1957 May 31

Famed Playwright Arthur Miller Convicted of Contempt of Congress


The noted American playwright Arthur Miller had appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) on June 21, 1956, and refused to answer questions about his political affiliations on First Amendment grounds. Unlike many other HUAC witnesses, he claimed the right not to answer question under the First Amendment rather than the Fifth Amendment. It was a particularly courageous stand because, at that time, there was no established First Amendment protection against legislative inquiries into one’s political beliefs and associations. On this day, Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress, denied a passpor,t and sentenced to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail. He never spent any time in jail, and his conviction was reversed on August 7, 1958.

Contempt of Congress indictments became a heavy weapon against alleged subversives during the Cold War. While it had rarely been used before World War II, HUAC issued 21 contempt citations in 1946, 14 in 1947, and 56 in 1950. All other House Committees in those years issued a total of only 6 contempt citations.

Miller had earlier written the play The Crucible (January 22, 1953), equating the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War with the infamous Salem Witch trials (see June 10, 1692). Miller’s play Death of a Salesman is widely regarded as one of the greatest American plays.

Read Arthur Miller’s famous play: Arthur Miller, The Crucible (1953)

Watch an interview with Miller on the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch trials: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulT8phOxSWU

Read Arthur Miller’s autobiography: Arthur Miller, Timebends: A Life (1987)

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