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House Un-American Activities Committee

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee (1938–75) of the U.S. House of Representatives, created to investigate disloyalty and subversive organizations. Its first chairman, Martin Dies, set the pattern for its anti-Communist investigations. The committee's methods included pressure on witnesses to name former associates, vague and sweeping accusations against individuals, and the assumption of an individual's guilt because of association with a suspect organization. Witnesses who refused to answer were cited for contempt of Congress. A highly publicized 1947 investigation of the entertainment industry led to prison sentences for contempt for a group of recalcitrant witnesses who became known as the Hollywood Ten. In 1948, Whittaker Chambers made sensational accusations of Soviet espionage against former State Dept. official Alger Hiss; those hearings kept the committee in the headlines and provided the first national exposure for committee member Richard Nixon. Critics of the committee contended that it disregarded the civil liberties of its witnesses and that it consistently failed to fulfill its primary purpose of recommending new legislation. After 1950, Sen. Joseph McCarthy borrowed many of the committee's tactics for his own Senate investigations. The committee (renamed the House Internal Security Committee in 1969) was abolished in 1975.

See study by W. Goodman (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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