Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss at State Dept office, 1940

Alger Hiss at State Dept office, 1940

Alger Hiss was a talented young lawyer, Harvard trained, who at the age of 24 received the signal honor of serving as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the figure he most admired in public life. A lifelong Democrat and passionate adherent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he abandoned a promising legal career in New York in 1933 to join the New Deal in its first months.

In 1936, he moved to the State Department, where in 1945 his government career reached its peak, when he traveled to the Yalta Conference with President Roosevelt and several months later served as Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, in San Francisco.

In 1947, he became President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was often mentioned as a potential U.S. Secretary of State.

Hiss taken to prison

Hiss taken to prison in handcuffs, 1951

In 1948, Hiss was accused by former communist Whittaker Chambers of having been a communist himself. When he sued Chambers for libel, the charges escalated, culminating in 1949 and 1950 in what was then called the “trial of the century,” as nationwide headlines labeled Hiss a Soviet spy. Convicted of perjury in January 1950, he spent 44 months as Prisoner 19137 in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

Released in 1954 at the age of 50, he spent the second half of his life working to clear his name.

This section of the site begins with a brief biography and a long magazine profile; moves on to a selection of Alger Hiss’s own writing over the years; then presents a series of reminiscences of Hiss and reflections on his life; and concludes with pictures from a family photo album. (There are two additional photo albums in the Media section of the website: one devoted to Alger Hiss’s life and career, the other to the Hiss case.)