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Lot #8041
Eleanor Roosevelt

The former first lady defends an alleged Communist

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The former first lady defends an alleged Communist

TLS, three pages, 7.25 x 10.25, personal letterhead, August 23, 1954. Letter to Texas Congressman Martin Dies, Jr., who had been the first chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In full: “I am very much interested in your letter. The fact that you have made statements and speeches for years does not make these statements and speeches truthful. As you recount the conversation which Mr. Lash had in answering the questions, I see nothing which makes Mr. Lash a Communist. You say that because he was close to them and agreed with many of their positions he must have been a Communist. I disagree with you. At that period there were many things in the Communist doctrine with which many people agreed. It is the development of Communism under Lenin and Stalin and the ways of carrying out its doctrines which we are today finding obnoxious and difficult to deal with. I am sure Mr. Lash never considered that he admitted he was a Communist and neither did I ever admit that he was a Communist.

I asked you to the luncheon to find out what you thought of Mr. Lash. I did not want him in Naval Intelligence and I don’t think I so specified. I had thought he was material for an officer and not for a private. I doubt whether the Draft Board was interfered with by the White House but they were perhaps told that an effort was being made by Mr. Lash to find out if he could get a commission. What I was really anxious to get across to you and which I now realize never registered, was that the manner in which the investigation was being done by Mr. Matthews was a shocking performance.

You are quite wrong in saying I did not give you the correct evidence about the Student Union. I gave that exactly as it occurred. Of course Joe Lash wanted a clean bill of health and he wanted to get into the navy as an officer. I did not know that he wanted to get into Naval Intelligence. Of course he could not get an officer’s commission without a clean bill of health from your committee. He apologized to you because he thought he had been rather flippant in answering your questions. I remember the circumstances very well. He had been thrown out and no one had been appointed in his place, so he appeared for an organization which he did not wish to see destroyed and yet he was not actually accepted in that organization. It is true that Mr. Lash and many others were in organizations which were Communist controlled and dominated but that did not make people Communists, and I assure you Mr. Lash has never been a Communist. His admission that he believed in the program and doctrines does not make him a Communist.

My memory is not faulty. I remember everything very clearly and I will gladly testify under oath. You have not been challenged before because I do not read your statements and speeches. The only reason I read this one was because I saw it in David Lawrence’s column. My husband is dead and I can’t speak for him but I can easily see how he might, in the light of the day in which you were speaking, have said what you say he said, without meaning what you now imply he meant. It is true there was no hysteria in those days and he may have felt there were a great many liberals who were in sympathy with certain Communist doctrines that he and many others might not have wanted to antagonize. My husband knew what the trends were and the differences between what was developing in the Communist party then and some of the writings and tenets of the Communist party in the past. You seem to forget the change brought about under Lenin and Stalin and the change in attitude that has occurred here in consequence.” Roosevelt makes a few handwritten emendations to the text. In fine condition.

In 1936 Joseph P. Lash served as the first executive secretary of the American Student Union (ASU), a popular front group created from a merger of the Communist Party-sponsored National Student League and its Socialist Party counterpart, the Student League for Industrial Democracy. Impressed with the diligence and idealism of its officers, Eleanor Roosevelt considered the ASU a valuable breeding ground for young leaders that would serve well in future grassroots social reform efforts. In 1939, when the group became the target of investigation by the Special Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities—then chaired by the letter’s recipient—Roosevelt counseled Lash and other ASU members before joining them at the hearing.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Letter Collection
  • Dates: #553 - Ended June 28, 2018

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