J. Parnell Thomas

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J. Parnell Thomas
390124-thomas-j-parnell.jpg
J. Parnell Thomas (January 1939)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 7th district
In office
January 3, 1937 – January 2, 1950
Preceded by Randolph Perkins
Succeeded by William B. Widnall
Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
In office
1935
Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities
In office
1947–1948
Preceded by Edward J. Hart
Succeeded by John Stephens Wood
Personal details
Born John Parnell Feeney Jr.
(1895-01-16)January 16, 1895
Jersey City, New Jersey
Died November 19, 1970(1970-11-19) (aged 75)
St. Petersburg, Florida
Political party Republican
Education University of Pennsylvania (1917)

John Parnell Thomas (January 16, 1895 – November 19, 1970) was a stockbroker and politician. He was elected to seven terms as a U.S. Representative from New Jersey. He was later a convicted criminal who served nine months in federal prison for corruption.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Born as John Parnell Feeney Jr. in Jersey City, New Jersey, he changed his name in 1919 to John Parnell Thomas. Raised Catholic, he later became an Episcopalian.[2]

After graduating from high school, he went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania. When the United States joined World War I in 1917, he served overseas with the United States Army. Following his discharge from the military in 1919, Thomas worked in the investment securities and insurance business in New York City for the next eighteen years.

He entered Allendale, New Jersey, municipal politics in 1925 and was elected councilman and then Mayor of Allendale, New Jersey from 1926 to 1930. He was elected to a two-year term to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1935. In 1936 was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Republican Party Representative from New Jersey's 7th congressional district, filling the vacancy left by the death of Randolph Perkins. He would be re-elected six times.

Anti-communism[edit]

As a U.S. Congressman, Thomas was a staunch conservative opponent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, claiming the President's legislative agenda had "sabotaged the capitalist system." Thomas opposed government support for the Federal Theatre Project declaring that "practically every play presented under the auspices of the Project is sheer propaganda for Communism or the New Deal."[3]

In 1949 Thomas called the U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, "the most dangerous man in America" and claimed that if Forrestal were not removed from office he would "cause another world war."[citation needed]

Demobilization[edit]

In the post-war period, Thomas called for a rapid demobilization of the American military. In 1946, he invited General Dwight Eisenhower to his office to discuss the issue. When he arrived, the general was faced with a table surrounded by soldier's wives, many holding babies. News photographers took photos of the furious Eisenhower.[4]

HUAC[edit]

Following the Republican Party gaining control of the 80th Congress in the November 1946 elections, Thomas was appointed chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)–during that period, also called the "Thomas Committee." In May 1947, Thomas traveled to Hollywood to meet with film industry executives with a view to exposing what he believed was Communist infiltration of motion pictures content by members of the Screen Writers Guild. Returning to Washington, D.C., he shifted the focus of the committee to what he called the "subversives" working in the film business.

Under Thomas, in October 1947, HUAC summoned suspected Communists to appear for questioning. These summonses led to the conviction and imprisonment for contempt of Congress of the "Hollywood Ten" who had refused to answer the Committee's questions, citing the Fifth Amendment.

Corruption charges and imprisonment[edit]

Prominent American columnists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson were critical of Thomas and his committee's methods.[5][6]

Rumors about corrupt practices on the part of Thomas were confirmed when his secretary, Helen Campbell, sent documents to Pearson which he used to expose Thomas' corruption in an August 4, 1948, newspaper article. The fraud had begun on New Year's Day of 1940, when Thomas placed Campbell's niece, Myra Midkiff, and Campbell's maid, Arnette Minor[7][8] on his payroll as clerks. Midkiff earned roughly $1,200 a year and was to kick back her entire salary to the Congressman, in which, he would also evade a tax bracket increase.[9] The arrangement lasted for four years.[10] As a result, Thomas and Campbell were summoned to answer to charges of salary fraud before a grand jury.[9]

Thomas refused to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment rights, the same stance for which he had criticized accused Communists. Indicted, Thomas was tried and convicted of fraud, fined and given an 18-month prison sentence. He resigned from Congress on January 2, 1950.

In another twist, he was imprisoned in Danbury Prison with Lester Cole and Ring Lardner Jr., both members of the "Hollywood Ten" serving time because of Thomas' inquiries into the film industry.

Post-prison[edit]

After his release from prison, Thomas was an editor and publisher of three weekly newspapers in Bergen County, New Jersey. President Harry S. Truman pardoned Thomas on Christmas Eve of 1952. In 1954, Thomas tried to re-enter politics, but was defeated for the Republican Party nomination for Congress.

Death[edit]

Thomas died in 1970 in St. Petersburg, Florida, aged 75, of undisclosed causes.[1] He was cremated, and his ashes were interred in the Elmgrove Cemetery in Mystic, Connecticut.

Depictions[edit]

In the 2015 film Trumbo, Thomas is portrayed by James Dumont.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Robert D. McFadden (November 20, 1970). "J.Parnell Thomas, Anti-Red Crusader, Is Dead. Headed House Committee on Un-American Activities Prison Sentence for Padding Payroll. Ended Career In Hiss Spotlight". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-19. J. Parnell Thomas, a seven-term United States Representative from New Jersey who gained national notice as an anti-Communist crusader in the late 1940s and later went to prison for padding his Congressional payroll, died here tonight after a long illness. He was 75 years old. ... 
  2. ^ University of Pennsylvania archives site
  3. ^ Kanfer, Stefan (2011). Tough without a gun : the life and extraordinary afterlife of Humphrey Bogart (1st ed.). New York: A.A. Knopf. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-307-27100-6. 
  4. ^ Halberstam, David (10 May 1994). The Fifties. 516: Ballentine. ISBN 0449909336. 
  5. ^ "The story of J. Parnell Thomas". observer.com. 3 December 2009. Retrieved 15 August 2018. 
  6. ^ Pohl, Robert S. (1 April 2012). "Wicked Capitol Hill: An Unruly History of Behaving Badly". Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved 15 August 2018 – via Google Books. Pearson accused Thomas of hiring Myra Midkiff, ostensibly as a stenographer, though she did not actually have to appear for work at all. All she had to do was... 
  7. ^ "Rep. Thomas Indicted On Fraud Count". The Evening Independent - Google News. Retrieved 15 August 2018. The indictment alleged that Miss Campbell's niece, Myra Midkiff, and a maid in Miss Campbell's home, Arnette Minor, were carried on the Thomas office pay roll... 
  8. ^ Bolling, Eric (27 June 2017). "The Swamp: Washington's Murky Pool of Corruption and Cronyism and How Trump Can Drain It". St. Martin's Press. Retrieved 15 August 2018 – via Google Books. ...showing he had been receiving kickbacks from a woman ostensibly hired to be a clerk, Myra Midkiff, who'd had a do-nothing job with Thomas since 1940. 
  9. ^ a b http://fultonhistory.com/newspaper%2010/Yonkers%20NY%20Herald%20Statesman/Yonkers%20NY%20Herald%20Statesman%201949%20Grayscale/Yonkers%20NY%20Herald%20Statesman%201949%20Grayscale%20-%204088.pdf
  10. ^ "J. Parnell Thomas". spartacus-educational.com. Retrieved 15 August 2018. 

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Randolph Perkins
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 7th congressional district

January 3, 1937 – January 2, 1950
Succeeded by
William B. Widnall