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Alger Hiss Trials: 1949-50

Hiss Denies Communist Link, A "bombshell," A Seaplane, A Pumpkin, A Typewriter Proves Elusive

Defendant: Alger Hiss
Crime Charged: Perjury
Chief Defense Lawyers: Robert M. Benjamin, Claude B. Cross, Chester T. Lane, Edward C. McLean, Robert von Mehren, Victor Rabinowitz, Harold Rosenwald, Harol Shapero, and Lloyd Paul Strykr
Chief Prosecutors: Thomas J. Donegan, Myles J. Lane, Thomas F. Murphy, and Clarke S. Ryan
Judges: First trial: Samuel J. Kaufman; Second trial: Henry W. Goddard
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trials: First trial: May 31-July 8, 1949; Second trial: November 17, 1949-January 21, 1950.
Verdicts: First trial: Jury deadlocked; Second trial: guilty
Sentence: 5 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: For three years, Alger Hiss was the protagonist in a great human drama that made headlines across America. The case polarized the country between 1948 and 1950, becoming a symbol of American policies in the onset of the Cold War. It accelerated the rise of Richard M. Nixon. The debate about Hiss' guilt remains endless, for either he was a traitor or he was the victim of a framing for political advantage at the highest levels of justice.

Alger Hiss was the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace when, on August 3, 1948, reporters told him a senior editor of Time magazine named Whittaker Chambers had just appeared before the Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives (consistently mislabeled HUAC). Chambers had described his 15 years' service as a Soviet agent. In 1939, he said, two years after he had "repudiated Marx's doctrine," he told Assistant Secretary of State Adolph A. Berle, Jr., about Communists in the U.S. government. One, he said, was Alger Hiss, who had been a State Department official and who later organized the U.S. representation at Yalta, as well as the conferences at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco, that launched the United Nations.

Hiss telegraphed the committee, asking to appear under oath to say he did not know Chambers.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953