The Debate Goes On (21st Century)

Even though the charges against Alger Hiss were filed in 1948, which was so long ago that one of the early HUAC hearings on the case has the distinction of being the first-ever televised Congressional hearing, Hiss’s 1950 conviction continues to be the focus of an almost unprecedented amount of attention. Yes, the Hiss case was often called the “trial of the century,” but that was the 20th century.

Here in the 21st century, vehement controversy continues to erupt – to take one example – within and around the Wikipedia entry on Alger Hiss: Printed out, the main Hiss entry would fill 29 single-spaced pages (making it about the same length as the encyclopedia’s entry on Alexander Hamilton). The two entries diverge markedly, though, when it comes to the “Talk” tabs next to each of them. This is a ubiquitous Wikipedia feature which opens a running commentary “talk page” to discuss proposed changes to any article. While the Hamilton “talk page” would fill eight printed pages, the corresponding Hiss “talk page” would need 323 pages just for the pro-and-con comments posted during a single 21st-century decade, from 2006 to 2015.

Particularly contentious in recent years have been allegations that Alger Hiss remained a Soviet intelligence agent throughout World War II (Whittaker Chambers had only accused Hiss of espionage during the 1930s). Jeff Kisseloff assessed these new charges – sometimes referred to as the “second Hiss case” – in a 2007 essay published in CounterPunch.

Another reason for the constantly renewed interest in the Hiss case is that, all these many years later, significant new evidence keeps coming to light that supports Alger Hiss’s own 50-year campaign to establish his innocence. The Hiss case remains far from closed.

This section presents some of these recent findings:

  • Interviews with surviving witnesses and a commentator (including, most prominently, two interviews with Dr. Timothy Hobson, Alger Hiss’s stepson, the only on-the-scene eyewitness who never testified at the trials);
  • A first examination of the HUAC files: 1,245 linear feet of records from the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1945 to 1975), including previously sealed executive session and special investigative files, all of which were opened to public scrutiny in 2001;
  • The full transcript of a day-long academic conference, “Alger Hiss and History,” convened at New York University in 2007, the first 21st-century scholarly reassessment of the Hiss case and Hiss’s place in history, and itself the prelude to follow-up conferences at NYU scheduled for 2017 and 2019;
  • A reappraisal of the “forgotten Hiss case” (the case against Donald Hiss, Alger Hiss’s brother);
  • A provocative essay by a prominent lawyer arguing that Hiss could not have been “guilty as charged” because his underlying indictment was illegally drafted; and
  • A remarkable independent investigation into the question of “forgery by typewriter.” (This site’s home page introduces several additional recent discoveries.)