Time Capsule: Progressive Party Candidate Challenges Eisenhower and Stevenson to Televised Debate on Korea

Crusading labor lawyer Vincent Hallinan, the Progressive Party candidate for president, challenged GOP presidential standard-bearer Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson to a public television debate on the war in Korea on this day in 1952.

Speaking at a rally in Brooklyn, the Progressive Party nominee said that neither of his major-party rivals had offered a substantive plan for ending the Korean conflict.  Hallinan, who defended his first client in court before even finishing law school, said that he was the only candidate for the presidency who was calling for an immediate cease fire in Korea.

In a speech delivered earlier that day,  the 55-year-old Hallinan said that the Korean war was being fought to protect the “international flow of capital.”

Speaking from a sound truck canvassing New York City’s most populous borough, the Progressive candidate reminded voters that Sen. John J. Sparkman of Alabama, Stevenson’s vice-presidential running mate, had told a United Nations meeting two years earlier that the war in Korea was being waged precisely for that reason.

“I wonder how many people appreciate the significance of the war in Korea on the international investment picture.  It is possible that the long-range effect of the Korean War will be beneficial to the international flow of private capital,” asserted Hallinan, quoting the Alabama lawmaker.

“As time goes on,” said Hallinan, continuing to quote Sparkman, “investors are bound to realize that the United Nations — united and strong nations with a will for peace — have become a very powerful influence for political stability and economic growth.”

Speaking for himself, Hallinan said that the UN tried to suppress Sparkman’s controversial comments, but failed, adding that the Democratic vice-presidential candidate’s remarks were tantamount to “the rawest announcement of imperialism since Cecil Rhodes,” a reference to the wealthy South African mining magnate and unabashed defender of British colonialism.

“I doubt if many American parents would agree that their sons should die in Korea to protect the ‘international flow of capital,’” concluded the radical lawyer, adding that Sparkman’s statement, made in 1950, represented the position of the U.S. in Korea since that time.

Hallinan, who appeared on a nationally-televised program on CBS later that day, had been nominated by the Progressive Party in early July while serving a jail term for contempt of court related to his defense of West Coast labor leader Harry Bridges, the Australian-born leader of the International Longshoremen’s union who had been convicted of perjury for lying under oath that he was not and had never been a member of the Communist Party when he received his naturalization papers in 1945.

A lifelong Democrat who had cast his first vote in a presidential election for jailed Socialist Eugene V. Debs, a willing yet somewhat distracted Hallinan supported Henry A Wallace’s Progressive Party candidacy in 1948, shortly after his wife, Vivian — a beautiful and brilliant activist in her own right — joined the party.

Vivian, who was eight months pregnant with their sixth son at the time, headed the West Coast “Women for Wallace” organization that year and was convinced that the former Vice President’s third-party movement was the legitimate heir to FDR’s New Deal.

Wallace, of course, broke with the Progressive Party in 1950 and supported the U.S.-led war effort shortly after North Korea invaded South Korea.

Focusing on an immediate end to the war in Korea, higher living standards for the American people, and full civil rights for minority groups, Hallinan’s vice-presidential running mate was Charlotta Bass, a longtime civil rights activist and former publisher and managing editor of the California Eagle, an African-American newspaper.

A close friend of singer and actor Paul Robeson and sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, the 62-year-old Bass had served as Republican Wendell Willkie’s western regional director during the 1940 presidential campaign.

Charlotta Bass, the first African-American woman nominated for the vice presidency.

Hallinan had originally preferred Hugh DeLacy, an Irish-American former congressman from Seattle who had lost his congressional seat in 1946, but quietly acquiesed in the party’s selection of Bass as his vice-presidential running mate.

An incident later in the campaign, moreover, had a profound and lasting impact on Hallinan, strengthening his already progressive stand on full racial equality into an even deeper personal commitment for civil rights. 

After conferring with his vice-presidential co-star in Washington, D.C., Hallinan asked Bass where she would like to go to lunch.  She replied that it was probably too far to walk to the train station.  “I honestly thought she meant that they had good food there,” recalled Hallinan.  “But no.  She meant that it was the one place in the then segregated Capital that she knew of where a black woman might eat with a white man in public.”

Hallinan was mortified.  “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.  “It was an outrage.” 

Hallinan and his little-remembered running mate — the first African-American woman nominated for the vice presidency — polled 140,416 votes in twenty-seven states that fall.  It was a fairly decent showing, yet a far cry from the more than 1,157,000 votes garnered by Henry Wallace four years earlier.

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