General Douglas MacArthur’s Controversial Seattle Centennial Visit

April 22nd, 2017

While going through photographs housed in the Log House Museum collections, I was surprised to see photos of General Douglas MacArthur at the Centennial celebrations placing a wreath on the Pioneer Monument and surrounded by onlookers as he waved from a convertible. I was interested to know why General MacArthur was at the Seattle celebrations and what was his connection to Seattle and our founding anniversary? Of all the people to have come speak at this event, how was it that we were able to obtain such a high profile individual with reasons to be at any location in the world on this day? How was it that he came to be in Seattle and available to join in our celebrations on November 13, 1951? As I looked into Seattle’s Centennial celebrations and the guest speaker, I found that recent events revolving around MacArthur and his speech at the University of Washington that day ended up overshadowing Seattle’s founding anniversary in the national and local news. MacArthur talked of Democrats and Republicans in polarizing camps that is comparable to what is heard in the news today.

Nineteen fifty-one was a contentious year for the highly decorated General. His appearance at our Centennial event was his first since being relieved of his command in the Far East by President Truman citing insubordination as the cause because of their differing views regarding how best to handle the Korean War. Police Chief George Eastman estimated that 300,000 people came out to welcome General MacArthur and his wife at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. During his address from the Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the University of Washington, supporters included Republican politicians and citizens who had started petitions to have MacArthur run for President even though the general had said publically that he “was not a candidate for the office of president” and has “no political ambitions of any sort.”¹ Nine thousand people arrived at the university pavilion to listen to his nationally broadcasted address. However, also in attendance were protesters from the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor. Notably there were some not in attendance, such as the State Democratic Congress and the Seattle chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action. Seattle’s Democratic Congressman Hugh Mitchell, and later some historians disagreed, that MacArthur was not interested in running for office after hearing his Seattle address on November 13, 1951 and actually believed this, and other events MacArthur spoke at across the country, was in actuality a way to test the waters as to whether he should run for President in 1952.


On November 13th, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur and his wife arrived in Seattle at 3:09pm from New York. From the airport he rode in his convertible for nearly two hours making three stops to place wreaths or participate in other memorial services, including honoring soldiers fallen in World War II and Alki Point’s celebration at the Pioneer Monument. Historian Alan J. Stein describes the events on Alki Point that day, writing:

Festivities began at Alki point at 9:45a.m. The West Seattle High School Band played music and thousands of people began arriving. The skies were gray, and a cold wind blew over the waters, just as it had exactly 100 years earlier.

Public speaker and West Seattle insurance salesman Orlyn Haws set the stage for the re-enactment with a running narrative. His prelude began at 9:50a.m., telling of what had gone on at Alki Point prior to the pioneers’ arrival…

Waiting below on the shores of Alki beach was Robert Jensen, who portrayed David T. Denny…Jensen waited forlornly on the beach, just as Denny had, looking for the rest of his party. At 10:00, the Exact, represented by the Sea Scout schooner Yankee Clipper, hove into view.

On board were the rest of the re-enactment cast…

Twelve boys from the Canuk Junior High Y Club portrayed Indians…

As the two little boats came ashore with the re-enactors, Orlyn Haws continued with the narrative…

Just as the pantomime tableau came to a finish, a cold drizzle filled the air, adding authenticity to the event…

A variety of speeches and presentations ensued, presided over by F. Clyde Dunn, publisher of the “West Seattle Herald” and general chairman of the Alki Centennial Committee…

…later that afternoon almost everyone returned [after lunch], as well as thousands of newcomers, for the second part of the day’s events. Shortly before 4:00p.m., the clouds briefly parted, and rays of sunshine shone through. A spectacular rainbow appeared over the city of Seattle. Almost on cue, a limousine pulled up, and out stepped General Douglas MacArthur.

The general strode confidently to the monument, along with his wife. He firmly grasped the hand of Bill Sweeney, then waved to the cheering crowd. Sweeney stepped up to the mike and intoned, “Ladies and gentleman, General Douglas MacArthur.” Thousands of men, women, and children roared with approval.

MacArthur thanked the audience and said a few words about the centennial. Many were impressed that he knew the history of the monument, and that he mentioned West Seattle resident John Adams by name. Adam, a 91-year-old pioneer, stepped forward and presented MacArthur with a wreath to place by the monument.

A few more words about the pioneer spirit, General MacArthur placed the wreath at the base of the monument, stepped back, and saluted. He returned to his waiting caravan amidst a crowd of well-wishers, vigorously clasping their hands, and warmly slapping some of them on the back. His stop at Alki lasted all of six minutes before he moved on to his accommodations at the Olympic Hotel.²

The New York Times described the scene in Seattle, writing: “…city ticker take floated down from the office buildings.”³ At 8:30pm, General Douglas MacArthur joined Republican Senator Harry P. Cain, Governor Langlie, president of Greater Seattle, Inc. George Gunn Jr., and university president Raymond B. Allen. His address that lasted forty-five minutes and by the end of it national and local newspapers would describe his speech as a political controversy. The Walla Walla Union Bulletin printed, “It was a the speech in which the general charged the Truman administration with leading the nation down a road to a third world war, to socialism and to ruinous taxes and spending.”4 The New York Times wrote:

In a challenge interpreted as a call to voters to throw out the present Administration in 1952, General MacArthur said the people “have it in their hands to restore morality, wisdom and vision to the direction of our foreign and domestic affairs and regain the religious base which in times past assured general integrity in public and private life.5

Senator Harry P. Cain, a Washington Republican, would say of the speech, “A brave and bold American spoke the truth to a troubled nation and offered a solution.”

However, some felt the speech inappropriate considering the event and the venue.

General Douglas MacArthur was invited to the centennial observance by Greater Seattle Inc. after their first invitee, President Truman, was unable to attend. Mayor William F. Devin set up the nonpartisan organization to supervise the centennial celebrations. After Truman declined, Senator Cain suggested MacArthur. Seattle leaders of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor protested saying “they did not object to having General MacArthur afforded a public platform, but that they had regarded it as a ‘serious blunder’ to have him speak at a meeting supported by all of Seattle without regard to political partisanship.”7 Marvin Durham, president of the Associated Students of the University of Washington, had telegraphed the general urging him not to make a “partisan political speech”8 on the campus in view of a political speakers’ ban imposed by the board of regents. Their fears proved warranted as of that forty-five minute speech only three minutes were devoted to Seattle Centennial. Officials of Greater Seattle Inc. were described as unhappy over the turn of events as General MacArthur had been “officially invited to open the Seattle Centennial period,”9 with no further characterization of the kind of speech expected. Afterwards, Democrats’ comments ranged from charging MacArthur with demagoguery to demands for a public apology for “converting the celebration into a Republican political rally.”10 James B. Wilson, president of the Seattle chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, sent a telegram to Raymond B. Allen demanding campus facilities for Representative Mitchell to “reply to the general’s attack on domestic and foreign policies of the administration.”11 Democratic Party chairman, Harry Hensen stated the General had “violated every canon of good taste and propriety by using the Seattle centennial as a political springboard.”12 Democrats and critics concluded that MacArthur’s visit and speech had been politically motivated as Senator Harry Cain was up for re-election in 1952. Harry Cain lost re-election and became a member of the Subversive Activities Control Board in Washington D.C. from 1953-1956. Cain moved to Florida in 1957.

On Wednesday, November 14th, General Douglas MacArthur welcomed home soldiers arriving from Korea to Seattle in another event sponsored by Greater Seattle Inc. The next day, Douglas MacArthur went on to Portland and was greeted by an estimated 125,000 citizens. Political writers commented that the crowd was “larger than for some Presidential visits.”13 From there, MacArthur returned east with a visit scheduled for the 18th of November to dedicate a park and monument in Norfolk, Virginia.

On November 15th, Walla Walla Union Bulletin reported that the Collector of Customs Howard MacGowan and Democratic national committeeman Dr. J.R. Binyon resigned as members of Greater Seattle Inc. Binyon complained “They’ve turned it into a Republican political campaign.”14 Meanwhile, the university announced its plans to arrange a Democratic speaker to appear at the pavilion.

In the 1952 Presidential election, there were three nationalist parties that contested the election with General Douglas MacArthur as their party’s nominee. In the end he only won 17,205 popular votes giving him no electoral votes. President Eisenhower looked to MacArthur for military advice briefly, but after finding that he still supported bombing China and North Korea, MacArthur played no further role in the new administration.

To read General Douglas MacArthur’s full speech click here: Douglas MacArthur Speech

¹ Walla Walla Union Bulletin 14 Nov 1951

² Stein, Alan J. “Seattle begins its year-long centennial celebration beginning on November 13, 1951.” Essay 3632

³ New York Times 14 Nov 1951

4 Walla Walla Union Bulletin 15 Nov 1951

New York Times 14 Nov 1951

Walla Walla Union Bulletin 15 Nov 1951

7 New York Times 14 Nov 1951

8 New York Times 14 Nov 1951

9 New York Times 14 Nov 1951

10 Walla Walla Union Bulletin 14 Nov 1951

11 Walla Walla Union Bulletin 14 Nov 1951

12 Walla Walla Union Bulletin 14 Nov 1951

13 New York Times 16 Nov 1951

14 Walla Walla Union Bulletin 15 Nov 1951