Richard Nixon’s First Brush With Fame In Alger Hiss Case, Career Highlights

Alger Hiss who was convicted of perjury in 1950 after a House Un-American Activites committee which included Richard Nixon sent the case to a grand jury and eventually led to his conviction.

Richard Nixon was a first term Republican congressman, from California, when he was appointed a member of subcommittee of three to investigate the Alger Hiss case. Nixon, Edward Hebert of Louisiana and John McDowell from Pennsylvania were given the job to determine whether Whittaker Chambers or Alger Hiss were giving truthful testimony.

They found enough evidence to bring the Hiss case to a grand jury, even though FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had told them, he was told to not cooperate with the committee. The committee  investigators unearthed enough evidence, to bring the case to the grand jury.

Alger Hiss had advanced into a high position in the U.S. government, serving as an assistant to Secretary of State Edward Stettinus. Hiss accompanied Stettinus,to the Yalta Conference in February of 1945. The purpose of the conference ,was for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, to plan the defeat of Adolf Hitler, which came a couple of months after the conference.

Hiss would later be found to have given intelligence to the Russians as early as the 1930’s. The fact that reached such a high standing, in the American government is troubling. It was alarming at the support he received from top government officials during his trials.

Chambers would produce five rolls of micro-film, which would become known as the “Pumpkin Papers”, since Chambers had hidden them inside a pumpkin.

This website has extensive information about the Pumpkin Papers:

Grand Jury Indictment, Two Trials

A grand jury indicted Hiss on two perjury charges, but he wasn’t charged with espionage, because of the statute of limitations. Hiss then went to trial on May 31, 1949 and ended in a hung jury on July 7 of the same year.

The case against Hiss seemed to take a turn for the worse, when the key government witness, Chambers admitted he had given false testimony in the past. Hiss had friends in high places, in President Harry Truman, who called the trial a “red herring” and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who thought Hiss was innocent.

The second trial which started on May 17, 1949 ended on November 17, 1949 and it ended on January 21, 1950.

Typewriter Key Evidence

The key evidence against Hiss was that experts identified his typewriter, as the one which had been used to type stolen documents, then the top-secret papers were given to the Russians. Hess claimed until he died, that he had been framed and that the government, had committed forgery with his typewriter, to make it appear the documents, had been typed on his Woodstock typewriter.

Hiss Receives Five Year Sentence

Alger Hiss was convicted of two counts and sentenced to five years in prison, on January 25, 1960, on two perjury counts. He would be released 44 months later on November 27, 1954.  Ironically, Hiss would be allowed to practice law in Massachusetts d on August 5, 1975. Hiss died on November 15, 1996 in New York City, claiming his innocence to the end.

Richard Nixon handout from his first Congressional election in 1946 in California which he won.

Nixon Rises to National Prominence

Richard Nixon made the most, of his first national exposure and would be elected a U.S. Senator from California in 1950. Two years later in 1952 he would be chosen to be the vice presidential candidate in the 1952 presidential election in which Dwight D. Eisenhower would become the first Republican president, since Herbert Hoover left office in 1929. Nixon would serve as vice president until 1961.

Checkers Speech

Nixon would make the headlines many times in the future. Nobody who was around back then, can forget his “Checkers” speech, when he addressed questions about his campaign finances.

Nixon Attacked in Peru, Venezuela

He would make news again when he confronted anti-American demonstrators in Peru, then his limousine would be attacked in Caracas, Venezuela, with both events in 1958.

Kitchen Debate With Khrushchev

Who can forget Nixon’s famous “Kitchen Debate” with Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, over the merits of capitalism and communism in 1959?

Lost 1960 Presidential Election

Nixon would win the Republican nomination. in 1960, but after a poor performance in the first presidential debate, would lose the presidential election, to John F. Kennedy by a slim 120,000 votes.

Loses By 300,000 Votes in California Governor Race

Many wrote the obituary for Nixon’s political career, when he lost to Gov. Pat Brown in the 1962 gubernatorial race, by a margin of 300,000 votes.

Rises From the Ashes in 1968

After his loss in California, Nixon practiced law and supported 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, then supported 1966 congressional candidates. He was nominated to be the 1968 Republican candidate, while Senator Hubert H. Humphrey was nominated by the Democrats, at a tumultuous convention, in Chicago due to demonstrations, by anti-Vietnam war protesters in the streets of Chicago. Nixon wins by a half million votes over Humphrey.

Wins Overwhelming Victory in 1972

Nixon would win every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, in an overwhelming victory over Democratic candidate George McGovern.

President Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, Pat Nixon and former President Richard Nixon walk toward helicopter, that would leave with them for the last time on August 9, 1974 after his resignation.

Watergate Ends His Political Career

Five men broke into the Democratic National Convention offices, in the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972. There was no reason for the break-in as Nixon won the 1972 presidential election easily.

Nixon would use every political trick imaginable to cover up, White House involvement with the cover-up of the break-in. Nixon’s tactic was to deny, deny and deny some more, that the White House was involved. His own taping system in the White House came back to haunt him. We will never forget his famous “I Am Not A Crook” speech, but eventually admitted he was a crook by leaving office in disgrace, becoming the first president to resign from office. We can only imagine, what Nixon and his wife were feeling as the helicopter, left the White House grounds, for the last time.



Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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