Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss (ăl´jər), 1904–96, American public official, b. Baltimore. After serving (1929–30) as secretary to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hiss practiced law in Boston and New York City. He then was attached to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (1933–35) and to the Dept. of Justice (1935–36). He entered the Dept. of State in 1936 and rose rapidly to become an adviser at various international conferences and a coordinator of American foreign policy. In 1947, he resigned his government post to become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In Aug., 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a magazine editor and former Communist party courier, accused Hiss of having helped transmit confidential government documents to the Russians. Hiss denied these charges; since, under the statute of limitations, he could not be tried for espionage, he was indicted (Dec., 1948) on two counts of perjury. When he was first brought to trial in 1949, the jury was unable to reach a decision. At a second trial Hiss was found guilty (Jan., 1950) and sentenced to a five-year prison term. His trial created great controversy; many believed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had tampered with evidence in order to secure a conviction. Hiss was released from prison in Nov., 1954, his term shortened for good conduct. In 1957 he wrote In the Court of Public Opinion, in which he denied all charges against him. Hiss maintained his innocence to his death; Soviet files made public in 1995 convinced most observers that he had been guilty, but controversy lingers.

See W. Chambers, Witness (1952, repr. 1983); R. Seth, The Sleeping Truth: The Hiss-Chambers Affair Reappraised (1968); A. Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (1978).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Alger Hiss: Selected full-text books and articles

The Rise and Fall of Leftist Radicalism in America By Edward Walter Praeger, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "A Generation on Trial: The Hiss Case"
The Trial of Alger Hiss By Strout, Richard L New Statesman (1996), Vol. 128, No. 4464, November 29, 1999
Philosophy and Public Policy By Sidney Hook Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, 1980
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 19 "The Case of Alger Hiss"
The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events By Lloyd Chiasson Jr Greenwood Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "The Cases of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs"
Our Times: The Best from the Reporter By Max Ascoli Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Case of Alger Hiss"
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties By Murray Kempton Simon and Schuster, 1955
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "The Sheltered Life The Partnership of Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers"
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