John Parnell Thomas (January 16, 1895 – November 19, 1970) was a
stockbroker and politician. He was elected to seven terms as a U.S.
Representative from New Jersey. He was later a convicted criminal who
served nine months in federal prison for corruption.
1 Early life and career
5 Corruption charges and imprisonment
9 See also
11 External links
Early life and career
Born as John Parnell Feeney Jr. in Jersey City, New Jersey, he changed
his name in 1919 to John Parnell Thomas. Raised Catholic, he later
became an Episcopalian.
After graduating from high school, he went on to study at the
University of Pennsylvania. When the United States joined World War I
in 1917, he served overseas with the United States Army. Following his
discharge from the military in 1919, Thomas worked in the investment
securities and insurance business in New York City for the next
He entered Allendale, New Jersey, municipal politics in 1925 and was
elected councilman and then Mayor of Allendale,
New Jersey from 1926
to 1930. He was elected to a two-year term to the
New Jersey General
Assembly in 1935. In 1936 was elected to the United States House of
Representatives as a Republican Party Representative from New Jersey's
7th congressional district, filling the vacancy left by the death of
Randolph Perkins. He would be re-elected six times.
As a U.S. Congressman, Thomas was a staunch conservative opponent of
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, claiming the
President's legislative agenda had "sabotaged the capitalist system."
Thomas opposed government support for the Federal Theatre Project
declaring that "practically every play presented under the auspices of
the Project is sheer propaganda for
Communism or the New Deal."
In 1949 Thomas called the U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal,
"the most dangerous man in America" and claimed that if Forrestal were
not removed from office he would "cause another world war."[citation
In the post-war period, Thomas called for a rapid demobilization of
the American military. In 1946, he invited General Dwight Eisenhower
to his office to discuss the issue. When he arrived, the general was
faced with a table surrounded by soldier's wives, many holding babies.
News photographers took photos of the furious Eisenhower.
Following the Republican Party gaining control of the 80th Congress in
the November 1946 elections, Thomas was appointed chairman of the
House Committee on Un-American Activities
House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)–during that period,
also called the "Thomas Committee." In May 1947, Thomas traveled to
Hollywood to meet with film industry executives with a view to
exposing what he believed was Communist infiltration of motion
pictures content by members of the Screen Writers Guild. Returning to
Washington, D.C., he shifted the focus of the committee to what he
called the "subversives" working in the film business.
Under Thomas, in October 1947, HUAC summoned suspected Communists to
appear for questioning. These summonses led to the conviction and
imprisonment for contempt of Congress of the "
Hollywood Ten" who had
refused to answer the Committee's questions, citing the Fifth
Corruption charges and imprisonment
Prominent American columnists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson were
critical of Thomas and his committee's methods.
Rumors about corrupt practices on the part of Thomas were confirmed
when his secretary, Helen Campbell, sent documents to Pearson which he
used to expose Thomas' corruption in an August 4, 1948, newspaper
article. The fraud had begun on New Years Day of 1940, when Thomas
placed Myra Midkiff on his payroll as a clerk. She earned roughly
$1,200 a year and was to kick back her salary to the Congressman to
avoid taxation. The arrangement lasted for four years. As a result,
Thomas was summoned to answer to charges of salary fraud before a
Thomas refused to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment rights,
the same stance for which he had criticized accused Communists.
Indicted, Thomas was tried and convicted of fraud, fined and given an
18-month prison sentence. He resigned from Congress on January 2,
In another twist, he was imprisoned in Danbury Prison with Lester Cole
and Ring Lardner Jr., both members of the "
Hollywood Ten" serving time
because of Thomas' inquiries into the film industry.
After his release from prison, Thomas was an editor and publisher of
three weekly newspapers in Bergen County, New Jersey. President Harry
S. Truman pardoned Thomas on
Christmas Eve of 1952. In 1954, Thomas
tried to re-enter politics, but was defeated for the Republican Party
nomination for Congress.
Thomas died in 1970 in St. Petersburg, Florida, aged 75, of
undisclosed causes. He was cremated, and his ashes were interred in
the Elmgrove Cemetery in Mystic, Connecticut.
In the 2015 film Trumbo, Thomas is portrayed by James Dumont.
List of American federal politicians convicted of crimes
List of federal political scandals in the United States
United States House of Representatives
House Un-American Activities Committee
List of members of the House Un-American Activities Committee
^ a b
Robert D. McFadden (November 20, 1970). "J.Parnell Thomas,
Anti-Red Crusader, Is Dead. Headed House Committee on Un-American
Activities Prison Sentence for Padding Payroll. Ended Career In Hiss
Spotlight". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-19. J. Parnell Thomas, a
seven-term United States Representative from
New Jersey who gained
national notice as an anti-Communist crusader in the late 1940s and
later went to prison for padding his Congressional payroll, died here
tonight after a long illness. He was 75 years old. ...
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania archives site
^ Kanfer, Stefan (2011). Tough without a gun : the life and
extraordinary afterlife of Humphrey Bogart (1st ed.). New York: A.A.
Knopf. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-307-27100-6.
^ Halberstam, David (10 May 1994). The Fifties. 516: Ballentine.
^ Spartacus Educational site
Wikimedia Commons has media related to J. Parnell Thomas.
United States Congress. "
J. Parnell Thomas
J. Parnell Thomas (id: T000175)".
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
J. Parnell Thomas' truncated bio at The Political Graveyard
U.S. House of Representatives
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 7th congressional district
January 3, 1937 – January 2, 1950
William B. Widnall
US Congress: T000175