Vito Marcantonio, Congressman
Vito Marcantonio was born on December 10, 1902, in East Harlem, lived in East Harlem all his life, and was buried from East Harlem three days after his sudden death on August 9, 1954.
His political life was, from the very beginning, closely associated with that of his friend and early mentor Fiorello H. La guardia In his own memorial tribute to La guardia Marcantonio tells how they met.
"I first met La guardia when I was attending De Witt Clinton High School. He addressed the school assembly the same day when I made a speech. I shall never forget it. I spoke in favor of old-age pensions and social security. La guardia made this the theme of his speech to the students."'
Even as a high school youngster Marcantonio was aware of the special hardships of the poor and crowded East Harlem community. The great majority of his neighbors, like his own family, were immigrant Italian Americans. In addition to economic insecurity a large number faced language difficulties and the disturbing effects of a new culture on old family ties and traditions. The frequently hostile attitude of older Americans towards newcomers intensified their problems. Derogatory references to East Harlem in newspaper reports, then as now, made it harder still for many of its people to envision for themselves acceptance as equals or a full participation in American life.
Marcantonio, who never lost his profound feeling of identification with his community, developed early in his high school years an equal sense of kinship with the democratic spirit of America as it was expressed in the lives and writings of Jefferson and Lincoln.
Unlike many young people who became embittered or cynical as they saw the discrepancy between the glowing picture of American life as they were taught it, and its reality in such communities as East Harlem, Marcantonio kept his faith in the people's ability to make the American dream come true. He set himself the job of interpreting the unrealized possibilities of democracy for his neighbors, and of helping them to achieve the dignity and security they deserved and needed.
As a first step he led a group of schoolmates in organizing Citizenship and English classes for adults at a neighborhood church, and he continued to teach similar evening groups for many years. In this and in other practical ways he began, in his teens, to express the active farsighted devotion to his community and his country that characterized his life to the end.
Concern with individual human problems and attempts to solve them through social action were always, for Marcantonio, the very essence of politics. In a sense then his political career began when, at 18, he became a leader of the East Harlem Tenant League and conducted its successful 1920 rent strike. But in the more customary meaning of the word his first step into actual political life was taken at the request of La guardia As Marcantonio himself told the story:
"The next time I met him was the summer of 1924 when both of the two old parties had ganged up on him. That year La guardia decided to support Senator LaFollette for President on the Progressive Party ticket. The Republican Party refused La guardia the Republican nomination. The Democratic Party, as usual, sought to defeat him. La guardia asked me to actively participate in that campaign, and together with a handful of our friends and neighbors in East Harlem, we conducted a successful campaign for him and for LaFollette in our congressional district."
Marcantonio, who had been graduated from law school in 1925, managed the campaigns which returned La guardia to Congress on the Republican-Progressive ticket in 1926, 1928 and 1930. In 1930 the young lawyer was appointed assistant United States attorney, a position which he resigned two years later. La guardia was defeated for Congress by a Democrat in the New Deal victory of 1932 and Marcantonio worked with him to organize the City Fusion Party, an anti-Tammany coalition which elected "the Little Flower" Mayor of New York City in 1933.
With La guardia's enthusiastic support Marcantonio then determined to represent his community, La guardia's former constituency, in Congress. Despite the opposition of the "Old Guard" he secured the Republican nomination and, endorsed by the City Fusion Party, won a bitterly contested election, defeating the incumbent Member for the 20th Congressional District by 247 votes in November 1934. He took his seat in the 74th Congress in January, 1935.
At the beginning of his first term Marcantonio established the pattern of regular daily personal service to the people of his community. His unpretentious headquarters on the ground floor of an old brownstone house at 247 E. 116 Street, which had formerly been La guardia's center, was open seven days a week throughout the year for all who wished free assistance with health, citizenship, relief, workmen's compensation, tenant, immigration, or other legal and family problems.
While Congress was in session these services were necessarily provided by Marcantonio's associates, but every weekend, despite his extraordinarily heavy program of legislative work in Washington, he returned to New York to meet personally with the hundreds of neighbors who needed his help. This custom remained unbroken during his subsequent terms in office. At the same time his attendance record on the floor of the House for the next fourteen years was outstanding, and the volume of outside work he did studying and writing bills, organizing congressional and public support for, or opposition to, specific legislation, planning and directing parliamentary strategy, was certainly unexceeded and probably unequalled by any other Congressman.
With all Marcantonio's great personal popularity in his district, and the fact that he was one of the strongest supporters of New Deal policies in the 74th Congress (1935-36), the landslide for President Roosevelt in 1936 carried practically every Democratic candidate in New York City to victory and Marcantonio was defeated.
In local New York City politics, being a Republican then often meant, essentially, an anti-machine, anti-Tammany position. This was true in such neighborhoods as East Harlem. La guardia had, for example, been elected as a Republican to the 68th Congress and as a Socialist to the 69th Congress and Marcantonio strongly expressed the same anti-Tammany viewpoint throughout his life. But on the national scene Republican opposition to relief expenditures, social security, and other health and welfare appropriations, ran counter to Marcantonio's profound convictions. This rapidly became evident to his colleagues on both sides of the House and gave rise to such exchanges as the three-sided one with a Democratic Congressman, O'Connor, and Republican leader Martin, which took place in the House on July 29, 1935:
Mr. O'Connor: What has really been happening here? Practically every Republican member voted the other day to adjourn this House [without acting on an emergency relief appropriation requested by the President] and go home.
Mr. Marcantonio: Is not the gentleman in error in that?
Mr. O'Connor: I will make an exception, yes; the gentleman from New York, my good friend Mr. Marcantonio did not.
Mr. Martin: He is not a Republican.
Mr. O'Connor: My affection for him is so strong that it somewhat coincides with that opinion. I really hope he is not.
During his first two years in Congress it had become clear to Marcantonio that many of the Democratic Members of the House were unwilling to go even as far as the President on social welfare legislation; and that the administration itself often fell short of measures Marcantonio considered necessary to protect civil liberties, the rights of labor, the foreign born, and other minority racial or political groups.
In the spring of 1936, for example, the administration bill for supplementary W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration) appropriations was less than a third of the amount requested the previous year. Marcantonio remarked bitterly: "The New Deal has substituted in the place and stead of the Hoover myth of two chickens in every pot the stark reality of two wolves at every door." Congressman McCormack, an administration spokesman, objected: "We have given $3,000,000,000 a year [to the unemployed]. It is $3,000,000,000 more than Hoover gave." Marcantonio then aroused laughter with the reply: "Is the gentleman proud of being just a little better than Hoover? Is that all the gentleman has to offer?" And a rhetorical question by Mr. McCormack, "Where would they [the unemployed] be if the present administration had not engaged in the humane policy that it has...," elicited the quick retort, "...you should ask me where would the administration be? The unemployed owe the past appropriations to their own mass pressure."
The newly organized American Labor Party was far closer to expressing Marcantonio's political philosophy than even the New Deal Democratic platform, and from the first he affiliated himself with the A.L.P. In November, 1938, he was elected to Congress as the only American Labor Party Member. He had also won the Republican nomination, defeating the regular organization nominee in the primaries, and therefore ran on both tickets. Although his vote was 10,059 on the Republican line and only 8,901 on the A.L.P. line he asked specifically that his designation in the Congressional Directory be solely "American Labor Party."
In 1940 he was elected as American Labor Party candidate with Republican endorsement, but in 1942 the regular Republican organization leadership again refused him the nomination. He replied by entering himself in both the Republican and Democratic primaries and winning in both, but continued to list himself solely as American Labor Party.
In 1944 a New York State redistricting made possible a new attempt to defeat him by removing part of his old district and adding to the new 18th Congressional District the thickly populated community stretching from 59th to 99th Street. In spite of this radical change in his constituency he again won both major party primaries. Since he was also the American Labor Party candidate he carried the district by a majority of 66,390.
An article in the April issue of Harpers, commenting on the redistricting before the 1944 primaries, said:
The Twentieth Congressional District no longer exists. the New York Legislature, dominated by upstate Republicans who have nothing to fear from Marcantonio, has reapportioned the state and tried to gerrymander Marcantonio out of office. In the new Eighteenth District, he will still have most of his East Harlem Spaniards and Italians but life will be complicated by the addition of vast German and Irish hordes from the adjoining Yorkville area."
For the campaign in his greatly enlarged district Marcantonio had opened another office in a loft above a Five and Ten Cent Store in the very heart of Yorkville First Avenue near 77th Street. This remained a permanent headquarters to assist the people of the community. Soon the numbers who came to 1484 First Avenue for advice and help exceeded even the crowds at his uptown East Harlem Club. Two articles, published in the spring and fall of 1944 by magazines which were sharply opposed to Congressman Marcantonio politically, report visits to his two headquarters.
Richard Rovere, writing in the April Harpers, begins:
"The scene in the La guardia Club after one o'clock on Sunday looks like nothing so much as a busy day in the clinic of a great city hospital. Marcantonio and three or four secretaries sit at desks on a platform in the front of the main hall. Before them on wooden camp chairs are about a hundred constituents, many of them cradling infants in their arms ... as many as four hundred may come and go in an afternoon .... They speak in Spanish, Italian, English, and various mixtures of the three. Marcantonio can always answer in kind, throwing in a little Yiddish if the need arises. Mostly their problems concern money or jobs. During the depression, the majority were relief applicants.
Today the same people are back for army dependency allotments. Many want... war plant jobs. Some need legal aid.
Marcantonio sees personally about thirty thousand ... in the course of a Congressional term."
And Walter Davenport, in the October 14 issue of Collier's presents an even more vivid eye witness account:
"For an hour before the Honorable Vito Marcantonio trots into the F. H. La guardia Political Club in East Harlem, New York City, the hail reeks with woe. But not hopeless woe. Marc will listen. Marc will know the answers.
In at least six languages the crowd compares troubles ... in Italian, Spanish, Polish, Yiddish, Hungarian and English the latter in a wide assortment of dialects: Irish, native Negro, West Indian Negro, New York.
When Congress is in session, he spends Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in Washington, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays are spent in his two New York offices .... His office hours are plainly marked on the doors from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. However, he seldom leaves until seven or eight. When Congress is in recess he is at these offices daily .... Gas bills, landlord complaints, complaints against landlords. Naturalization. Sickness. Wayward children. O.P.A. [Office of Price Administration] violations. Nonsupport. Pensions. Army allotments. Jobs.... Like this for hours.
Somehow, along about seven o'clock the lists are exhausted. So are the Congressman and his aides. The chairs are empty. Three hundred and twenty-seven of Vito Marcantonio's constituents have been heard, advised, helped. Tomorrow it will start all over again. It's quiet for a few minutes and then the Congressman ... and the rest of the staff compile and catalogue the disposition of the day's cases.
'What do you make of it?' the Congressman asked us.
We said that a couple of days like that would drive us nuts.
'Well,' said he, 'it's what I get ten thousand a year for. It's their dough!"
In 1946, Marcantonio won in the Democratic primary and ran on the American Labor Party and Democratic tickets. Newsweek, reporting the election in its issue of November 25, 1946, stated:
"Despite an all-out Republican effort to unseat him, synchronized with a vigorous anti-Marcantonio campaign conducted by leading newspapers he won by 5,500 votes... [in the year of] a GOP landslide."
The 1946 effort to defeat Marcantonio had attracted nation wide attention. The conservative Saturday Evening Post ran an article in its issue of January 11, 1947, entitled "They Couldn't Purge Vito." In this Sidney Shallet, who had covered the campaign for the magazine, explained the failure to unseat Marcantonio in terms of his personal relationship to the people of his district, saying in part:
What matters to them is not whether Marcantonio is red, pink, black, blue or purple, but that he is 'their' Congressman a ... tireless fighter for the man on the streets of East Harlem.
He is willing to live in their slums, rub elbows with the best and the worst of them, work himself to the thin end of a frazzle for them. He spends his dough on them, takes up their battles against the landlords .... On occasions ... the Congressman even has carried scuttles of coal personally to heatless tenements. Anyone who wants to see him...can do so.
The Marcantonio system of personal service is unique. Whereas some congressmen pride themselves on developing routines for dodging troublesome constituents, Marcantonio insists almost fanatically that no constituent, however lowly or troublesome, get the kiss-off...."
Mr. Shallet concluded his article with an account of the final election eve rally:
"All previous campaign color was eclipsed on election eve when Marcantonio made his traditional appearance at his 'Lucky Corner' 116th Street and Lexington. This was La guardia's 'Lucky Corner' when the Little Flower was active in New York politics. Marcantonio inherited it along with the La guardia seat in Congress.
A fifteen-foot electric sign, LUCKY CORNER -- REELECT MARCANTONIO, blinked down on the crowd of 10,000. There was no mistaking the crowd's wild admiration for their Champion. The Hymn of Garibaldi greeted his appearance, and the crowd, predominantly Italian American, erupted for three full minutes. Flowers, songs, and tri-lingual tributes were lavished on the candidate. Then Marc made the same campaign speech, but again it was the man, not the words, that mattered."
In 1947 the New York State legislature passed the Wilson-Paula law prohibiting any candidate not enrolled in a political party from running in that party primary without the official approval of the party's county executive committee or other designated officers. This kept Marcantonio from entering himself in either or both of the major parties' primaries as he had done in the past. He was, nevertheless, reelected in 1948 on the American Labor Party ticket alone by a majority of 5,067, in the face of high-powered and virulent campaigns by the Democratic and Republican organizations.
Marcantonio's opposition in the 81st Congress to both major parties on such fundamental issues as foreign policy, labor relations and civil liberties had become so outstanding that extraordinary measures were taken to prevent his reelection. A three party coalition of the Democratic, Republican and Liberal parties, supported by every major newspaper in New York City, backed a single candidate against him. The New York Times, for example, ran a series of editorials on three successive days urging his defeat. Nothwithstanding this concentration of forces Marcantonio won over 40% of the votes in the 18th congressional district, exceeding the Democratic vote for his opponent by 10,880, the Republican by 17,065, and the Liberal by 30,892. The combination was, however, sufficient to defeat him by 13,353.
After his defeat he maintained his two neighborhood offices. Thousands came to see him every year just as they had when he was their elected Representative. To his neighbors he was still "the Congressman" -- the man everyone called Marc -- close to their problems, ready to help them as lawyer and advisor, warm and understanding friend.
During this period, as an individual and as a leader of the American Labor Party, his main concern was what it had been in Congress to secure world peace. In a speech delivered in 1952, during the presidential election campaign, he said:
"Tragically, after 27 months of killing in Korea, with 119,000 American casualties, some of us accept the Korean conflict as we do the flowing of the Hudson River. After 14 months of talk at Panmunjom some have come to feel that this so-called "police action" or "little war" is something with which we can live. They have forgotten that war in our time is like cancer if it is not stopped it spreads. If this Korean war is not stopped now, it too will spread.
The overwhelming majority of Americans, no matter how they are divided on other issues, are united on the objective of cease fire in Korea.
The resolving of every other issue, civil rights, labor, civil liberties, agriculture, the economic well-being of the American people, depends on cease fire in Korea."
Marcantonio was among the first in our country to call for acceptance of the resolution presented to the United Nations in January, 1951, by the delegation from India, as a solution for the Korean conflict.
He directed the energies of the American Labor Party in a many-sided effort to bring pressure on Washington to negotiate a truce and then settle the one remaining question, the return of war prisoners, without further bloodshed. Thousands of posters appeared in the streets of New York with the slogan "The Best Defense of America is Peace with China." Leaflets asking support for the proposal of Senator Johnson of Colorado, which called on the United Nations to seek an armistice, were widely distributed. The American Labor Party conducted a "peace ballot," obtaining the signatures of tens of thousands of New Yorkers to a petition urging a cease fire in Korea.
While peace was his major interest Marcantonio and the A.L.P. acted on many other issues. Noteworthy were the intense though unsuccessful fight to halt the "legal" lynching of Willie McGee, executed in Mississippi on a charge of rape, and continuation of the long struggle to win greater representation for the Negro people in public office at all levels.
In 1950 the American Labor Party nominated the first Negro candidate for United States Senator from New York. In 1951 Marcantonio placed in nomination the first Negro to be designated for the post of Borough President of Manhattan. This then became the office on which the Negro people concentrated their efforts for a breakthrough in New York City. In 1953 all parties named Negroes for the position, and the first Negro Borough President of Manhattan was elected in that year.
But despite the New York State vote of 509,559 for Henry Wallace in the 1948 presidential election, and the impressive tally of 356,626 for Marcantonio in the 1949 New York City Mayoralty campaign, many began to question the feasibility of independent political action by a third party. This became especially true when the earlier American Labor Party policy of backing some major party candidates for local or national office was no longer practicable, either because the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties would not accept minimum planks of the A.L.P. or because they were not permitted to accept its endorsement.
In 1952 many independent voters felt it might be necessary to support what Marcantonio called "the alleged lesser evil." In a series of debates with I. F. Stone in the New York Daily Compass, and in a pamphlet "The Other Evil," published during the last weeks of the campaign, Marcantonio vigorously upheld the need for a third party. He said:
"... [A vote for the Progressive Party in 1952] is a vote as valuable as that cast for the Liberty Party in 1840 against slavery, and for the Free Soil Party in 1848 and 1852 against extension of slavery. It is a vote similar to the one that made up the one million votes for Eugene V. Debs in 1920, which in turn led to the four million votes for LaFollette in 1924 and for victory for Roosevelt in 1932.
Great causes were never won by sacrificing a real fight and substituting for it the seeming lesser evil...
In the New York Mayoralty race of 1953 a considerable section of the American Labor Party leadership opposed, at preconvention meetings, the nomination of an independent candidate for mayor. Marcantonio argued for a full slate of A.L.P. candidates. His position finally won the almost unanimous vote of the delegates at a party convention which chose American Labor Party nominees for all citywide offices.
As the campaign progressed it became clear that there was still a fundamental divergence of opinion between Marcantonio and many other leaders of his party on the question of full independent political action. Division on this basic question weakened support for the ticket and lessened the effectiveness of the campaign. After the election, in November 1953, Marcantonio resigned from the American Labor Party. In resigning he said, in part:
"I shall continue to strive as an independent for the things for which I have striven so hard. I shall continue to do so as an independent endeavoring for the political realignment which is inevitable. It is as inevitable as the failure of the Republican and Democrat foreign policy and the economy that is based upon it." In the early months of 1954 Marcantonio began to canvass opinion in his district and by spring he had decided he could run successfully for his former congressional seat, even though a coalition against him remained in force. In June he announced his candidacy as an independent. On Monday, August 9 when, hurrying to his office, he died of a sudden heart attack, he had on his desk the first stack of nominating petitions with which he was to open the actual campaign for his reelection to Congress in November.
Reporting his death the World-Telegram and Sun which had opposed him in 1950, indicated the probability of his victory in 1954. It said, in part:
"Death claimed the fiery little lawyer-politician as he was planning a campaign to regain the Congressional post from which he was ousted in 1950.
There had been signs of a rift in the Democratic-Republican coalition and observers saw a good chance that Mr. Marcantonio could succeed."
His death elicited extraordinary tributes from former associates and political opponents in Congress, as well as from many other public figures. Expressions of regard by Representatives of both parties appear in the Congressional Record of Tuesday, August 10, 1954.
Congressman John A. Blatnik, (D. Minnesota) said:
" ... . Many Members of this body have disagreed with the political principles held by Vito Marcantonio. However, I am sure that of those who have known him including those who disagreed with him most strongly will all admit that he was a most honest, courageous, sincere and warm-hearted person who served his constituents well in the Halls of Congress.
During the 80th and 81st Congress I came to know Marc very well. I liked him personally very much, and I respected him for his courage and for his willingness to stand up on an issue even when he stood alone. It is always a simple matter to take a position when one is part of the majority, but it takes real conviction to stand up and be counted when you are by yourself or with only a small minority. Vito Marcantonio was a man of such convictions who never hesitated to fight for that in which he believed ....
Vito Marcantonio was a real friend of mankind who always fought for the underdog. Few Members of this distinguished body were his equal as a parliamentarian and floor strategist .... He fought the good fight and did it well."
Congressman Emanuel J. Celler (D. New York) said:
"One may have disagreed with him but one could never find any fault with his method of disagreement. He was a Member of this House who always fought hard for what he deemed right. He always fought fair. He had great courage and determination, a determination as firm as a rock you hold in your hand and a courage as fierce as lightning. He brought to bear upon his services in this House erudition, keen intelligence, hard work, and what to him was a sincerity of purpose .... He ever stood for the preservation of fundamental liberties, and, using the words of our distinguished Chaplain this morning, he always sought the enhancement of human rights and human welfare."
Congressman Herman R. Eberharter, (D. Pennsylvania) said:
"... Of his many sterling attributes, what impressed me most in my personal contacts with him was his true concern for the oppressed, for those who were among the less fortunate, his ever-ready sympathy for the poor and downtrodden.
I believe that he was possessed of a good heart and a pure soul, and our memory of him, as we saw him in action on the floor of this House will be to many of us an inspiration, for without doubt he possessed exceptional ability coupled with immense strength of character..."
Congressman Clare Hoffman, (R. Michigan) said:
"He not only knew the parliamentary procedure which governed the House, but he never lacked the courage to use that knowledge to further the legislative program to which he adhered.
He was so far to the left that I could not go along with his views. Perhaps I was too far to the right. However that may be, no Member of the House, so far as I know, ever doubted his sincerity, ever failed to recognize his ability or his effectiveness.
Our colleague served the people of his district vigorously, consistently, and sincerely."
Congressman Eugene J. Keogh, (D. New York) said:
"... Mr. Speaker, while one might disagree with his philosophy of government, all who observed him and served with him had to respect the indefatigability and application to duty of our late colleague, Vito Marcantonio, whose death occurred under such tragic circumstances. He was often alone on the floor of the House, but his sudden death was a shock to us all. He worked hard and he lived hard, and literally died while at work ...
Congressman Arthur Klein, (D. New York) said:
"...Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that I am somewhat overcome by emotion, but what I really wanted to say was that 'Marc' was my friend, even though some people thought it was politically unwise to admit such friendship because of his political views. I differed with him many times in the past. I said on many occasions in speaking about him during his lifetime that I would undoubtedly disagree with him in the future. I cannot say that any more. As the gentleman from New York [Mr. Celler] pointed out, when he thought he was right there was no way of changing his views. He was consistent, he was hard working, and represented his constituents ably. Many of us will miss him. I know that every Member of this House who knew him respected him and liked him, although I suppose not many will get up here and say so. No one can find fault with his personal life, even though we disagreed with him politically..."
Congressman Eugene J. McCarthy, (D. Minnesota) said:
"Mr. Speaker, I would like to join with my colleagues in saying a word in regard to the gentleman from New York, concerning whose death we have just received notice. I think most of us know that on many occasions his name was made a kind of byword; the fact that one had voted with him was used as argument that one was unfit to serve in the Congress. I knew him during only one term in this Congress, and I judge him only by his actions on the floor of this House and by things he said while I was a Member here with him. And I say quite frankly that never did he support anything on the floor of this House or advocate anything which any good American allowing for the great differences of opinion among Americans, might not have advocated and any Christian might not have advocated..."
Congressman Abraham J. Multer, (D. New York) said:
"Mr. Speaker, many of us had our differences with our late colleague, Vito Marcantonio. Many on my side of the aisle, when he first came here in 1934, having been elected to this House as a Republican, members of my party, differed with him politically. I did, too. Later when he led the American Labor Party, many of us on both sides of the aisle differed with him politically. But he was truly a good American. Despite his differences politically with us, he was always honest in his convictions. He was fair in his political warfare. As a man, we respected him in life and it is fitting that we pay tribute to his memory today.
There were few who were as good parliamentarians in this House as was Congressman Marcantonio when he was with us. But, knowing all of the intricacies of parliamentary law, he never took unfair advantage of any one; he always gave due notice of what he intended to do, and when he gave his word it was his bond."
Marcantonio would have valued even more the silent tributes by the endless stream of anonymous mourners who came for three days to pay their last respects to him in the small neighborhood funeral chapel. For, as he said in his memorial to La guardia a few years before:
"His funeral was attended by the great in all walks of life. However, that was not what impressed me. The line of thousands upon thousands of common people who came to pay their respects ... was the most impressive tribute .... The people who stood in line were workers, storekeepers and of the professions. They were New York City."
THE PRESENT VOLUME IS, in a sense, a partial political autobiography. The material presented here has been chosen from the exceptional number of arguments, debates and comments Congressman Marcantonio made on the floor of the House during his fourteen years as a Member, and from the radio addresses, public speeches, letters and other documents he thought important and relevant enough to have inserted in the Congressional Record.
There is, therefore, no material included from the years before Marcantonio's first election to Congress in 1934, and none from even such major non-Congressional activities as his New York City Mayoralty campaign of 1949. Nevertheless these pages do, we believe, give a comprehensive picture of his political philosophy and his stand on the important issues which faced the people of the United States from 1934 to 1950. To indicate the nature of some of Marcantonio's work during the last four years of his life there are, in the appendix, substantial excerpts from four of his legal cases.
A passionate concern for the dignity and well being of man and an unabashed and genuine patriotism are evident in Marcantonio's speeches from his earliest term in Congress to his latest. The very first words which appear in the RECORD on February 19, 1935, are an indignant inquiry, addressed to a speaker who wished to reduce immigration by forbidding the extra-quota admission of resident aliens' wives and minor children:
"Does the gentleman believe it is wrong for families to be reunited, and unAmerican and detrimental to the economic welfare of this Nation?"
And sixteen years later Marcantonio reaffirmed his fundamental faith that no inhuman policy could be good for America, saying:
"the difference between me and those who want to repress people is that I have faith and confidence in the intelligence of the American people .... Those who are against them say they want this kind of repressive legislation."
This tireless concern for human rights and American democratic traditions was expressed on many different issues in many different ways. But it is possible to see Marcantonio's work in Congress as falling into three more or less homogeneous periods, each with its own predominant central problems. These roughly coincide with the prewar, war, and postwar years of his congressional service.
DURING THE PRE-WAR DEPRESSION YEARS OF 1935-1940 Marcantonio's major preoccupation was, of course, welfare, the economic needs of the one-third of the nation which was ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clothed.
Here as always he showed an unusual ability to present a long-range program of sweeping fundamental reform without ever losing sight of the comparatively small immediate gains which might be won through persistent day by day demand. His farsighted plan to meet the needs of the unemployed, his strong support of the Frazier-Lundeen social security bill, and his opposition to "placing the burden of caring for the poor on the shoulders of the poor" were all integrated with his pressure for increased W.P.A. and relief appropriations, additional housing, and enforcement of minimum labor standards.
He was also most vigilant in guarding against measures which threatened to deprive those on relief of their right to organize or to engage in political activity in defense of their economic interests. He characterized an amendment to the Hatch Act, which would have barred W.P.A. workers from participation in politics, as "a step in the direction of government by the rich and well-born" and repeatedly defended such organizations of the unemployed as the Workers Alliance.
The use of "the red herring... to conceal the lack of pork chops" was a frequent target of his scathing criticism. Effective examples are his defense of the National Youth Congress and the Federal Music Project. In the spring of 1940 the Project had arranged for participation by young musicians from its rolls in an orchestral tour of South America, to be financed almost entirely by private sponsors and led by the renowned conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Although only $3,500 was to be spent by the Project itself for incidental costs in the selection of those who were to comprise the orchestra, several Congressmen made an attempt to have the entire appropriation for the Music Project unfavorably reconsidered because of its participation in "such subversive activities" as the tour. Marcantonio ironically remarked:
"I want to say the gentleman is absolutely correct with regard to Stokowski and alien subversive activities. What does his orchestra play? Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Verdi absolutely alien and subversive ... "
The bitter competition for jobs during the '30s made a climate of opinion in which it was easy to attack the foreign born, and many a demagogue posed as a friend of labor in sponsoring legislation to bar resident aliens from work relief and subsidized housing projects.
Marcantonio fought these demagogues with a variety of weapons. Sometimes he used logic, analyzing such attacks on the alien worker and showing them to be part of a strategy aimed at the organization of labor and at all American workers. Sometimes he used ridicule, as in his sarcastic comment on a bill to prevent non-citizens being elected to union office:
"I do not believe the amendment goes far enough. I believe... we should restrict leadership of American unions to the descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower." (Laughter and applause)
It is not surprising that the son of Italian immigrants, whose father was a carpenter, should have realized the identity of interest between native born and foreign born workers. But it is, perhaps, surprising that this son of the city streets, who had lived his entire life in East Harlem, should have been equally aware of the unity of interests between farmers and workers.
In 1935, during Marcantonio's first term in Congress, spokesmen for organized labor, including William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, opposed a bill to prevent foreclosure of family farms by refinancing mortgages at lower interest rates, on the grounds that this would lead to inflation and thus lower real wages. Many of the urban pro-labor Members of the House in arguing against the bill, cited a letter sent to all Congressmen by Mr. Green. But the junior Member from New York supported the farm relief proposal with a clear statement of the need for farmer-worker unity. After speaking of his own pro-labor voting record he concluded:
"I have followed Mr. Green on matters of labor legislation when I felt that his position was in the best interests of the American workers; but when Mr. Green attempts to throw the weight of the organized workers of America on the side of the Liberty League and the Economy League and other reactionaries who are opposed to this bill, then I refuse to follow Mr. Green's leadership and shall vote my conscience ... "
During his second term in Congress Marcantonio urged the same truth of the need for farmer-worker unity from another angle in his successful appeal to Representatives from the farm areas for their support of a city slum clearance project.
This independence of approach quickly won a degree of interest from his colleagues not often accorded to a freshman Congressman. For example, in June 1935 Marcantonio noticed that a Rear Admiral had an article in the Washington Herald over a byline which gave his name and rank without including the required statement that the views expressed were not those of the United States Navy. When he brought this to the attention of the House the following discussion took place.
Mr. Marcantonio: "... the Navy Department should not permit admirals of the United States to violate the regulations and go around making jingoistic statements advocating war with a friendly nation, a nation we have recognized. I think the Navy Department should take action and discipline this admiral, otherwise we shall have set a vicious precedent. If it had been an enlisted man who had violated the regulations, he would have been disciplined ... (Applause)
Mr. Vinson: [Georgia] The gentleman has no apprehension that the Navy Department will not require the admirals as well as enlisted men to live up to its rules and regulations?
Mr. Marcantonio: They have to show me.
Mr. Vinson: Well, suppose we cross that bridge when we come to it.
Mr. Marcantonio: I am going to cross that bridge when I come to it, and the date is on Monday, because I am going to call on the Navy Department and see whether or not they have taken any disciplinary action in this matter."
When Marcantonio returned to take his seat in the 76th Congress in 1939 he found in existence the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, then better known by the name of its chairman as the Dies Committee, and he soon became one of its leading opponents. Several of his speeches on the committee are included in the text.
Another important fight Marcantonio made in these prewar years was the one against the Hobbs anti-alien bill, which he called the "concentration camp" bill. This was defeated in the Senate, but was reintroduced into the House in several succeeding Congresses, and Marcantonio continued to campaign against it successfully until similar legislation was finally passed in 1950 by the 81St Congress.
In 1939 and 1940 Marcantonio resisted every step which seemed likely to involve the United States in the war in Europe. On July 9, 1940, he said:
"Our entry into it will bring no gain to the American people, but only the loss of the lives of American youth and of our free institutions ... . I am not a pacifist, I am willing to fight for the defense of my country and in any war in which the interests of our American people are involved. The present war is no such war and I am therefore resolved not only to oppose our entry into it but to warn my fellow countrymen against that scheme of things which will make our entry unavoidable."
The alien registration law which required the fingerprinting of non citizens., the proposal for peacetime conscription, and efforts to deprive "labor of its economic and social rights by the ripping up of labor's magna charta, the National Labor Relations law," all strengthened Marcantonio's determination to preserve American neutrality in the Congressional session of 1940-41.
During the summer of 1941, however, he examined new factors which entered the international situation, and came to the conclusion that these had changed the character of the war. In October 1941, after much discussion with his constituents, he made a definitive analysis of the change in a speech on the floor of the House. Here he said:
"What are the reasons which lead me to believe that a war which was predominantly imperialist has become essentially a war of national defense for the people of the United States?
The first reason is one of geography. A look at the map will demonstrate that a conquered Soviet Union would place a Nazi military bridgehead within a rowboat distance of our own northwestern shores, Alaska .... Secondly, in the world of 1940 and the early part of 1941 Hitler could not move against the Western Hemisphere. We were not in military danger as long as Hitler had on his eastern boundary a powerful well-armed Soviet Union. The defense interests of the United States and the Soviet Union were interdependent. The existence of a Soviet Union depended on an unconquered United States. The existence of the United States depended on an unconquered Soviet Union. A Hitler conquest of either made a Hitler conquest of the other almost a certainty.
In supporting these very measures which I have opposed in the past, I am supporting them for the same reasons which motivated my opposition, namely defense of our nation and its liberties .... The character of the war has changed and I have no other consistent course to follow but to support a war of defense as vigorously as I opposed a war of imperialist aggression."
AFTER WE WERE ATTACKED AT PEARL HARBOR, Marcantonio was most effective in winning Congressional approval for vital war measures. The organizational role he played from 1942 to 1945 in mustering support for F.E.P.C. [Fair Employment Practices Committee], anti-poll tax bills and Federal soldier vote legislation, for example, is difficult to illustrate by direct quotation but it is indicated by the comments of colleagues and reporters.
Although Marcantonio once remarked, "I would like to make a political speech [from the floor of this House] but realizing that I am a one-man party here I find myself at a terrific disadvantage," yet he was an unofficially acknowledged leader of the most advanced group of President Roosevelt's supporters there during the war.
The 1944 Harper's article, referred to previously, said:
"At forty-two Marcantonio is well on his way to becoming a first-class national figure, though one of the most unorthodox sort. Heretofore, his influence in the Congress has been that of a gadfly, not a leader ... . Lately however, he has shown real genius in turning his liabilities into assets, in playing the political interstices for all they are worth."
The Collier's article, quoted earlier, spoke of the important part Marcantonio had taken as a leader in supporting the most progressive New Deal legislation in the House, and also explained the lack of official recognition in terms of Committee appointments.
"In Congress, Mr. Marcantonio has invited and received the deep disregard of all Southern Members. His fight to abolish poll taxes, to strengthen the Fair Employment Practices Committee and to enact tough anti-lynch legislation has made him so many enemies.
In 1943, the House Committee on Committees designated Mr. Marcantonio for the Judiciary Committee ... With one accord, the Southern members plus a large number of Northern Democrats ... vetoed that designation and Mr. Marcantonio was rejected..."
Perhaps even more telling and certainly more interesting are the many emphatic statements made in the heat of debate by angry colleagues giving Marcantonio full credit or blame for specific pieces of legislation, particularly civil rights measures.
On October 12, 1942, when Marcantonio had succeeded in forcing the first anti-poll tax bill on to the floor of the House, Congressman Cox of Georgia who had been leading the opposition, said:
"Let me make one statement, and to you, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio], I salute you, sir. I salute you for having at least attained that burning ambition which you carry in your soul of becoming for one moment in your life the master of this House. You bring it to you, Sir, on its knee and, again, I congratulate you."
On December 14, 1943, Congressman Rankin of Mississippi objected to:
"the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio] backing up this rump organization known as the Fair Employment Practice Committee that is harassing the white people of the Southern States."
Four days later in the course of debate on a federal soldier vote bill Congressman Rankin said:
"Mr. Speaker, on yesterday, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio] in his attack on southern Democrats and the Southern States generally, accused me of leading the Republicans. I do not know whether any Republicans are following my leadership or not, but I do know the Democrats are not following the gentleman from New York .... He does not represent any real Democrats."
On the same day Congressman Hoffman of Michigan (R.) discussed the situation in which New Dealers, with some Republicans, found themselves opposing a bipartisan coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. He said that he, at least, would never accept Marcantonio's leadership:
"Now, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio] last night, I think it was, I noticed it in the RECORD said I was a 'Rankin Republican.' ... I will say this, at least, if I am a Rankin Republican, at least there are two of us, which is one more than the party which the gentleman represents has in Washington. I will say another thing, we have been talking a long time, some of us have, some people in this country, about a coalition. Now the parties are beginning to line up. It is no longer, as has been said here so often, Republicans against Democrats or Democrats against Republicans.
There has been a sort of New Deal, a New Deal Party which has taken over the Democratic Party, and perhaps there has been some disagreement on our side along certain lines .... Now if the time comes when I must make my choice, and I think it has, as between Democrats from the South, West, or the North, who believe in the Old Constitution and in the customs and practices of America as we have known them for the last one hundred and sixty-odd years, if that day comes when I must make a choice to go along with those men or to join with that group of new dealers or bureaucrats and wild, woolly and fuzzy headed individuals or whatever you want to call them, professors, then I will not hesitate one minute, not one minute, I will go with the Democrats who believe in the Constitution if I am forced to make a choice. And if I am forced to choose, as the gentleman seems to think I am, between the gentleman from Mississippi [Mr. Rankin] and the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio] much as I hate to make the choice, great as my grief may be, weeping as I make that choice, I will go with the man from Tupelo, the gentleman from Mississippi [Mr. Rankin]."
Most surprising of all, the Senate also took cognizance of the situation in which a "Member of the House of Representatives who is neither a Democrat nor a Republican" had assumed leadership, for the anti-poll tax fight, of the majority forces in the lower house.
On May 9, 1944, the anti poll tax bill, which had passed the House, was presented on the floor of the Senate, and Senator Connally of Texas challenged Senator Mead of New York, who was sponsoring it, to name the author of the House bill. When Senator Mead replied: "There were several, perhaps," Senator Connally persisted: "Marcantonio was one." Senator Mead answered: "And there were several others." Senator Connally then exclaimed:
"...Marcantonio! The rules of the Senate as to comity between the two bodies of the Congress prohibit me from discussing any individual members of the House. However, I cannot forget the part a similar name played in Roman history."
Two days later on May 11, 1944, Senator Bankhead of Alabama took the floor to prove that Congressman Marcantonio was really responsible for the passage of an anti-poll tax bill in the House of Representatives. The summary description which follows is one of the most explicit statements to be found in the Congressional Record of "the leadership of Mr. Marcantonio" in organizing support for civil rights legislation. Senator Bankhead said:
"Yesterday a good deal was said about the authorship of the pending bill. It was directly charged by Senators on the floor of the Senate that a man by the name of Vito Marcantonio, of New York, was the author of the bill. The junior Senator from New York [Mr. Mead] apparently did not want him to have that position so he insisted that three or four Representatives from the State of New York had introduced the bill .... Yesterday I telephoned the Clerk of the House of Representatives and was informed that Mr. Marcantonio was the first one to introduce the bill. There were others who subsequently introduced similar bills.
I assume that other Members of the House of Representatives and they were chiefly from the State of New York wished to follow the leadership of Mr. Marcantonio, so they proceeded to obtain copies of his bill and introduced it in their own names.
A little later this same Member of the House of Representatives, who is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, in fact, I do not know what his politics may be, Mr. Marcantonio, filed a petition with the Clerk of the House of Representatives to require the Committee, under the House rules, to report the bill. When he obtained a sufficient number of signers to the petition of discharge, he made a motion to discharge the Rules Committee and to send the bill to the calendar.
The result of that situation is that it is clearly shown that Mr. Marcantonio, and I am not criticizing him, he had the right to do what he did, is the leader of this program, this bill, this measure, this assault, as we call it, upon the Constitution of our Country. The thing that is surprising to me is that he found so many men who would follow his leadership on a constitutional question."
Senator McKellar of Tennessee then added:
"Yesterday I called attention to the fact that the bill was passed by the House, word for word, line for line, with the dotting of 'i's' and the crossing of 't's' all the way through just as Mr. Marcantonio had written it."
On May 15, 1944 Senator Barkley of Kentucky, in an unsuccessful attempt to get a vote on the anti-poll tax bill, introduced a motion to close the debate. He concluded:
"Much has been said here in criticism and in sarcasm regarding the name of the author of the bill, and regarding the organizations which support it. Mr. President, I hope that no Senator will vote, either on the motion which I have made to close debate, or ... on the bill itself, because of any prejudice against anyone who has a name which does not meet his particular favor, or against any organization which he does not happen to like.
Two years later in 1946, when F.E.P.C. legislation was passed in the lower House and presented to the Senate, Senator Bankhead again made Marcantonio his target.
"... Mr. President, the next development [after the first wartime executive order for F.E.P.C.] was the introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives by Representative Marcantonio.
He is not a Democrat; he is not a Republican. I do not know whether he is a Socialist. Of late, since the American Labor Party was organized, he has belonged to it. I do not know what his record was prior to that time. However, he is the author of the first legislative bill which was introduced on this subject in the Congress of the United States. It is surprising to see so many able strong Members of the Congress, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, following the leadership of Mr. Marcantonio on this subject.
Now let us consider the record. Mr. Marcantonio introduced his bill on July 20, 1942. It is House Bill 7412. I ask unanimous consent that it may be printed at this point in the RECORD as a part of my remarks.
[The Bill in full was then included in the RECORD.] ... Mr. President, I wish to call attention to the similarity between Senate Bill 101 and the Marcantonio Bill. I ask students of the subject to compare section 1 of the Marcantonio Bill with the corresponding section of the pending bill. I ask them to compare section 3 of the pending bill, Senate Bill 101, which defines unfair employment practices, with section 3 of the Marcantonio Bill.
[Senator Bankhead continued with a series of similar comparisons between 7 more sections of the two bills.]
Then following the introduction of Mr. Marcantonio's Bill, Mr. Scanlon introduced his Bill [in the House]. It is exactly like the one we are now considering, Senate Bill 101. Mr. Scanlon was a Democrat.
Then along came Mr. Dawson. On the day after Mr. Scanlon introduced his Bill, Mr. Dawson introduced exactly the same Bill. He is a Democrat from Illinois.
Then came Mr. LaFollette. On the same day he introduced House Bill 4005. He is a Member of the House of Representatives and is a Republican from the State of Indiana. The Bill he introduced follows the real pattern in fashion set in the Marcantonio Bill.
Then came the first Chavez Bill on June 23, 1944 .... That Bill was the one which was introduced by the Senator from New Mexico [Mr. Chavez] and other Senators, the same authors as those of the pending Bill [Senate Bill 101] ....
Mr. President, the authors of those Bills comprise about six Republicans and about six Democrats. It looks as though there were a scramble of Representatives to secure a good position on this subject ... ."
Marcantonio's effectiveness in winning such backing long remained vivid in the memory of Congress. In 1950, during the brief debate on the McCarrart Bill, Congressman Carroll of Colorado, one of the 20 who voted against it, disassociated himself from Marcantonio who was leading the fight against the bill. Congressman Carroll said:
"... The voting record of not only myself but other Members of the Democratic Party of the North and West with reference to international affairs is, on every important issue, separate and distinct and in opposition to the voting record of the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio]."
Congressman Cohner of Mississippi objected:
"if we are going to make comparisons and count noses, when the philosophy of the gentleman from New York [Mr. Marcantonio] was being opposed, before it was popular to do so, and when there was a little group in this House that consistently followed him, it was not the southern group ... "
One of the reasons Marcantonio was able to achieve the organization of a bloc in support of key progressive legislation during the war years of 1942-45 was his willingness to allow more conservative colleagues the major part in House debates. Thus during the years of his greatest influence in Congress we find him speaking there less than at any other period.
The liberal attitude which had generally characterized the nation and the federal government during these years, and made possible the phase of Marcantonio's legislative activity just described, showed some signs of deterioration even before the war ended. With victory in Europe in sight, and President Roosevelt's death, the deterioration became more rapid. The Congressional election of 1946, in which the Republicans won a majority, saw all but a few members of the "progressive bloc" defeated. The January 11, 1947 Saturday Evening Post article "They Couldn't Purge Vito" said, considering the new Congress and Marcantonio's position there:
"... In the last and preceding sessions of Congress, he was an effective gadfly in the interest of a number of pet causes and in opposition -- often victorious -- to what he would describe as 'Fascist' - that is, anti-labor, and so on - measures. His opponents respected him as a tireless and shrewd fighter; he knew the parliamentary tricks well, and he knew how to marshal every available vote [in the House].
The energy he will expend as a gadfly will be undiminished in the new Republican Congress, but many of the liberals and the more arrogant left-wingers who formerly would vote in his phalanx now are gone. His opponents claim he cannot count definitely on more than a dozen votes now...
IN THE POST WAR CONGRESSES Marcantonio did find himself more isolated each year in his uncompromising attempts to preserve real international cooperation and aid through U.N.R.R.A. and the United Nations instead of unilateral United States action in his continuing efforts to protect the status of organized labor and to maintain and extend the wartime gains made by the Negro people; and in his lonely rear guard fight to protect the Bill of Rights against erosion by Democratic "loyalty orders," Republican "loyalty bills" and the unconstitutional power of Congressional investigating committees.
It became increasingly necessary for Marcantonio to take the floor day after day -- sometimes even two or three times in a single day -- to carry on a dogged fight for the absolute repeal of Taft-Hartley; for civil rights; against the contempt citation of witnesses who had invoked the Fifth Amendment; in opposition to aid for Chiang KaiShek and Franco.
Less than a year after the war ended, during a miners' strike, Marcantonio spoke of "the same 'lynch labor' spirit being engendered here that I witnessed at the time this House rushed through the Smith-Connally Bill" [in May, 1943] Under the guise of attacking John L. Lewis you direct your attack against the men who are engaged, and have been engaged for the better part of their lives, in the production of coal."
Two weeks later, on May 25, 1946, Marcantonio was one of the few who objected to President Truman's request for drastic emergency legislation to force the striking railroad workers back on the job. The emergency was over before the Senate acted on President Truman's proposals, but other anti-labor action was urged in the House almost immediately. Marcantonio worked energetically to defeat the Case Bill: "The purpose of this legislation" he said, "is to destroy labor's right to strike."
For the rest of his time in Congress he was out in front with a small group, striving to hold the advances won by labor since the La guardia Anti-Injunction Act.
In a speech against the Labor Management Act of 1947 -- later substantially embodied in the Taft-Hartley Act -- Marcantonio asserted: "The whole philosophy of industrial relationship based on equality of bargaining is destroyed by this legislation."
On April 27, 1949, he cautioned labor that the "promises and pledges" made in the campaign of 1948 for the repeal of Taft-Hartley were "being washed out through a series of diabolical deals and compromises." A week later he assessed the substitute measure finally enacted as constituting "Taft-Hartley all over again."
From then on, in and out of Congress, Marcantonio took every opportunity to advocate "the outright repeal of Taft-Hartley and the reinstatement of the Wagner Act," even though the climate of opinion made his stand seem almost Utopian.
It is true that in the 80th and 81st Congresses Marcantonio rarely managed to win a majority on the floor of the House, but his appeals to the conscience of his colleagues almost always rallied a few more votes, and always encouraged many groups and individuals outside Congress to demand that their Representatives act to protect the peace, freedom and welfare of the people of the United States. And he himself never lost hope. In the darkest days of his Congressional career he repeatedly expressed his faith in ultimate victory in such statements as the one he made on the Mutual Defense Assistance Pact in August, 1949:
"It is abhorrent that in the United States today one's patriotism is subjected to attack when one stands up and fights for peace.
But let us see how history has passed judgment on those who refused to follow ... the program of the thirties in Italy and Germany.
Who were the real patriots, those who said yes, and those who followed, or were the real patriots those who refused to follow and faced the firing squads and were placed in concentration camps?
We are asked to forget everything everything that brought about the last World War.
When will this insanity cease? I know -- it will stop when the American people learn the truth."
Again, in speaking on F.E.P.C. in January 1950, he said:
"We may as well face it, gentlemen, irrespective of the maneuverings that are going on in this House, the American people are going to have their way with respect to F.E.P.C. The majority of the American people want it. All attempts to negate their will will fail because on this issue more than on any other issue the American people will make themselves heard. The people will win this fight despite the Truman double talk and the maneuvers of the leaderships of the Democratic and Republican parties."
And opposing the Internal Security Act of 1950 in August, he declared:
"The day is not far off when Americans will act as they have at other periods when we have had similar situations. Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts .... The American people rose up and defeated the tyranny of those days .... They have always thrust through to keep this democracy alive".
THESE POSTWAR CONGRESSIONAL YEARS also saw a new high point in Marcantonio's efforts in behalf of the independence of Puerto Rico and the well-being of its people, both on the island and here on the mainland of the United States.
During his first term in Congress he had introduced a bill for the genuine independence of Puerto Rico. In his second term he said to the House: "Puerto Rico is part of the United States and until its status is changed it is our duty to give as much attention, as much care, as much sympathetic treatment to Puerto Rico and its problems as we do to the problems of any of the people of the United States."
Marcantonio did his best to get Congress to fulfill this duty. Time and again he urged adequate relief appropriations, enforcement of the minimum wage law, changes in the coastwise shipping laws as they affected the island, and revision of the Sugar Act to improve Puerto Rico's economic situation.
He called the attention of Congress to every evidence, great or small, of "colonialism" as it affected the Puerto Rican people, and opposed not only the government of the territory by the United States, but also "... the rough hand of certain misguided Puerto Rican leaders [which] cloaks the direction that comes from the American financial and sugar interests on the mainland."
As early as August 1939, in describing an open denial on the island of civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, Marcantonio warned: "There is no place in America for political prisoners... When we ask ourselves: 'Can it happen here?' the Puerto Rican people can answer, 'it has happened in Puerto Rico.'"
By 1949 the demands of the Puerto Rican people for independence had reached a point which forced a congressional committee to consider the matter and in March 1950 they presented H.R. 7674, a bill for "the Puerto Rican Constitution." Marcantonio called this a "reaffirmation of the status quo in Puerto Rico under the guise of a meaningless self-government."
In his fight against H.R. 7674, Marcantonio made a complete analysis of its significance. Failing in his attempt to secure hearings on the bill in Puerto Rico, he placed in the RECORD evidence of the "profound opposition" to it by all kinds of organizations, publications and individuals on the island, most of whom were unable to attend the hearings in Washington.
ONE FURTHER ASPECT of Marcantonio's work in the House requires mention. Both friends and enemies agreed that he was altogether unsurpassed and almost unequalled in his mastery and daring application of the minutiae of House rules. Some remarks made by his congressional colleagues on his ability as a parliamentarian have already been quoted. As Congressman Celler said:
"He was one of the most skilled debaters in the Congresses he attended. He was an adept, artful parliamentarian. No one knew the rules better than he and he used that parliamentary knowledge and art with telling effect."
The RECORD contains innumerable examples of Marcantonio's use of this art. For instance, he often raised a point of order to prevent the passage of legislation tacked on to an appropriations bill; he was frequently the only one alert enough to call "no quorum" when there was an attempt to rush through some reactionary piece of legislation; he repeatedly called for the "yeas and nays" to induce Members, whose individual votes would then be recorded, to stand by their election pledges. On at least two occasions his surprise request for "an engrossed copy of the bill" on a Friday gained a two day postponement which allowed time for constituents at home to bring pressure to bear on their Representatives in Washington. In the spring of 1947 a bill for universal military training was defeated by a very narrow margin after such a delay. On March 16, 1949, the Herald Tribune headlined a Washington dispatch, "MARCANTONLO BALKS 70-GROUP AIR FORCE VOTE." It read in part:
"In the House, Representative Vito Marcantonio, American Laborite, of New York, used the parliamentary ruse of calling for reading of an 'engrossed copy' of the seventy-group bill just before the measure was to be called up for a vote. Since the bill was not in this final form and could not be so prepared until Monday, further consideration of it had to be postponed until that time under House rules. Representative Carl Vinson, Democrat, of Georgia, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and sponsor of the Bill, said that Marcantonio was 'within his rights' in his delaying tactics but predicted that the measure would pass 'almost unanimously.' He added that the New York Representative's 'real hope and strategy' had been to get the bill recommitted so that he could add an amendment -- which he has tried to tack on to numerous other measures -- to bar racial discrimination in the armed forces and in the industries supplying their equipment..."
The RECORD also reveals many occasions when Marcantonio took the floor to explain to his colleagues complicated parliamentary maneuvers which were being used in an attempt to defeat popular legislation. He showed them how these might be counteracted. To some extent he even succeeded in popularizing his parliamentary knowledge for his constituents. The best example of this is probably his newspaper article entitled, "Truman Can Pass or Kill F.E.P.C."
WITH THE EXCEPTION of the appendix, the material in this book has all been chosen from the 206 volumes of the Congressional Record which cover Marcantonio's congressional career. Hundreds of his bills, thousands of his votes and millions of his words are printed there.
In selecting from this wealth of material we have made every effort to give as full a picture as possible of Marcantonio's activities as a Representative of the people in the 18th Congressional District and the entire United States.
There is a great preponderance of extemporaneous debate and comment in the following pages. These vividly recall Marcantonio's personality, his ability to seize the essential point at issue with extraordinary rapidity, and to express himself on it at once. A good example is the impromptu speech in which he alone, of all those present who resented Congressman Rankin's slighting reference to Congressman Celler as "a Jewish gentleman," succeeded in organizing his thoughts quickly enough to protest immediately.
There are, of course, also a number of his longer, more definitive prepared speeches included. Many of these, like the criticism of the Hobbs bill, the analysis of the United States "foreign aid" program, and the opposition to an alliance with Franco's Spain, are examples of a closely reasoned, well-knit, complete argument where the logical structure succeeds in dealing with a multiplicity of details and presenting them in a unified and apparently simple manner.
However, the informal arguments show an even more revealing picture of the processes of Marcantonio's thought than do prepared talks or documents. They illustrate the way in which he could cut through formal logic to give the real meaning and weight of the matter under consideration. His discussion of F.E.P.C. and his summation to the jury in the defense of William Patterson' are examples of his skill in clarifying the essential implications of an issue for his audience.
Marcantonio was a serious student of American history as well as of current events but his concern in speaking was always the practical impact of his knowledge and understanding upon those who heard him, whether his audience stood about him on a street corner, sat before their radio and television sets at home, or faced him on the floor of the House.
That he had a strong feeling for the judgment history would pass on contemporary questions is amply illustrated by such statements as the one with which he concluded his argument on the European Recovery Plan on March 31, 1948:
"Mr. Chairman, I realize the effort we are now making is a futile one .... I know that nothing I can say or anyone else can say here this evening will change the course of events in this House. However, in the final analysis, our efforts are not futile because we believe that judgment on this matter will not be finally rendered here today. Final judgment on this far-reaching issue will be given by time and events and the American People. So as to have the record complete, and so that the record will demonstrate that efforts have been made by some of us to preserve the peace of the world, I have offered this substitute."
He cared very little, however, for the literary quality of his speeches, or for any admiration he might win by originality or variety of expression. Thus when he found an apt and popular phrase for a program or policy like "housing with an eyedropper," or a telling historical analogy, he would use it over and over. Marcantonio never forgot the time-tested rule learned early in street speaking: first tell them what you're going to say; then say it; then tell them what you have said.
Even for those who never heard him, the stylistic disadvantage such repetition presents in reading seems slight when weighed against the effect of immediacy and personal involvement these informal talks achieve. As for those who did know him, they may well, in many of these pages, again hear the characteristic inflections of sarcasm or emphasis, and see the quick gestures with which he punctuated his speech.
There is practically no subject on which Marcantonio spoke in the House that is not represented in the selections which follow, and there is, generally, a rough proportion between the number of times he spoke on a specific topic and the number of such speeches included.
To achieve this representative quality it has been necessary to give many speeches in part rather than in full. All omissions have been indicated by the customary ... and often substantial cuts are also marked by a bracketed statement of the nature of the material omitted.
The only other changes in the text are occasional corrections in punctuation. The RECORD is, essentially, a stenographic transcript; proofs are printed immediately after each day's session and the Members then have only three hours in which to make any necessary corrections in the reports of their speeches. Often this process leaves uncorrected obvious errors in punctuation all of which was, of course, supplied by the stenographer. Where these errors seemed simply to interfere with ease of reading they have been corrected, but wherever there was a possible ambiguity of meaning they have been left unchanged. Similarly a number of verbal errors have been kept as they stand in the RECORD, and the few such corrections which appeared really necessary have been indicated by placing the changed or inserted word in [ ]. Annotations brief explanations, additions of a proper name or geographical designation, and so forth -- are also placed in brackets.
With the exception of the material on Puerto Rico, everything is arranged in chronological order. Each of the seven Congresses constitutes a chapter with a table of contents in its opening pages. The speeches, letters and bills dealing with Puerto Rico are listed in order of date in these tables of contents but the material itself will be found in a separate section immediately after the 81st Congress.
The section on Puerto Rico thus presents a more continuous story of the island and its people. This topical arrangement also shows consecutively Marcantonio's activity over a period of 16 years on one of the general subjects which were of major concern to him. Those who wish to follow the development of his thinking on Labor, Peace, Equality, Civil Liberties or Welfare in a similarly continuous manner can do so by checking these headings in the index.
To conclude the selections in this volume with Marcantonio's final speech in Congress just after his defeat in the election of November, 1950, would have ignored his continued active concern, during the last three and a half years of his life, for the fundamental questions of state to which he had devoted himself with intensified earnestness in the 80th and 81st Congresses. A mere summary or descriptive statement would have detracted from the essentially "autobiographical" and documentary nature of this volume. To give some documentary account of the public activity of his last years we have, therefore, included parts of his own statements in four major legal cases. These constitute the appendix.
His long fight for peace on the floor of the House is reflected in his successful defense of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, chairman of the Peace Information Center; his struggle against the misuse of contempt citations, and for the equality of the Negro people, appears in another form in his victorious defense of William Patterson, executive secretary of the Civil Rights Congress; his effort to secure repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act is recalled by his defense of Ben Gold, then president of the International Fur & Leather Workers Union; and his opposition to the Internal Security Act of 1950 is continued in his defense of the Communist Party, in an effort to have that Act declared unconstitutional.
Dr. DuBois was kind enough to permit quotation from the two chapters of his in Battle for Peace, in which he describes Marcantonio's conduct of his trial and quotes the argument for a dismissal, addressed to the judge who granted it. The William Patterson and Ben Gold trials are both represented by Marcantonio's summations to the juries. The defense of the Communist Party is represented by substantial excerpts from the brief which Marcantonio prepared for submission to the Circuit Court of Appeals, but did not live to argue.
LIKE THADDEUS STEVENS, the Congressman he so much resembled, Marcantonio's character and position were widely misrepresented during his lifetime. For those who knew him personally, or who really followed his activities in Congress, he needed and needs no defense.
Those who never knew him, or knew him only through the distortions of political opponents and a prejudiced press, will, we hope, be able to judge him for themselves through these selections from the official record of his life's work. This bears out his own declaration on the floor of Congress in his last term there:
"I have stood by the fundamental principles which I have always advocated. I have not trimmed. I have not retreated. I do not apologize, and I am not compromising ..."