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Anti-Communism During the Early 1950s Previous Next
Digital History ID 3415


In February 1950, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy had charged that the Department of State knowingly harbored Communists. Hearings on McCarthy's accusations were held under the chairmanship of Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland. The committee exonerated the State Department. Critics called the proceedings a "whitewash."

Following McCarthy's charges, anxiety over domestic communism intensified. In 1950, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of 11 top leaders of the Communist Party under the Smith Act. The court also refused to review the convictions of two Hollywood writers who had refused to answer questions before a Congressional committee about possible Communist connections. Meanwhile, a Justice Department official, Judith Coplon, was convicted of conspiracy with a Soviet representative at the United Nations (later reversed on procedural grounds), and four people--Harry Gold, David Greenglass, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg--were arrested on charges of atomic espionage. Around the same time, a grand jury issued indictments for the illegal transfer of hundreds of classified documents from the State Department to the offices of a journal called Amerasia.

In September 1950, Congress passed the McCarran Act over President Truman's veto. The act required members of Communist-front organizations to register with a Subversive Activities Control Board. A book by a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, Vincent Hartnet, titled Red Channels, made sweeping accusations about Communist influence in the entertainment industry. The book's charges led the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate actors, producers, and screenwriters, all of whom were accused of using film, stage, and radio as vehicles for Communist propaganda.

In 1951, the head of the FBI assured Congress that his organization was ready to arrest 14,000 dangerous Communists in the event of war with the Soviet Union. A foundation offered $100,000 to support research in creating a device for detecting traitors.

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