1951 July 29

Loyalty Oaths Spread Fear, Charges ACLU

 

In its annual report for 1951, released on this day, the ACLU charged that the spread of loyalty oaths around the country was creating an “atmosphere of fear and intolerance” that threatened the “good old American habits like speaking one’s mind.” The federal Loyalty Program, which President Harry Truman established on March 21, 1947, had “spread confusion and fear” among government employees, according to the ACLU. The ACLU recommended that it be replaced by a more limited program involving only “sensitive” areas of government activity.

Loyalty oaths were a special mania during the anti-Communist frenzy of the Cold War. Unlike traditional oaths of office, which involve an oath to uphold the Constitution and the country’s laws, Cold War loyalty oaths required people to swear that they were not members of the Communist Party and/or other radical parties or movements. Thus, they were oaths regarding membership and beliefs without reference to any actual or planned illegal action. The mania for loyalty oaths during the Cold War included the University of California oath (April 21, 1950); the Taft-Hartley Act, which required a loyalty oath for labor leaders (June 23, 1947); the Gwinn Amendment, which required a loyalty oath for federally funded public housing residents (July 5, 1952); and, in the 1960s, a loyalty oath for Medicare recipients, which was never enforced (February 13, 1967).

Learn more about loyalty oaths in the Cold War: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5200

Learn more about the ACLU in the Cold War and other Times of National Crisis: https://www.aclu.org/aclu-history-rooting-out-subversives-paranoia-and-patriotism-mccarthy-era

Read: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

Read the ACLU FBI File (not the complete file): http://vault.fbi.gov/ACLU

Learn about the ACLU today: www.aclu.org

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