Scope and arrangement
The Norman Thomas Papers are an indispensable resource for the study of the Socialist Party leader and perennial political candidate. Thomas' varied interests and wide range of activities are well represented, making this a rich source for the study of the 20th century American political and intellectual history. The papers document his participation in numerous organizations dedicated to political, social, and economic causes including socialism, civil liberties, racial equality, conscientious objection, universal disarmament, the labor movement, and the fight against communism. Thomas worked with nearly all the major figures in these areas, many of whom were his personal friends and long time associates in these movements.
Thomas' voluminous daily correspondence forms the heart of a collection which includes manuscripts, typescripts, and carbon copies of hundreds of his speeches and writings, his extensive subject files of printed material on a wide variety of topics, and papers generated and collected by Thomas during the course of his work for various organizations. The papers also contain records and memorabilia from several testimonial celebrations held in Thomas' honor, scattered financial papers, correspondence and memorabilia of members of his family, photographs, and a small amount of personal ephemera and printed publicity material.
This microfilm edition of the Norman Thomas papers does not include the scrapbooks, press clippings and tape recordings in the collection. These items may be consulted in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library.
Series I, General Correspondence (Reels 1-53), is in chronological order by year, month, and day. In this microfilm edition, the correspondence for each month is preceded by a target bearing the name of the month and year of the correspondence to follow. Where only a small amount of correspondence exists for a particular year, the target designates only the year.
For Series II-X (Reels 54-85) each frame of the microfilm carries a manual identification number consisting of series, subseries, and file numbers. F or example, II: A: 1 would indicate that the frame falls within Series II (Organizational Files), Subseries A (Socialist Party of America), File 1 (Correspondence). The numbers are identical to those used on the complete reel lists which follow each of the series descriptions below.
An automatic frame counter was also used on every reel of the microfilm to facilitate scholarly citation.
The Norman Thomas papers are arranged in ten series:
The General Correspondence accounts for over 60% of the collection. It contains Thomas' incoming and outgoing letters, arranged chronologically, and provides an almost daily record of his activities and concerns. Thomas wrote or dictated from two to twenty letters a day, five days a week. Except for abusive mail, he answered nearly every letter he received, including most form letters.
For each date, the incoming correspondence, arranged alphabetically by writer's last name, is filed first. Copies of Thomas' outgoing mail (or that of his secretaries and assistants) follow, arranged alphabetically by addressee. When a name is unknown or illegible, the letter is filed at the end of the appropriate section of the correspondence (incoming or outgoing) for that date.
Incoming correspondence written on organizational letterhead stationery is arranged alphabetically by the name of the person signing the letter. Outgoing letters are filed by the name of the recipient rather than that of the organization.
Correspondence that is dated only by month follows the dated material for that month. Letters dated only by year follow the undated material for December of that year and are arranged alphabetically, incoming preceding outgoing. Totally undated material has been separated into incoming and outgoing sections and placed at the end of the entire series.
An index to selected correspondence from Series I is also available.
Certain types of correspondence are found in abundance throughout the series. Most important are Thomas' letters relating to the large number of organizations to which he belonged, including the Socialist Party, the League for Industrial Democracy, the Workers Defense League, and the Post War World Council. For some organizations additional material of this type can be found in Series II as well.
Thomas' correspondence with the general public makes up a large part of the series. He received hundreds of letters, particularly following his radio broadcasts and public appearances, from people challenging or supporting his views, requesting information about the Socialist Party, or seeking his intervention in civil liberties cases and other legal, medical, or personal matters. These letters contain significant information on everyday life during the period and reflect public opinion on a variety of issues. Thomas' replies to these letters contain some of the most informative explanations of his views to be found in the collection. He often went out of his way to help his "constituents", and his correspondence with individual members of the public sometimes continued for years.
Thomas's views can also be ascertained from the multitude of letters he wrote to presidents, congressmen, other government officials, and the press. These often highly critical letters cover nearly every issue of national importance between 1933 and 1967.
Finally, the series contains a significant amount of correspondence related to his career as a writer and public speaker. This includes many letters to and from literary and booking agents; book, magazine and newspaper publishers and editors; and individual organizations wishing to arrange speaking engagements.
Because of the extent of the correspondence in this series, description of the series has been divided into five chronological units, as follows.
When Thomas donated his papers, he pointed out the paucity of material concerning his early years. There is a handful of letters from Thomas' friends and church associates for the years 1905-1914, but Thomas' outgoing letters do not appear with any frequency until 1915.
The correspondence is fullest for the years 1916-1918. Ample evidence of Thomas' views on war and religion can be found in his letters to friends and family and in the correspondence concerning his work for the American Union Against Militarism, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the New York No-Conscription League. Other correspondence deals with his Teachers College course on immigration, his efforts on behalf of his parishioners, and routine church matters, including communications with William P. Shriver of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. Thomas exchanged many important letters with his brother Evan discussing the latter's imprisonment as a conscientious objector and the brutalities inflicted upon him and his fellow prisoners.
Although some letters regarding the Fellowship of Reconciliation and conscientious objection date from between 1919 and 1932, the amount of material from that period is quite small. Thomas explained that his correspondence for those years was left with the organizations for which he worked. The few letters available for the period 1928-1932 relate mostly to Socialist Party business; they include letters and telegrams exchanged with the Party office while Thomas was on the campaign trail, as well as two letters to Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt that were written by Thomas as chairman of the Party's Public Affairs Committee.
By September of 1933, the correspondence assumes its character as a daily record of Thomas' activities. Most prevalent during this period are letters dealing with Thomas' Socialist Party and LID affairs. This includes activities of the New York State Socialist Party, the New York City locals and committees, as well as the national organization. These were years of intense internal conflict for the Party, particularly between the "Militant" and "Old Guard" factions, and Thomas was heavily involved in the controversy. He kept in constant touch with party Secretary Clarence Senior and corresponded frequently with Party chiefs, leaders of various factions, and his informants throughout the nation. The letters document such controversies as the debate over participation in united front activities with the Communist Party; the 1934 Declaration of Principles; the rivalry between the New Leader and the Socialist Call; Upton Sinclair's Epic Program; possible alliances with Farmer- Labor parties; the actions of the Young Peoples Socialist League and the Revolutionary Policy Committee; the revocation of the characters of the Indiana and New York State Socialist Parties; the creation of a Debs Brigade to fight in the Spanish Civil War; and the invitation of Trotskyites into the Party and their subsequent expulsion. Included are exchanges of correspondence with William Feigenbaum, B. Charney Vladeck, Julius Gerber, Jack Altman, Frank Trager, Devere Allen, Alfred Baker Lewis, Glen Trimble, Paul Porter, and Herbert Merrill, as well as confidential memos to many Thomas allies.
In addition to internal communications there is a good deal of correspondence with members of other left-wing organizations, including the Communist Party, Communist Party Opposition, American League Against War and Fascism, Workers Alliance, Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky, and the American Students Union.
Among Thomas' major concerns were corruption, racketeering, and the lack of democratic procedure in the labor unions. This brought him into conflict with members of the Old Guard who were often officials in these unions. Dissatisfaction with union leadership led members to join Communist-led rival unions. When the established union attempted to crush the new opposition, Thomas was called in to mediate the dispute. At other times workers wrote to him for help when existing unions were threatened by company-controlled unions or disrupted by communist factions. The correspondence covers controversies in the fur industry, the Waiters and Waitresses Union, the Joint Council of Retail Clerks, the Brotherhood of Painters, the Cloth, Hat, Cap, and Millinery Workers Union, the Boot and Shoe Workers Union and others.
Thomas championed the causes of striking workers, often giving their disputes national publicity. This encouraged other strike leaders to write to him for assistance. Thomas corresponded with Party organizers on the scene, and with government officials if the situation erupted into violence. Some of the strikes discussed in the series involve the American Federation of Silk Workers, cotton workers in North Carolina, motion picture operators, Ohio onion weeders, the National Biscuit Company, southern sharecroppers, and the Technical, Editorial, and Office Assistants Union.
During the mid-1930s Thomas publicized many cases of injustice or suspension of civil liberties. In two cases he helped organize defense committees. He chaired the Terzani Defense Committee, which was formed when Athos Terzani was put on trail for the murder of a student at a fascist Khaki Shirt meeting in New York City. Terzani was accused of the killing by the group's leader, one of whose men really committed the murder. The Committee pursuaded Arthur Garfield Hays to act as legal counsel, publicized the trial, and pointed out the inadequacy of the prosecution by the Queens County District Attorney and his responsibility for letting the real murderer escape.
Similarly, Thomas chaired the Committee for the Defense of Civil Rights in Tampa, which was formed in 1935 after a private meeting of Modern Democrats, an alliance of liberals, socialists, and union members, was broken up by local police and some of its members were abducted, tortured, and, in one instance, murdered, Thomas and Socialist Party organizer Frank McCallister pressured state and local officials, demanding the arrest and trial of the murderers and an investigation into police cooperation with the Ku Klux Klan.
In response to such invasions of civil liberties, Thomas, McCallister, and others founded a permanent Workers Defense League in 1936 that would be prepared for immediate action in such cases. Correspondence with McCallister, Morris Milgram, and other WDL members appears throughout Series I.
Beginning in 1938, the volume of Thomas' correspondence concerning Socialist Party activities drops considerably. Letters to Party Secretary Roy Burt deal mostly with routine matters such as speaking engagements and fund raising. There are some letters to Socialist Party members discussing possible Socialist support for the American Labor Party, ways to reverse the Party's decline, a merger with the Social Democratic Federation, and the move of the national headquarters to New York City. Ben Fischer and Arthur G. McDowell kept Thomas posted on the labor situation, particularly on factionalism and possible Communist influence in the automobile industry and the United Automobile Workers.
Much of the correspondence for this period documents Thomas' efforts to keep the United States out of a possible war in Europe. This includes his efforts on behalf of the Keep America Out of War Committee, attempts to rally support from politicians and labor leaders, protests against Lend-Lease, peacetime conscription, and violations of the neutrality laws. Thomas also worked to coordinate efforts of all groups opposing American intervention. Among Thomas' correspondents on these issues were Senator Burton K. Wheeler, Dorothy Detzer of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Frederick J. Libby of the National Council for the Prevention of War, John T. Flynn of the America First Committee, John Nevin Sayre of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Fay Bennett of the Youth Committee Against War, and George Hartmann of Peace Now.
Refugees from both communist and fascist regimes were another of Thomas' concerns during these years. He corresponded with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the need for the United States to accept more refugees, with the New World Resettlement Fund on agricultural colonies in Ecuador, and with Cordell Hull and others on the fate of defeated Loyalists in Spain. He protested both the Communist Party's murder of Jewish Labor Bund leaders in Poland and its attempts to have Trotskyites expelled from Mexico.
During the war, Thomas defended the rights of Japanese-Americans and conscientious objectors. He considered the internment of Japanese-Americans to be one of the most egregious violations of civil liberties ever committed by the American government. Thomas received first-hand reports on conditions in the detention camps from Sam Hohri and other internees. He also corresponded with Hugh Macbeth and Ann Ray of the Northern California Civil Liberties Union, Caleb Foote of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, members of the California State Race Relations Commission and the Japanese-American Citizens League. Conscientious objectors Howard Penley, Arthur Billings, and Herman Benson kept him posted on their hearings, trials, and appeals, while others wrote to him from Civilian Public Service Camps. He also corresponded with many organizations aiding conscientious objectors, including the American Friends Service Committee and the Legal Service to Conscientious Objectors.
Correspondence of this period also includes discussions of the murder of Carlo Tresca with his widow Margaret de Silver and other Italian antifascists in New York, with Frank Zeidler and Anthony Kinch on defrauding of the Navy Department by the Falk Corporation of Milwaukee, and with Elmer Davis and other Office of War Information officials on Communist fellow-travellers in their ranks.
Beginning in 1942, much of Thomas' correspondence is written on behalf of the Post War World Council. He discussed peace plans, the treatment of defeated Axis nations, the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia, the fate of Yugoslav dissidents, and the political situation around the world with Ely Culbertson, Christopher Emmet, and his many friends stationed overseas.
The issue of communism dominates the correspondence for this period. Thomas was concerned with the two-fold need to check the spread of communism at home and abroad while defending civil liberties. To this end he joined the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. His correspondence includes exchanges with fellow members James T. Farrell, Richard Rovere, Sidney Hook, and Sol Stein. There is also correspondence with other anti-communist organizations such as the American Friends of Russian Freedom, the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism, American Aid to Victims of Communism, and the Council Against Communist Aggression, headed by former Socialist Party Secretary Arthur G. McDowell.
There is also considerable correspondence from Socialists and former Socialists who came under attack during the period of anti-communist hysteria. When necessary, Thomas sent out affidavits attesting to their loyalty and the innocent nature of the organizations to which they had belonged. Correspondents include Milwaukee mayor Frank Zeidler, Travers Clement, Tucker Smith, Walter Bergman, and many socialists purged from government service.
Thomas was also heavily involved in opposition to Congressional initiatives seeking to prohibit the Communist Party, deport foreign-born left-wing activists, and prevent the immigration of individuals not believing in the free enterprise system.
Although the correspondence for this period is dominated by the issue of communism, it addresses a multitude of other topics. Thomas testified before Congressional Committees on the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Pact and sent his views on foreign policy to President Harry S. Truman, Allen and John Foster Dulles, and many congressmen, including Chester Bowles, William Benton, Hubert Humphrey, and Arthur Vandenberg. There is correspondence with Sol Sanders, who briefed Thomas on events in the Far East, and with Joseph Buttinger of the American Friends of Vietnam. Thomas joined this organization in 1955, believing that Vietnamese anti-communists could benefit from U. S. support. But by 1957 the mounting number of civil rights violations committed by the regime led him to withdraw his support.
Thomas' most important prescription for world peace had become universal disarmament under United Nations supervision. He discussed the issue with hundreds of people, including William Bross Lloyd, Ely Culbertson and other individuals advancing plans for world government.
Thomas came under considerable attack for his condemnation of "theocracy". His criticism of the newly created state of Israel and his willingness to ally with ultra-conservative anti-Zionist American Jewish groups incensed Jewish Socialists who had long supported Thomas. The correspondence contains much discussion of this issue with Socialists, religious leaders, and particularly with Thomas' anti-Zionist ally, William Zuckerman, editor of the Jewish Newsletter. Similarly, many Catholics were angered by Thomas' opposition to the recognition of Franco's government, his attacks on parochial schools, and his support for his old friend Paul Blanshard, whose books had "exposed" the wealth and secular power of the Catholic Church.
Thomas' attention to right-wing dictatorships increased after the disappearance of his Basque friend and fellow enemy of Franco, Jesus de Galindez. Galindez was about to publish his book attacking the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic when he was apparently murdered by Trujillo's agents. Thomas corresponded with Frances Grant of the Inter-American Association for Democracy and Freedom and others about the case, and about further attacks on anti-Trujillistas, which suggested possible complicity of the U. S. government in the attacks.
During this period, Thomas was also concerned with his alma mater, Princeton University. Although he loved the school, he challenged it as a bastion of elitism, anti-Semitism, and racism. There is a good deal of correspondence, particularly with President Harold Dodds, Thomas' long-time friend Julian Boyd, Coleman Brown, and the staff of the school's campus and alumni newspapers about the need to change the system of eating club memberships and to open enrollment to black students.
Correspondence regarding the Socialist Party is much slimmer during this period, although there is still correspondence with Party secretaries and close friends. Much of the exchanges with Party members Bill Gausmann, Hugh Sheehan, Martin Diamond, and Erich Fromm deal with the future of the Party, the development of its foreign policy and negotiations for a merger with the Social Democratic Federation.
The final decade of the correspondence covers a period in which Thomas' activities were gradually restricted. He resigned from the governing boards of the Socialist Party, the ACLU, and other organizations. Although he continued to make his opinions known on all issues of importance, much of the correspondence from this period deals with his participation in activities initiated by others. Incoming mail exceeds outgoing as Thomas was deluged with requests of all kinds. As the "grand old man of dissent", he was asked to sponsor all manner of protests, to review books, to give interviews, to donate money, and to sign petitions. Although his active involvement in various organizations decreased, the correspondence he received from them to keep him informed of current activities did not. Much of his personal correspondence with such friends as Max Nomad is given to reminiscing about the past.
The most important issue discussed in these years was the situation in Vietnam. In 1963 Thomas' correspondence on the need to stop American support of its "corrupt" government was frequent and by 1966 had become his primary concern. He wrote to the White House, Congress, and the press and helped plan or encourage numerous protest initiatives.
Thomas also supported numerous protests to stop nuclear testing. He corresponded with peace groups planning to sail vessels into nuclear testing zones, with Homer Jack on the 3rd World Conference Against A and H Bombs, and with Lawrence Scott of Non-Violent Action Against Nuclear Weapons. He became a plaintiff in the lawsuits brought against the United States and the Soviet Union to stop their nuclear tests (the "Fallout Suits"). Among Thomas' close associates who were involved in the growing peace movement were A. J. Muste, Clarence Pickett, Stewart Meacham, Linus Pauling, Norman Cousins, Edward Gottlieb, and Al Hassler.
Thomas was also concerned about such foreign relations issues as American intervention in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. He also corresponded with Moshe Decter and Harry Fleischman about the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union, with Don Peretz about the political situation in the Middle East, and with George Hauser on various African nations.
Thomas maintained an active interest in Socialist Party affairs. He advised Irwin Suall and David McReynolds on the drafting of the Party's policy statements and on resolving internal disputes, such as that over the admission of members of the Independent Socialist League into the Party.
On the domestic front, Thomas continued his longstanding interest in labor unions. He corresponded with Herman Benson of Union Democracy In Action about the murder of union members daring to oppose union leadership, warned union officials about the growing unpopularity of unions with the general public, and the dangers of their alliance with political conservatives. Thomas supported striking hospital workers in New York City and endorsed the right of employees of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to have the Federation of Union Representatives bargain with union management on their behalf.
Thomas also corresponded about the growing civil rights movement with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Roy Wilkins, as well as with lesser-known individuals conducting local efforts to end segregation in public facilities across the South. He wrote many letters lobbying for civil rights legislation and deploring the Democratic Party's tolerance of racists like Senator James Eastland in key congressional positions of power.
The final section of the general correspondence also contains material concerning accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency was funding certain Socialist activities. In December of 1961 Thomas and Irwin Suall challenged CIA director John McCone's allegations that the CIA had funded international Socialist conferences. In September of 1964 and again in 1967, Thomas was forced to answer charges that CIA money was accepted to finance the efforts of his Institute of International Labor Research. Thomas' letters to newspapers and responses to inquiring individuals disavowed all knowledge of CIA support.
Series II consists of documents created or received by Thomas in the course of his work for several of the organizations in which he was involved throughout his life.
It should be noted that the existence of a correspondence file for a particular organization does not indicate that all of the correspondence pertaining to that organization is found there. Except in the case of Subseries A, Socialist Party of America (discussed below), all official letterhead correspondence can be found with the papers of that organization. But due to the unusual degree of overlap between the personnel and activities of various organizations and the difficulty of identifying Thomas' outgoing letters by organization, much important organizational correspondence can be found in Series I. Thus, Series I and II complement each other and should be used together.
Norman Thomas was one of the foremost speakers of his day, a fact well documented in Series III, which includes drafts and final copies of his speeches, statements, and interviews, publicity materials, and many of Thomas' speaking schedules.
This series contains many of Thomas' published and unpublished essays, books, and newspaper columns, as well as autobiographical materials not intended for publication.
Series V contains booklets, leaflets, fliers, reports, essays, press clippings, and reprints. Most of this material was either collected by Thomas as background information for his books and speeches or was sent to him by his correspondents (including enclosures removed from the General Correspondence) - The material is arranged in subseries and filed by subject (subject headings were not created by Thomas). Each file is arranged chronologically, except where several items on a particular topic within the file have been grouped together. In some cases only the cover and title page of lengthy published items were microfilmed.
Norman Thomas was a much beloved and respected figure, even among those who did not share his views. The many dinners and receptions given in his honor testified to this fact, and they were an effective way of raising money for the causes Thomas espoused.
The records of these events found in Series VI include invitations, guest lists, letters confirming or declining attendance, office records of the committees planning the events, programs and other memorabilia, as well as testimonial letters and congratulatory telegrams from fellow socialists and enough prominent persons to fill a "who's who" of liberal intellectuals, politicians, labor and religious leaders, and political activists. Among these individuals are John Dewey, Morris Ernst, John L. Lewis, Van Wyck Brooks, Morris R. Cohen, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the Reuther brothers, Martin Luther King, Bertrand Russell, David Ben Gurion, Robert F. Kennedy, Henry S. Coffin, Jawaharlal Nehru, Martin Buber and Alan Paton.
The papers are arranged in subseries by individual event and further divided into files according to type of material where necessary.
Series VII consists of documents dealing primarily with the fees that Thomas received for his writing.
Series VIII contains correspondence and memorabilia of the Thomas family, excluding items sent or received by Norman Thomas. The latter can be found in Series I.
Series IX contains publicity fliers about Norman Thomas, biographical sketches, and personal items, including passports, membership cards, and pages from his Princeton sophomore yearbook. The series is arranged chronologically.
Series X contains photographs of Thomas and members of his family, and many snapshots sent to him by friends and supporters. Many of the images are unidentified. Caption information, when available, appears on the frame following the photograph. The series begins with photographs of Thomas, followed by those showing members of his family. All other pictures are grouped together at the end of the series. Of particular note are a photograph of Thomas being pelted with eggs while trying to give a speech in Newark, New Jersey, a group portrait of Evan Thomas and fellow conscientious objectors, and a photograph of members of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.