trial took place outside the time frame of this volume, documents related to it will appear in Volume 2. The case continued to fluster ER. "I have never been able to make up my mind as to what my opinion of Alger Hiss really was," she wrote in 1956.

Therefore, neither time nor events have changed a decision which I have never been able to make. I have always been convinced that he did not tell the complete truth in his testimony during his trial but what was the truth and what the motives that underlay everything he did I have never been able to decide. When I am unable to make up my mind I prefer not to render any judgment. Once the courts have decided one has to accept their verdict, but above all courts there is always the final decision which each man knows he must face alone with his God. Why should we mortals who can't pretend to be all knowing render judgments when we ourselves are in need of mercy, and so from the beginning I have preferred to make no judgment in this case (IYAM, LHJ March 1956).

19. Harry Dexter White (see n1 Document 371) died on August 16, at his summer home in New Hampshire. He had testified before HUAC on August 13. As with Currie and Hiss, White's name came up in Soviet spy messages as a source of intelligence. During World War II, White had provided the KGB with intelligence on US policy toward Poland and the Baltic states. At the San Francisco Conference in 1945, he again communicated with Soviet agents about American negotiation strategy ("Harry Dexter White, Accused In Spy Inquiry, Dies at 56," WP, 18 August 1948, 1; Haynes and Klehr, 140-42).

Advising the Democratic National Committee

August 13, Truman called to summon ER to Washington for a two-hour meeting the following Wednesday to discuss the forthcoming General Assembly in Paris. ER, who thought this sudden request burdensome, nevertheless agreed. However, malfunctioning aircraft delayed her arrival, thus truncating her scheduled conversation with the president (see header Document 379).1 Despite their shortened meeting, however, ER and the president made time to discuss Democratic strategy for the 1948 presidential campaign. The following day, ER sent Truman a note, offering her views on how the Democratic National Committee should seize upon mistakes made by Republican leaders in the campaign.

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