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Americans for Democratic Action

The Oxford Companion to United States History

Mark L. Kleinman

Americans for Democratic Action 

(ADA) was founded in January 1947 by the liberal leadership of a World War II–era interventionist group, the Union for Democratic Action.

The ADA's creation marked the culmination of a crucial breach in American liberal ranks between the anticommunist or “Cold War” liberals who rallied to the ADA and the more communist-tolerant liberals of the Progressive Citizens of America (eventually the Progressive party of 1948). Among the ADA's founding members were leading anticommunist liberals from academe, politics, and labor, including Reinhold Niebuhr, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1917– ), Walter Reuther, Eleanor Roosevelt, lawyer Joseph Rauh, and Hubert Humphrey. Although it generally worked to influence the Democratic party, the ADA was officially an independent political organization. Its founders hoped to bring a significant degree of progressive, pragmatic, noncommunist influence to mainstream politics, embodying Schlesinger's concept of a “vital center” in American political culture formulated in his 1949 book of that title.

The ADA helped President Harry S. Truman retain the liberal vote in the 1948 Presidential election, in part by pushing Truman leftward on issues such as civil rights, but also by leading a full-scale attack on Progressive party Presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, portraying him and his colleagues as dupes of the Communist party. Ironically, in the early 1950s, the ADA itself came under similar attack by McCarthyite forces. In the following years the organization was active in various progressive liberal causes, ranging from civil rights to President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society reforms. Reflecting American liberalism generally, by the mid-1960s the ADA was badly split over American involvement in Vietnam, although it officially supported Johnson's war policy. By early 1968, however, the group had come to oppose the war. It endorsed Hubert Humphrey's Presidential candidacy that year, but with barely concealed ambivalence. With Richard M. Nixon's election to the presidency in 1968, the ADA was pushed to the political margins, never having fully attained the level of influence its founders envisioned.

See also Anticommunism; Civil Rights Movement; Liberalism; McCarthy, Joseph; Vietnam War.


Steven M. Gillon, Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism, 1947–1985, 1987.Find this resource:

    Mark L. Kleinman, A World of Hope, A World of Fear: Henry A. Wallace, Reinhold Niebuhr, and American Liberalism, 2000.Find this resource:

      Mark L. Kleinman