In His Own Words
Interviews With Alger Hiss and His Own Writings
This section of the website gathers articles and letters and the draft chapter of a book by Alger Hiss, along with interviews he gave, both on the air and as part of oral history collections:
Between 1951 and 1954, Alger Hiss poured forth many of his deepest reflections on life, literature, art, politics, nature, human nature, and the state of the world in the hundreds of letters he wrote home from prison to his wife and young son. Extracts from dozens of these previously unpublished letters, which also include the games, puzzles, and stories he created for his son, form the core of The View from Alger’s Window, Tony Hiss’s 1999 memoir about his father. One of those letters can be read here.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hiss had begun working on a history of the New Deal. The book was never completed, but among his notes was a remarkable essay on his own political journey that was intended to serve as the book’s introduction. This “Liberal Manifesto” is of major historical importance because it does more than tell Hiss’s personal story; in a larger sense it speaks for a whole generation of Americans who joined or supported the New Deal and its values.
In a wide-ranging 1974 interview with James Day for the public television series “Day At Night,” Alger Hiss spoke about Whittaker Chambers’ character and about his own childhood; about his religion, his idealism and the lure of the New Deal; and about his time in prison, his undiminished faith in democracy, and the influence of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes,” the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known, and … my candidate for the most extraordinary American.”
In his later years, Hiss often spoke on college campuses across the country about the New Deal and the 1930s, a critical period in both his life and his career. He covered much of the same ground in a 1978 interview with Judah and Alice V. Graubart for their oral history of the 1930s, Decade of Destiny (Contemporary Books).
As one of the last surviving participants in the Yalta Conference and a lightning rod for criticism aimed at FDR’s foreign policies, Hiss made a point of defending the agreements between the U.S. and Russia reached at Yalta in 1945. His article, “Yalta: Modern American Myth,” appeared in The Pocket Book Magazine in 1955. (Hiss was frequently accused of having secretly forged a pro-Soviet policy at Yalta. He had, in fact, argued for a tough anti-Soviet stance, as this 1955 New York Times article indicates; the report was based on Hiss’s notes from the conference, which had then just been made public.)
Ever alert to changes on the world scene, Hiss returned to the topic of Yalta in 1982, warning in a brief article for The Nation (“Two Yalta Myths”) that a new and dangerous Yalta myth had supplanted the original one.
Toward the end of World War II, while still at the State Department, Hiss was intimately involved with the founding of the United Nations. In this 1990 interview, provided courtesy of the United Nations, he discussed the formative events he took part in and the people he knew.
After leaving the State Department to become president of the prestigious Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hiss was still involved in defending the policies of a Democratic president – this time, Harry S Truman. In 1947 he wrote an influential article for The New York Times Sunday Magazine on behalf of the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. Nine months later, Whittaker Chambers made his first public charges that Alger Hiss had been, and perhaps still was, a Communist. Because the Soviets strongly opposed the Marshall plan, this article was presented by the defense at Hiss’s second perjury trial as evidence of his clear anti-communist leanings. Many decades later, the article still provides insight into Hiss’s political thinking and his strong humanitarianism.
In 1980, as tension ran high in America, with the presidential elections playing out over the long-running Iranian hostage crisis, Alger Hiss took a look back at the McCarthy period for Barrister magazine, a publication of the American Bar Association. Hiss examines the roots of witch hunting and addresses the question, “Could it happen again?”
Richard Nixon told his side of the story about the Hiss case in his 1962 autobiography, My Six Crises. Eleven years later, during the Watergate hearings, Alger Hiss responded with “My Six Parallels,” an article for The New York Times op ed page.
Hiss also published two books during the long years following his jail term: In the Court of Public Opinion (Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), a detailed legal review of his case; and Recollections of a Life (Henry Holt and Company, 1988), a candid autobiography touching on both his personal and his public life.