Archibald MacLeish

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Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) was an American poet, Librarian of Congress, and a noted fellow traveller.[1]

MacLeish was born in 1892, the son of a prosperous Chicago department store executive, and spent his childhood on a seventeen-acre estate on Lake Michigan.[2] He attended Yale University, where he was a member of Skull & Bones and a classmate of Dean Acheson, with whom he moved on in 1915 to Harvard Law School, where he became a protegé of Felix Frankfurter.

Early communist connections

After graduation, MacLeish lectured at Harvard, became an editor at The New Republic with Walter Lippmann, then joined the Boston law firm of Choate, Hall and Stewart, which would later employ Alger Hiss.[3] In 1932, MacLeish won the Pulitzer Prize for his epic poem Conquistadors. That year, he wrote an article questioning the legitimacy of the existing “capitalist order,”[4] which caught Hiss' eye.[5]

In 1936, MacLeish submitted two articles to the Communist Party organ New Masses, whose editor was Whittaker Chambers.[6] The next year, he chaired the first open meeting of the Second Congress of the League of American Writers (LAW),[7] where he introduced Communist Party General Secretary Earl Browder.[8] The LAW was a Communist front, “founded under Communist auspices in 1935,” according to a 1942 report by President Franklin Roosevelt's Attorney General Francis Biddle.[9]

FDR appoints MacLeish Librarian of Congress

Nevertheless, the following year, FDR appointed MacLeish Librarian of Congress. Because he was not a librarian, the American Library Association had opposed his candidacy for the post, although he had been endorsed by the Progressive Librarians Council,[10] founded by Soviet agents[11] Philip and Mary Jane Keeney. Soon after MacLeish got the post, Philip Keeney would be working at the Library of Congress,[12] where he handled classified material.[13]

War Dept and information

During World War II, MacLeish served as director of the War Department's Office of Facts and Figures and assistant director of the Office of War Information[14] (where his subordinates included Owen Lattimore, director of Pacific Operations, and Joseph Barnes, in charge of international broadcasting),[15] then (in 1944) assistant secretary of state for Cultural Affairs.

Hiss and the U.N.

After the war, MacLeish served with Hiss on the U.S. delegation drafting the United Nations Charter. The official assigned by the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the CIA) to record the drafting of that document would later say MacLeish "kicked me out" of the session.[16] Secretary of State Dean Acheson appointed MacLeish chairman of the U.S. delegation to the organizational meeting of UNESCO.

Celebrating Stalinists and condemning defectors

In 1948, following the death[17] of Soviet agent[18] Laurence Duggan (ten days after Duggan implicated Henry Collins and Frederick Vanderbilt Field in espionage, and five days after Hiss' indictment[19] by a grand jury) MacLeish dedicated a poem to Duggan, denouncing "informers" (apparently Hede Massing and Whittaker Chambers, each of whom had identified Duggan)[20] for their "slanders" and "lies."[21] This poem was included in Macleish's Collected Poems (1952), for which he won a second Pulitzer Prize, as well as the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize. The following year, he returned to Harvard as a professor.

Later years

In 1958, MacLeish won a third Pulitzer for J.B., a verse play based on the book of Job. The following year, he wrote a preface for ex-Communist Barney Rosset's[22] unexpurgated edition of D.H. Laurence's 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield promptly banned this edition from the U.S. mail on the grounds that it was “obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy, vile,” adding that any “literary merit the book may have is far outweighed by the pornographic and smutty passages and words.” In his landmark ruling overturning the U.S. Post Office's ban on obscene materials, Judge Frederick van Pelt Bryan of the Southern District of New York admitted that the book included “four-letter Anglo-Saxon words used with some frequency,” but added that “even if it be assumed that these passages and this language taken in isolation tend to arouse shameful, morbid, and lustful sexual desires in the average reader,” he would not uphold the ban, in part because this edition had “a preface by Archibald MacLeish, a former Librarian of Congress, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of this country's most distinguished poets and literary figures.”[23] The novel's original protagonist, gamekeeper Oliver Parkin, is a Communist who becomes “secretary of the Communist League.”[24]

In 1963, MacLeish left Harvard, becoming a lecturer at Amherst College. In 1965 he won the Academy Award for best screenplay for The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. He retired in 1967, and died in 1982 in Boston, Massachusetts.


  1. David Caute, The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988] ISBN 0300041950, p. 185
  2. David Barber, “Archibald MacLeish's Life and Career,” Modern American Poetry, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  3. Alger Hiss Collection, 1934-1979, Maryland Historical Society
  4. Archibald MacLeish, “To the Young Men of Wall Street,” Saturday Review, January 16, 1932
  5. Tony Hiss, The View From Alger's Window (New York: Vintage Books, 2000) ISBN 0375701281, pp. 140-141
  6. MacLeish “would not have written for that party publication at all unless he shared some of the goals of American communism.” Hilton Kramer, The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War (Chicago: I.R. Dee, 2000) ISBN 1566632226, p. 262
  7. Books: Creators' Congress," Time, June 21, 1937
  8. Ellen McClay, In the Presence of Our Enemies (Bloomington, In.: AuthorHouse, 2006) ISBN 1420894226, p. 251
  9. During the Nazi-Soviet pact, said Biddle, the League “began openly to follow the Communist Party line as dictated by the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.” The League's sudden pacifism during the pact, and equally sudden reversion to pro-war militancy upon its breakdown, observed Biddle, left “little doubt of its Communist control.” Congressional Record (United States Government Printing Office): 7685–7686. September 2, 1942.  cited in Joint Fact-Finding Committee, California Legislature (1947). Third Report: Un-American Activities in California. Sacramento: California Senate, 67–69 (PDF pp. 77–79). Retrieved on 2010-07-26. 
  10. McReynolds, Rosalee (Winter 1990/91). "The Progressive Librarians Council and Its Founders". Progressive Librarian (Progressive Librarians Guild) (2). 
  11. John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (Yale University Press, 2000) ISBN 0300084625, pp. 178-180
  12. McReynolds, Rosalee (Winter 1990/91). "The Progressive Librarians Council and Its Founders". Progressive Librarian (Progressive Librarians Guild) (2). 
  13. United States House of Representatives, Committee on Un-American Activities (March 15, 1950). Annual Report, 1949. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 3–4 (PDF pp. 9–10). Retrieved on 2010-07-25. 
  14. Archibald MacLeish, Academy of American Poets
  15. Erik Barnouw, The Golden Web: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, 1933 to 1953 (Oxford University Press, 1968) ISBN 0195004752, p. 159
  16. Oliver Lundquist Interview, United Nations Oral History Project, Yale University, 1990
  17. "Investigations: The Man in the Window," Time, January 3, 1949
  18. 1613 KGB New York to Moscow, 19 November 1944
  19. Christopher D. O'Sullivan, "8. Resignation," Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937-1943 (Columbia University Press, 2007) ISBN 0231142587
  20. Adolf Berle’s Notes on his Meeting with Whittaker Chambers (John Earl Haynes, Historical Writings); John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), ISBN 0300077718, pp. 202-203
  21. Archibald MacLeish, "The Black Day," Collected Poems, 1917-1982 [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1985] ISBN 0395395690, p. 403
  22. In 1934, Rosset was among the New York City students bused to Vassar College—along with James A. Wechsler (a member of the Young Communist League and a leader of the essentially pro-Communist American Students Union [ASU]) and Joseph Lash (who would become executive secretary of the ASU two years later)—for an ASU conference. After the war he joined the Communist Party as a student at the University of Chicago. After a 1948 trip to Communist Czechoslovakia, he “got the hell out.”
  23. Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000) ISBN 0684859785, p. 117
  24. Reviews,” The Review of English Studies 1990 XLI(162):285-288; doi:10.1093/res/XLI.162.285