The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was
created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive
activities on the part of private citizens, public employees,
and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties.
Reorganized from its previous incarnations as the Fish Committee
and the McCormack-Dickstein Committee and with a new chairman,
the cantankerous Martin Dies of Texas, HUAC's strident attacks
on the Roosevelt administration prior to the outbreak of
the war did not suit the political mood of a nation that
was largely in favor of FDR's
leadership. All that changed, however, in the postwar atmosphere
of fear and contempt for the Soviet Union, at which time
HUAC's activities commanded broad popular support and consistently
attracted major headlines.
Through its power to subpoena witness and hold people
in contempt of Congress, HUAC often pressured witnesses
to surrender names and other information that could lead
to the apprehension of Communists and Communist sympathizers.
Committee members often branded witnesses as "red" if they
refused to comply or hesitated in answering committee questions.
In perhaps its most famous investigation, HUAC-member Richard
Nixon, after weeks of dramatic hearings, was, at the final
hour, able to reveal that Alger Hiss, a former State Department
official, had lied to them about having "ever been a Communist."
More importantly, however, the questioning style and examination
techniques employed by HUAC served as the model upon which
Senator Joseph McCarthy would conduct his investigative
hearings in the early 1950s. Following Senator McCarthy's
censure, however, and his subsequent departure from the
Senate, the American public grew increasingly wary of the
"redbaiting" techniques employed by HUAC and others. The
work of the committee continued to decline in importance
throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s until the committee
itself was renamed the House Internal Security Committee
in 1969, prefiguring its eventual abolition in 1975.
Buhle, Mari Jo, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, eds. Encyclopedia
of the American Left. New York: Garland Publishing,
Inc., 1997, 334-336.
Morris, Richard B. Encyclopedia of American History
. 6th ed. New York: Harper & Row Publishers,
1982, 424, 453.