On pages 411-412 of Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, Roger Morris talks about the role of William Rogers in the Alger Hiss case. This particular William Rogers is not the comic from the 1930’s, but someone else. This William Rogers was in the navy with Richard Nixon, but they were only passing acquaintances there. Rogers served under District Attorney Thomas Dewey in New York City, the same Tom Dewey who would be the Republican candidate for President in 1944 and 1948. In 1947, due to Dewey’s influence, Rogers served as counsel for Senator Homer Ferguson’s sub-committee, which dealt with war profiteering and Communist espionage. Morris says that Rogers in that capacity “gave the Dewey campaign ready access to the subcommittee’s political tinder.” Rogers would later be President Dwight Eisenhower’s Attorney General, and President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State.
Morris states regarding Rogers: “From behind the smile and reassuring good looks emerged no conviction or intelligence unsettling to superiors.” According to Morris, Rogers provided encouragement to Nixon when Nixon had doubts about whether or not Whittaker Chambers, the ex-Communist who was accusing Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy, was telling the truth. Morris goes on to say: “It was the start of a long, significant, sometimes simple, sometimes tortuous relationship between the two men, the brooding and uncertain Nixon ever more dependent on his attractive, easygoing friend, turning to him at moments of crisis and needed companionship, and in the end inflicting a strange but historic punishment.” This “strange and historic punishment” was probably President Richard Nixon’s concealment of his rapprochement with China from Secretary of State Rogers.
What I get out of Morris is that either Rogers was not particularly bright, or Rogers did not come across to his superiors as bright enough to be threatening to them. In reading what Morris says about Rogers, however, I have a hard time believing that Rogers was a dunce. Rogers, after all, graduated fifth in his class (out of a class of ninety) at Cornell Law School, and he was able to charm his way into jobs and influence, which I think takes intelligence (perhaps because it’s difficult for me). Rogers said to Thomas Dewey: “I’ll never have to prove I’m able or honest, because people know you only hire able and honest people.” Smooth!
But what I get is that some may have thought that Rogers had lots of charm but little substance. And, while that could endear Rogers to many people, it could also turn people against him. Henry Kissinger, for example, could not stand Rogers (from what I have read about Kissinger), for he didn’t think that Rogers was particularly intelligent. Part of Kissinger’s animus may have been due to his own desire to influence the Nixon Administration’s foreign policy: Kissinger wanted the power and did not want to share it with Rogers. But Kissinger also thought that Rogers was shallow.
In reading about Rogers, I’d say he was pretty intelligent. I have read every now and then about advice that he gave to Nixon, and it sounded pretty reasonable to me. But I often wonder how intelligence is defined these days. When I was in elementary, junior high, and high school, one was considered smart if one made good grades. In the world of adulthood, however, people are judged more harshly—-according to how quick they are in thinking, the quality of their insights, their ability to articulate, common sense, how much they know, and the list goes on. Intelligence is valued in the world, and yet it can also be threatening. But Rogers was able to give the impression to his superiors that he was not threatening.