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Chapter IV: H.U.A.C.


The term "subversive activities" generally refers to policies, actions and groups which have as their objective the overthrow of the American Constitution and our system of government. My father was far more conservative regarding subversive activities than his liberal or progressive colleagues in Congress. From the very beginning of his political career, he was a dedicated anti-Communist. He left EPIC during 1936, largely because he believed the movement had become Communist-infiltrated. He hated the violent might-makes-right philosophy of Communism, and the Stalin-Leninist variety in particular. As a leader of the American Cooperative Movement during the 50's and 60's, my father was vilified by Communist officials from Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and East Germany. He favored investigation and monitoring of Communist activities within the United States. However, he was just as strongly opposed to right-wing extremist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camelia, and the German-American Bund.

My father became a member of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee on February 8, 1939, just five days after he voted against continuation of the Committee on the House floor. His change of heart came about at the behest of his very good friend, Speaker of the House William Bankhead from Alabama. Speaker Bankhead wanted to place a liberal like my father on the Committee, to counterbalance its then overwhelmingly conservative membership. Bankhead himself was not a liberal, but as Speaker of the House he had to represent the interests of the Roosevelt Administration. Also as a moderate Southern Democrat, Bankhead was frequently at odds with ultraconservative colleagues like the right-wing members of the UnAmerican Activities Committee. My father served on the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, or H.U.A.C., for almost exactly four years, as long a period of service on the Committee as that of his successor, Richard M. Nixon.

H.U.A.C. during this period had seven members. Three of them were ultra-conservatives: Democrat Joe Starnes from Alabama and Republicans J. Parnell Thomas from New Jersey and Noah Mason of Illinois. Thomas would later become H.U.A.C.'s Chairman in the GOP-dominated 80th Congress. The Committee's Chairman in 1939, Martin Dies from Texas, a conservative, tried at tiles to be fair-minded and earned a kind of grudging respect from my father.

Counterbalancing these four conservatives were my father and two other Democrats, John Dempsey from New Mexico and Joseph Casey of Massachusetts. The three moderate-to-liberal- Democrats on the Committee were almost always outvoted by their more conservative colleagues. This frustration led to the departure of Dempsey and Casey from the Committee by the end of 1942. My father stayed on as the last liberal until February 16, 1943, when he too left H.U.A.C. After his resignation, my father voted against funding for H.U.A.C., both in 1943 and 1945.

My father was especially disturbed by the lack of balance in the Committee '5 investigations. Probes of right-wing extremist groups were short and perfunctory when they took place, and more often than not groups like the Ku Klux Klan would not be investigated at all. This is not surprising, since the Klan was especially strong at the time in Martin Dies' District and in Joe Starnes' Alabama. On the other hand, H.U.A.C. would conduct extensive and often acrimonious investigations of left-wing groups.

Unlike the most left-leaning members of Congress, my father strongly favored investigations of Communists and real Communist front groups. He was as disturbed as his conservative colleagues about communist infiltration of labor unions and other organizations, but he was equally concerned about right-wing groups like the Klan and their infiltration tactics.

One major achievement to come out of my father's membership in H.U.A.C. was the Voorhis Act, which passed Congress and was signed into law during 1940. The Act did two things. It required that organizations representing foreign governments be registered with the United States Government. This applied to groups which officially represented Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Kuomintang China, Japan, or Great Britain, and also to organizations that were financed or indirectly controlled by these foreign governments. It also required the registration of paramilitary groups and organizations which advocated a forcible overthrow of the United States Government. Under the Voorhis Act, the Communist Party, the German-American Bund, and pro-Fascist groups like the Silvershirts, would have to register. Their membership, management, financial and paramilitary activities could then be monitored by Washington.

The Voorhis Act attached no criminal penalties to membership in these organizations, unlike the later Smith Act and the subsequent Humphrey Amendment. My father did not want these groups to be persecuted or driven underground, which criminalization might involve. He believed that these totalitarian and violent movements would be completely rejected by the American people if they were fully exposed to public scrutiny. He also believed their public exposure would help to prevent America from drifting into the war.

This attitude of my father reflected his deep attachment to Jeffersonian political principles. His Jeffersonianism also expressed itself in his attitude toward agriculture. He believed, along with Jefferson, that America should be as much as possible a nation of yeoman farmers. He was passionately attached to the family farm, not only as the most efficient agricultural unit, but also as a cornerstone of American democracy. This Jeffersonianism made my father a Civil Libertarian, a passionate anti-Communist and a Populist. To him the collective farms in Russia were every bit as evil as the plantations of the ante-bellum South or the corporation farms that were emerging throughout America during the 1920s and 1930s. He hated Latifundia, whether they were private or public. His support of the School Lunch Program and involvement in the Cooperative Movement reflected this desire to preserve the family farm.

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