In January 1950, Alger Hiss, a former State Department employee and Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was convicted of perjury after being charged with spying for the Russians. He was sentenced to ten years in a federal penitentiary of which he served three and a half. The sentencing was the culmination of a frenzied political trial which catapulted Richard Nixon to fame and undergirded the advent of a period of domestic political repression known as McCarthyism.
Today, it is worth looking back at the Hiss case since we are living in another era of anti-Russia hysteria. Political figures, albeit of a more reactionary stripe, are again being accused of colluding with Russia to subvert democracy, with dubious evidence so far.
Alger Hiss was the embodiment of the liberal, New Deal establishment, which had promoted a major expansion of domestic social welfare programs. Educated at Harvard Law School, Hiss clerked for Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and worked for the State Department before moving on to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Supportive of Roosevelt’s policy of accommodation towards the Soviets, Hiss had been present at the 1945 Yalta conference, which resulted in a spheres of influence agreement. He also worked for the Nye Committee in the 1930s, a Congressional investigation into war profiteering led by Gerald Nye (R-ND) that exposed…