Harper & Brothers
Publishers Since 1817 chairman of the
editorial board 49 east 33d st., new york 16,
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
As you know,
Senator Kennedy was queried by the press2 about your reference to him in the Saturday Evening Post articles. Herewith is the passage in question. In the book manuscript3 the same statement
Now, in view of further information regarding Kennedy's position about McCarthy and civil liberties,4 you may wish to change your statement somewhat5 or add a footnote. I don't
mean to suggest that you should do either and am merely bringing the further information to your attention.
I enclose a transcript of excerpts from Senator Kennedy's CBS-TV broadcast of "Face the Nation" (March 30, 1958) which throws some light on Kennedy's position. After seeing this, Joe Morris6 wrote a suggested footnote, also enclosed, which, frankly,7 seems to me to increase the emphasis of your statement. This may be what you want to do, but as I think you will wish to give the matter careful consideration, I am writing you in some detail.
There are further facts about Kennedy which had not been brought to Morris' attention when he wrote the suggested footnote:
1) When McCarthy was attempting to have his (dubious) friend Robert E. Lee8 appointed to the FCC9 Kennedy fought him successfully on the issue.
2) When the Government Operations Committee,10 of which McCarthy and Kennedy were members, attempted on motion of the former to move for a contempt citation against Corliss Lamont, Kennedy opposed the motion. Kennedy won out on this in the end in that although a lower court supported the citation, a higher court held it invalid.
3) The McCarthy forces proposed a bill in the Senate11 that would have had an effect of requiring witnesses at senatorial committee hearings to testify without the protection of the Fifth Amendment.12 Kennedy opposed the bill, which was killed.
I would appreciate your letting me know -- as soon as you can, because we are ready to put the book in galleys and the galleys are quite widely distributed -- what you decide in connection with the above. Let me repeat that we do not wish to try to influence you in any way and are just presenting the facts as we know them.
I am sending a copy of this letter to Joe Morris but, except for him, no one outside of this office will be advised in any way about this correspondence.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt 211
East 62nd Street New York, New York
[cc: Mr. Morris]
[P.S. The "Face the
Nation" transcript comes to me from one of my associates who worked with
Kennedy on his books. My associate is something of a Kennedy admirer but in no
sense authorized to represent the Senator.]
1. ER scrawled "I will dictate footnote" across the top right corner of this letter.
2. JFK appeared on "Face the Nation" March 30, 1958, and was asked by a panelist to comment on ER's critical appraisal of him published in the March 8th Saturday Evening Post in which ER questioned his tepid rebuke of McCarthy. This article was merely the latest in a series of ER's public and private criticisms of JFK.
3. ER had recently completed the third volume of her memoirs, On My Own. Harper & Brothers, her publisher, had sold serialization rights to the Saturday Evening Post, which published the final installment under the title "Of Stevenson, Truman and Me." Underneath the title, the magazine ran the following summary in order to attract readers: "Mrs. Roosevelt tells about her disagreement with the former President, and about the unheeded advice she gave Adlai Stevenson. As for the current front runner, young Senator Kennedy, she takes a dim view of him." [Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own: The Years Since the White House (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), pp. 163-164; "Of Stevenson, Truman and Me," Saturday Evening Post, no. 230 (March 8, 1958), pp. 32-33, 73-75.]
4. JFK's congressional record on civil liberties and, later, McCarthy is mixed. A fierce cold warrior, he supported the McCarran act and its requirement that communists and communist front organizations register with the justice department. ER opposed it and Truman vetoed it. He endorsed the Mundt-Nixon bill, which Truman and ER also opposed, even though he was not present in the House when it was passed. He voted to continue the House Committee on Un-American Activities. As a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, his cross examination of his former professor Russ Nixon and local UAW leader Harold Christoffel underscored his conviction that communists wielded undue influence in the American labor movement. His dismay when Christoffel's perjury conviction was overturned on constitutional issues ("what a travesty"), in turn, dismayed liberals. Although he had supported loyalty oaths for government employees as a senator, he voted against requiring teachers to swear allegiance. He liked McCarthy as a person (McCarthy and JFK caroused together and the Wisconsin senator even dated his sister Pat for a short while) and agreed with his claim that communists were influencing the state department and weakening American foreign policy. In February 1952, when an after-dinner speaker remarked during the centenary celebration of Harvard's Spee Club that they should rejoice because Harvard College did not produce either Alger Hiss or McCarthy, JFK erupted, shouting "How dare you couple the name of a great American with that of a traitor?" Yet, eight months later, he wrote the American Civil Liberties Union that he lamented the "excesses" being used to cross-examine congressional witnesses. While he often told close friends that he had serious ethical concerns about an ex post facto condemnation of McCarthy, he later admitted to Ted Sorensen "that perhaps we were not as sensitive on this issue as some and should have acted earlier." [Herbert Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of Jack Kennedy (New York: Dial Press, 1980), pp. 163-252, 288-311.]
5. ER added the following footnote to the passage in On My Own discussing her disapproval of JFK's position on McCarthy:
In 1958 after I had written about the above question in one of my articles in the Saturday Evening Post I began to be visited by a number of people who told me that the Senator felt I had misquoted him or incorrectly understood his position. I certainly had not intended to misquote him and I usually understand people and at least am able to gather what they mean, but in this case I may well have misunderstood the Senator. He has recently said that he had made statements upholding the vote of the Senate but this is not exactly what I think is called for. I believe that a public servant must clearly indicate that he understands the harm that McCarthy did to our country and that he opposes it actively, so that one would feel sure he would always do so in the future. This is, however, of minor importance as what I have said is purely a record of the past which the Senator himself can correct. [Roosevelt, On My Own, p. 164.]
6. Joe Morris was an editor at Harper & Brothers, publisher of ER's autobiography.
8. Robert E. Lee was a former FBI agent who was retained by the House Appropriations Committee in the late 1940s to investigate allegations of subversive activity at the state department. He was responsible for compiling the infamous "Lee List," names of communists who, he claimed, were working in the state department. In a speech delivered in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) used the Lee List as a basis for his announcement that the state department was riddled with communists. Although the charges proved to be groundless, the result was widespread fear about "fifth columnists" in the federal government. [David M. Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (New York: The Free Press, 1983), pp. 110, 116, 120.]
9. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency, created by Congress in 1934, authorized to regulate "interstate and international communication by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable." FCC guidelines and regulations are legally enforceable and apply to all fifty states, Washington, D.C., and all U.S. territories and protectorates. With support from McCarthy and other congressional allies, Lee, who had served as Director of Surveys and Investigations for the House Appropriations Committee, secured an appointment to the FCC and served as an FCC commissioner until 1981. What Canfield meant when he said Kennedy "successfully" blocked Lee's appointment is unclear. [Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), pp. 561-562; Veronica D. DiConti, "Federal Communications Commission," in A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government, George T. Kurian, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 228-232.]
10. In 1952, the 82nd Congress, as part of its effort to give Congress greater control over legislative business and streamline its management procedures, renamed the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments the Committee on Government Operations. Congress gave the committee a sweeping mandate; however, as Richard Rovere states, "it was the understanding of the Senate," which had overseen the committee's organization, that it was "to be primarily concerned with the hard, dry, substantive questions of administrative finance, procedure, and efficiency – and of legislative proposals to improve the performance of executive agencies." McCarthy became chair of the committee at the start of the 83rd Congress and appointed himself chair of the committee's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the position he used to orchestrate his investigations of alleged communist infiltration of the federal government. The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 removed the budget functions from the Committee and established the Senate Budget Committee. In 1977, Congress again reorganized its committee structure and merged the operations committee, the Committee on the Post Office and Civil Service, and the Committee on the District of Columbia to form the Committee on Government Affairs. [Richard Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 99, 185, 191; National Archives and Records Administration, "Chapter 11. Records of the Committee on Government Operations, 1952-68," in "Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate at the National Archives" Internet on-line. Available From http://www.archives.gov/records_of_congress/senate_guide/chapter_11.html.]
11. This is probably apocryphal. A search of the Congressional Record from 1950-1954 as well as the major studies of Kennedy and McCarthy's voting records produced no such bill. Ironically, the Fifth Amendment quickly became McCarthy's weapon of choice when interrogating witnesses appearing before his subcommittee. He argued, successfully in many cases, that "taking the Fifth" was tantamount to confessing to the crime he alleged the witness committed.
12. Part of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution guarantees that no person can be compelled to testify against himself/herself in a criminal court "nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law," that no person can be tried twice for the same crime, and that no "private property be taken for public use without just compensation." [U.S. Constitution, amend. 5.]
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project
of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based
on unpublished letters. .