July 10, 2006

"I use the expression as the highest measure of praise"

I can't forbear to quote a bit more from Witness. It's spooky how similar things are now to what they were then, in 1949....

...These were the forces—Thomas Murphy, Richard Nixon,** the men of the F.B.I.—who together with the two grand juries and Tom Donegan and the two trial juries, finally won the Hiss case for the nation. It is important to look hard at them for a moment, and this book would not be complete without such a glance. For the contrast between them and the glittering Hiss forces is about the same as between the glittering French chivalry and the somewhat tattered English bowmen who won at Agincourt. The inclusive fact about them is that, in contrast to the pro-Hiss rally, most of them, regardless of what they had made of themselves, came from the wrong side of the railroad tracks. I use the expression as the highest measure of praise, as Lincoln noted that God must love the common people; He made so many of them. For, in America, most of us begin on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. The meaning of America, what made it the wonder of history and the hope of mankind, was that we were free not to stay on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. If within us there was something that empowered us to grow, we were free to grow and go where we could. Only we were not free ever to forget, ever to despise our origins...[Emphasis added]

No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them, It was, not invariably, but in general, the "best people" who were for Alger Hiss, and were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him...

...It was the great body of the nation, which, not invariably, but in general, kept open its mind about the Hiss Case, waiting for the returns to come in. It was they who suspected what forces disastrous to the nation were at work....

Oh, by the way, the asterisk after the name Nixon is in the original. Here's the footnote it references. Yet a bit more stuff you won't find in your history book...

**Senator Nixon's role did not end with his dash back to the United States to rally the House Committee when the microfilm was in its hands. His testimony before the grand jury that indicted Alger Hiss is a significant part of the Hiss Case. Throughout the most trying phases of the Case, Nixon and his family, and sometimes his parents, were at our farm, encouraging me and comforting my family. My children have caught him lovingly in a nickname. To them he is always "Nixie," the kind and the good, about whom they will tolerate no nonsense. His somewhat martial Quakerism sometimes amused and always heartened me. I have a vivid picture of him, in the blackest hour of the Hiss Case, standing by the barn and saying in his quietly savage way (he is the kindest of men): "If the American people understood the real character of Alger Hiss, they would boil him in oil."
Posted by John Weidner at July 10, 2006 3:03 PM
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