On May 31, 2005, former FBI associate director W. Mark Felt revealed that he was “Deep Throat,” the shadowy high official whose leaks to the Washington Post helped to provoke the Watergate crisis and topple the Nixon presidency. Felt’s confession ended one of the capital’s longest-running guessing games; the hushed phone calls and parking-garage trysts of All the President’s Men ,co-author Bob Woodward confirmed, were based on encounters with Felt. Media outlets framed the revelation as a drama of individual derring-do, assigning Felt the role of noble whistleblower or despicable traitor, liberal ally or conservative nemesis.
Timothy Messer-Kruse’s The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age (2011) provides ample grist for a larger discussion of Gilded Age labor, radicalism, and the contemporary system of justice. Messer-Kruse’s close examination of the full trial testimony and his twinned conclusions that there was likely a conspiracy to commit violence among the accused and that most of the guilty verdicts should be considered “fair” by the standards of the day are two aspects that set his treatment apart from others.
While generally giving the author credit for changing the grounds of the Haymarket debate, our own jury remains skeptical. Richard Schneirov returns to the scene of the crime with his own lawyer-like disputation of the guilty verdicts. Kevin Boyle cautions against using courtroom testimony “with such assurance.” Beverly Gage regrets the lack of larger context, including the viciousness of reactions aimed at the larger labor movement and the radicals themselves.
Comparing Haymarket to the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson trials, Janice L. Reiff likewise points to key elements of reception that are left out of Messer-Kruse’s account. In conclusion, the author treats his critics with clemency.
When I received the invitation to this conference about a year ago, I was surprised at the fortuitous timing: I was actually sitting at my computer writing about the Wickersham Commission—an unusual moment for such an obscure historical subject. So of course I said yes right away.
The other reason that I very much wanted to come here is that, thanks to the work of historian Athan Theoharis, Marquette is one of the country’s great repositories of historical FBI documents. I am currently writing a biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director. Anyone who writes about this subject owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Professor Theoharis, whom you’ll be hearing from later on today.
Last year, the new Project on Grand Strategy, Security, and Statecraft quietly opened its doors in Cambridge, Mass. A joint venture between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program, thus far, has hosted only a modest level of activity, barely noticeable in the thrum of the Boston-area academic scene. Last year, the program supported two visiting scholars. This year, the number is up to four, all with specialties in some aspect of United States foreign relations.