Alger Hiss testifying before the HUAC
Harry Truman was
the 33rd American President who served in office from April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953. One of the important events during his presidency were
the trials of Alger Hiss.
Alger Hiss Facts: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
about Alger Hiss.
Who was Alger Hiss? Alger Hiss was U.S.
State Department official who was accused of being a
Soviet spy in 1948 and convicted of perjury
in 1950 concerning his dealings with
Whitaker Chambers, who accused him of
membership in a communist spy ring.
Why was Alger Hiss famous? Alger Hiss was
famous because of the high profile and
publicity his case attracted with its
dramatic elements, compelling characters,
accusations of espionage and treason and so
many ambiguities and inconsistencies to
leave the issue of the guilt or innocence of
Alger Hiss in doubt for decades.
What were the 'Pumpkin Papers'?
The 'Pumpkin Papers' were a series of
microfilm documents (35-mm microfilm)
produced by Whitaker Chambers against
Alger Hiss in the perjury trial in which
Hiss was accused of lying about having
passed State Department papers to Chambers.
of Alger Hiss Facts
The following fact
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facts on Alger Hiss for kids.
Facts for kids
Facts - 1: Alger Hiss
(November 11, 1904 – November 15, 1996) was a
brilliant Harvard law student who went on to serve as a
law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell
2: His career moved
on and by the late 1930's he had become a key official
in the United States Department of State during
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration
Facts - 3: In 1939 Whitaker Chambers, an
American writer and editor and a former member of the U.S. Communist
Party, told Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle that Alger Hiss
was a communist.
Facts - 4: Whitaker Chambers had been an
active Communist Party USA member and Soviet spy until he renounced
Communism and left the Communist Underground in 1937 and went into
hiding for a year.
Facts - 5: He concealed several rolls of
microfilm documents he had collected in a hollowed-out pumpkin on
his Maryland farm to avoid discovery. Chambers planned to use the
documents as a "life preserver" to prevent the Soviets from killing
him or threatening his family.
Facts - 6: Whitaker Chambers
became a senior editor at Time magazine and an outspoken
opponent against Communism and an informant to the
federal government, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI,
agreeing to reveal what he knew on the condition of
immunity from prosecution.
Facts - 7: In meetings with
Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle Whitaker
Chambers named eighteen current and former government
employees as spies or Communist sympathizers. One of the
names was the high ranking state official, Alger Hiss.
Facts - 8: Whitaker Chambers
withheld his "life preserver" documents, later known as
the "Pumpkin Papers" and Adolf Berle found
Whitaker Chambers information uncorroborated and
unclear. Berle notified the Federal Bureau of
Investigation of Chambers information in March 1940 and
the FBI opened a file on Alger Hiss.
9: World War 2 (1939
- 1945) had broken out and the USSR had joined the
Allies against Germany. FBI took no immediate
action against Alger Hiss, viewing the potential threat
from the Soviets as minor, compared to the threat of
Facts - 10: During WW2 Alger
Hiss had achieved such prominence in the government that
he had become the Director of the Office of Political
Affairs and had attended the
Yalta Conference and served as Secretary General at
the 1945 San Francisco meeting to discuss the formation
of the United Nations (UN)
11: World War 2 ended
in victory for the Allies and defeat for Hitler and the
Nazis but a new threat emerged in the US with fears of
the spread of
Communism which led to the second Red Scare and the
start of the
Facts - 12: In November 1945 the Rev. John
Cronin, an anti-communist Roman Catholic priest, circulated a report
on Communists in the federal government. Cronin's source was
Whitaker Chambers. The report names Alger Hiss. (The report was
later given to Richard Nixon after he is elected to the House of
Facts - 13: The
Loyalty Review Program was
established in 1946 that required government employees to be
screened in order to root out Communist influence in the federal
government and the "Communist Witch Hunts" began.
Facts - 14:
In 1947 the HUAC (House of
Un-American Activities Committee) came into prominence,
investigating any suspicions of Communist subversion or propaganda
by influential people in American society.
Facts - 15: On February 1,
1947 Alger Hiss left the government to become president
of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Facts - 16: June 1947 FBI
agents visit Hiss at his office. In the interview he
denied being a Communist and said he never knew anyone
by the name of Whitaker Chambers.
Facts - 17: On August 3 1948
Whitaker Chambers was called before the House Committee
on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and testified that Hiss
was a member of an underground Communist Party group,
but at this point did not make any accusations of
Facts for kids
about Alger Hiss for kids
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on Alger Hiss for kids.
Facts for kids
18: Many Americans
were swept up in the wave of anti-communist hysteria,
that would later be termed
McCarthyism, and became divided over the
Hiss-Chambers affair. President Harry Truman, concerned
with the allegation that the high ranking government
official who had presided over the UN Conference was a
Communist, labeled the case as a "red herring".
Facts - 19: On August 3 1948
Alger Hiss testified to the HUAC denying the charges and
requesting to meet his accuser. The HUAC wanted to drop
the case but the ambitious Richard Nixon, an HUAC
committee member, persuaded the other members that he
could produce evidence showing that Hiss had lied and
that he knew Chambers. Nixon realized that the publicity
surrounding the case would establish him as a tough
Facts - 20: Richard Nixon was
put in charge of a subcommittee to privately question
Chambers further about Alger Hiss. In a highly
publicized event Chambers took Richard Nixon to his
Maryland farm, where the "life preserver" microfilm of
confidential documents was hidden in the hollow pumpkin.
He accused Alger Hiss of giving him confidential State
Department documents in 1938 to deliver to the Soviets
and claimed that the microfilm "Pumpkin Papers" had been
prepared on Hiss's own typewriter.
Facts - 21: The "Pumpkin
Papers" were presented to the HUAC and Richard Nixon
grilled Hiss who vehemently denied the accusations. On
August 25, 1948 Hiss and Chambers confronted each other
in the dramatic televised HUAC hearing. It was the first
Congressional hearing ever televised.
22: On August 27, 1948
Whitaker Chambers spoke, without congressional
protection, on a national public affairs program on NBC
radio called 'Meet the Press' and repeated his
accusation that Alger Hiss was a Communist
23: On September 28,
1948 Alger Hiss filed a slander suit for $75,000 against
Chambers alleging that his accusation, made on 'Meet the
Press', that he was a communist was false.
24: The case was
referred to the grand jury who held hearings in December
1948. Hiss could not be tried on charges of Espionage
because the evidence for allegedly passing documents to
the Soviets in 1938 had occurred more than 10 years ago,
and the Statute of Limitations for espionage was 5
years. Instead he was tried for perjury (lying under
25: The grand jury
returned a two-count indictment of perjury charging that
he had lied about giving Whitaker Chambers the official
documents in 1938, and his claim that he had not even
seen Chambers after January 1, 1937.
26: The first perjury
trial, in June 1949, ended with the jury deadlocked
eight to four for conviction and was retried in January
27: Alger Hiss was found guilty in the
second trial on both counts of perjury and was sentenced
to five years in prison.
28: He appealed his
conviction but lost and served 44 months in Lewisburg
Federal Penitentiary and was released in 1954. His
career in law and public service was ruined.
29: Even after his
conviction the case was far from over as Americans
debated whether Alger Hiss had been a spy or whether
Whitaker Chambers had lied.
30: The case launched
the career of Richard Nixon and inflamed the
anti-communist hysteria of the Cold War which led to the
rise in power of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Facts for kids
Alger Hiss - President Harry Truman Video
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