1947 March 21

Guilt by Association: President Truman Launches Federal Loyalty Program


President Harry Truman announced a Federal Loyalty Program to remove Communists from employment by the U.S. government. Under his Executive Order 9835, all federal employees had to undergo a loyalty investigation by the FBI. The program institutionalized “guilt-by-association” as federal policy, since an employee’s loyalty might be suspect based on associations and affiliations, even those from many years in the past (for example, having joined a left-wing group when in college in the 1930s). A person fell under suspicion despite no evidence of any criminal activity (e.g., spying, treason) or criminal activity by a group he or she had once belonged to. Truman’s loyalty program was arguably the most important step in launching the domestic Cold War.

Truman’s Order also directed the U.S. Attorney General to create a List of Subversive Organizations, which was published on December 4, 1947, and which became the basis for the blacklisting of people associated with, or who had ever been associated with, listed organizations.

While the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War is often referred to by the term “McCarthyism,” it is important to note that President Truman’s loyalty program preceded the birth of Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade, on February 9, 1950, by three years.

Read E.O. 9835: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=75524

Learn more: Athan Theoharis, Seeds of Repression: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of McCarthyism (1971)

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

Explore documents on Truman’s Loyalty Program at the Truman Library: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/loyaltyprogram/index.php

Learn About Cold War Popular Culture: http://www.authentichistory.com/1946-1960/4-cwhomefront/2-anti-commie/index.html

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