1951 July 4

Cold War Reign of Fear: Madison, WI, Residents Afraid to Sign Petition with Excerpts from Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights


The Cold War reign of fear gripped even the residents of the heavily liberal city of Madison, Wisconsin. As a test, on this day, the Fourth of July, a reporter asked 122 Madison residents if they would sign a petition that included excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights (but did not identify the source). Only one person was willing to sign the petition.

President Harry Truman mentioned the incident in a speech in Detroit on July 29th later that month, lamenting the fact that so many Americans were afraid of associating themselves with basic statements of American freedom.

See Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s warning about “The Black Silence of Fear” because of the Cold War, in a speech delivered on January 13, 1952. Two years earlier, on January 21, 1950 he had warned that “Fear Obscures Reason” because of Cold War hysteria.

Learn more: The incident is discussed in Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012), pp. 140-141.

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