1940 February 25

Prominent Liberals Ask HUAC to Change Procedures, and to Investigate Right-Wing Group


A group of prominent liberals on this day asked the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to both change its procedures to ensure greater fairness and to investigate the right-wing group the Christian Front. The occasion for the telegram from the group was the recent vote of the House of Representatives to continue HUAC for the coming session of Congress.

The group praised HUAC for its efforts in 1939-1940 to expose “certain dangerous activities” by unnamed groups. In fact, most of the HUAC investigations had been directed at left-wing and liberal groups. Wild and unverified accusations about Communist-associations were made without any opportunity for named groups to reply or cross-examine their accusers.

With respect to procedures, the group of liberals did condemn HUAC’s practices, calling them a “calamity” and a “threat both to civil liberties and social progress.” Specifically, the group cited the lack of an opportunity to “call rebuttal witnesses,” its refusal to call “those who offered to testify,” and the “obvious bias” of the committee’s chief investigator.

The position of this group reflected the position of many “Cold War liberals” from the late 1930s through the 1960s. The accepted the basic principle of legislative investigations of the beliefs and associations of groups and individuals, but wanted fairer procedures. In fact, fair procedures were never achieved, and HUAC and similar bodies were always driven by right-wing political bias.

Members of the liberal group included Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a noted Protestant leader; John Haynes Holmes, an ACLU leader; and Norman Thomas, Socialist Party leader.

For the creation of HUAC see May 26, 1938 and was finally abolished on January 14, 1975.

Read about the history of HUAC: Walter Goodman, The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1968)

Learn more about HUAC: http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/huac

Read the classic account of “naming names:” Victor Navasky, Naming Names (1980)

















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