This file depicts the machinations of the many characters involved in a typical McCarthy-era communist witch-hunt. In 1948, magazine editor and former communist party courier Whittaker Chambers testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and accused Carnegie Endowment for International Peace president and former State Department official Alger Hiss of being a communist. Hiss sued Chambers for libel. Chambers, who had spied for the USSR before leaving the Communist Party in 1939, then accused Hiss of having helped transmit confidential government documents to the Russians in the 1930s. Hiss denied the charges. Chambers led HUAC investigators to his Maryland farm and produced from a hollowed-out pumpkin State Department documents he alleged that Hiss had passed on to him years earlier.
Hiss was indicted on perjury charges because the statute of limitations on espionage had expired. The jury in his first trial in 1949 was unable to reach a verdict. Hiss was tried again and was convicted in 1950. He was sentenced to a five-year prison term.
Throughout the ordeal both men were attacked and defended by powerful individuals, with young Congressman and HUAC committee member Richard Nixon championing Chambers. At Hiss's first trial, two United States Supreme Court justices, Justice Felix Frankfurter and Justice Stanley Reed, appeared as character witnesses on his behalf.
In this file, trails of evidence are followed through correspondence between supposed communist party members and sympathizers, and interviews with associates of the accused. Handwriting samples are analyzed, denials and finger-pointing are rampant, and HUAC testimonies flow as a litany of "who met with whom, where and when, what was said, and most importantly, were/are you a communist?"
The Alger Hiss/Whittaker Chambers file provides valuable insight into the Red Scare, the McCarthy Era and the domestic side of the Cold War.