The HUAC Files
It was in testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) on August 3, 1948 that Whittaker Chambers first publicly accused Alger Hiss of being a communist. And it was HUAC member Richard M. Nixon, at the time a freshman Republican Congressman from California, who then became Chambers’ champion and insistently sought to have Hiss indicted. Although HUAC was later discredited – in the late 1950s former President Harry Truman called it the “most un-American thing in the country today” – and was finally abolished in 1975, in 1976 the House of Representatives voted to keep HUAC’s records secret for the next 50 years. In 2001, a concerted effort by historians finally persuaded Congress to relent, and at that point 1,245 linear feet of HUAC records, including executive session transcripts and special investigative files, were unsealed and made publicly available.
“HUAC,” said Dr. Bruce Craig in announcing this decision, “has a reputation and legacy unparalleled in American history for abuse of power and disregard of individual rights. With these records, for the first time historians will be able to get a much clearer picture of the internal working of America’s own 20th-century inquisition.” Craig was then director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, a Washington-based non-profit group which had spearheaded the drive to have the papers released to the public.
We present here an essay by Craig setting forth what the released records have to say about the Hiss case specifically. The material on Hiss is clearly compelling. It includes, for instance, significant testimony by key figures in the case, such as Whittaker Chambers, Isaac Don Levine and Hede Massing, among others. HUAC’s investigative files, which cover controversial Hiss-case topics, such as the Woodstock typewriter and the old Ford car, are similarly valuable for piecing together information about what the government already knew about these matters by the time Hiss went to trial in 1949.