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Website of the Week for Jan. 17, 2005

Cheryl Nyberg, editor

Website of the Week Archive


The Alger Hiss Story,

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Alger Hiss
(source: The Alger Hiss Story: Search for the Truth,

Alger Hiss was born on November 11, 1904 in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1929. Some highlights of his career include:

  • private secretary to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes.
  • attorney with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, a program set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help farmers hurt by the Depression.
  • special assistant to the Solicitor General within the Justice Department.
  • deputy director of the State Department's Office of Special Political Affairs, where he was in charge of setting up the United Nations. In 1941 he headed the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which formally drew up the United Nations Charter.
  • president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foundation which is a leading supporter of the United Nations.

According to the website, Alger Hiss "was serving in that capacity [as president of the Carnegie Endowment] when before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948, Whittaker Chambers first made his public charges that Hiss was a secret communist. Hiss denied the charge and filed a libel suit against Chambers, but after Chambers produced a number of copies of State Department documents and said they were given to him by Hiss for transmission to the Soviet Union, perjury charges were brought against Hiss when he denied before a grand jury that he had committed espionage. The Hiss-Chambers affair would prove to be the watershed case of the McCarthy period and one of the most important of the century." Hiss was convicted in a second trial and served 44 months in prison. After his release he wrote a book rebutting the government's case against him, In the Court of Public Opinion (E743.5 .H54 1957 at Classified Stacks).

Still maintaining his innocence in the 1970s Hiss obtained government documents which indicated that the FBI hid evidence that would have helped clear him of the espionage charges. His petition of coram nobis (asking that the verdict be overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct) was denied in federal court. His autobiography is available through Summit, Recollections of a Life (E743.5 .H544 1988). He died in 1996 still fighting for vindication.

At this website you will find a virtual courtroom, several pieces of evidence from the case, a listing of books and films about the Alger Hiss case, and the grand jury minutes. This website was compiled by Jeff Kisseloff, staff of the NYU Libraries, and members of the Hiss family.

2008, M.G. Gallagher Law Library, University of Washington