For my write-up today on The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, I’ll use as my starting point something that Irwin Gellman says on page 266. The context was a debate that Richard Nixon had on television about the merit of the “government loyalty oath program” (Gellman’s words), as Nixon and William Rogers defended it. Their opponents, however, held that it should be abolished, and they cited examples of abuse. “To use one glaring example,” Gellman narrates in describing their argument, “HUAC had egregiously attacked Condon on J. Parnell Thomas’s whim, demonstrating how easily someone could direct the program against liberals.”
J. Parnell Thomas has come up a lot in my reading thus far of Gellman’s book. Thomas was a Republican representative from New Jersey, and he was the chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities from 1947-1948. The “Condon” mentioned above was Edward Condon, a “scientist whom Parnell Thomas tried to link to Communist espionage” (page 554).
Thomas was at odds with Clandon since the end of World War II, as Condon (who had worked for the Manhattan Project) supported civilian control of atomic energy and the atomic-bomb program, whereas Thomas (who was on the House Military Affairs Committee) thought that they should be controlled by a “joint military-civilian board with the armed forces holding a majority” (Gellman’s words on page 158). Thomas feared that a civilian commission, of the sort that Condon advocated, would be “packed with leftists” (page 158).
In 1947, after Condon became the director of the National Bureau of Standards, the Commerce Department, in carrying out a loyalty check, asked for an FBI report about Condon. Thomas then used HUAC in an attempt to bring down Condon, and the group Condon was connected with (the American-Soviet Science Society) got confused with another group in the course of HUAC’s inquiry. Moreover, Thomas was in and out of the hospital due to gastro-intestinal problems, and Gellman says on page 158 that Thomas chaired secret HUAC sessions about Condon “dressed in bathrobe and pajamas”. After the sessions, HUAC released a report calling Condon “one of the weakest links in our atomic security” (the report’s words), without even hearing Condon’s testimony.
Nixon’s role was that he called for a hearing in which Condon could defend himself, affirming Morris Ernst’s statement that “Even Adam and Eve got a hearing before they were thrown out of the Garden”. And Nixon wanted for the Secretary of Commerce, Averell Harriman, to release a letter from J. Edgar Hoover about Condon, supposedly alleging that Condon was a security risk, but President Harry Truman refused to allow the letter to be released, even though the House voted 399-29 in favor of a resolution calling on the Administration to release it. Nixon’s mother, Hannah, watched her son debate the resolution from the House gallery. Nixon’s stance fits Gellman’s portrayal of Nixon as a voice of moderation on HUAC, one who was concerned about fairness and the facts.
In terms of what happened to J. Parnell Thomas, Thomas got into trouble because he allegedly “padded his staff’s payrolls, placed his wife’s aunt on county relief, kept two soldiers from the fighting fronts during the war, and attempted to defraud an insurance company” (page 259). Interestingly, before the federal grand jury, Thomas pleaded the Fifth Amendment! Thomas was indicted and went to jail. According to this wikipedia article, President Truman pardoned Thomas in 1952. Thomas tried to re-enter politics, but he was unsuccessful.