Preserving "A Fair Chance For a Free People" - Karl E. Mundt

House Un-American Activities Committee

The House Un-American Activities Committee was established in 1937 to investigate un-American and subversive activities.

At first the HUAC concentrated on discovering whether the Communist party had infiltrated New Deal projects and investigating political groups. Karl Mundt was a key person on the committee along with the chairmen of the committee as well as Richard Nixon of California and John Rankin of Mississippi. Mundt was appointed to the HUAC on Feb. 18, 1943 and remained on the HUAC until December of 1948.1

Mundt was a critical figure on the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1945, Mundt asked politicians from all sides of the political spectrum to volunteer definitions of what they considered constituted an "un-American Activity" to help guide the HUAC. Mundt didn't always agree with the rest of the committee; an example is when Mundt attempted to have the committee continue to investigate the Klu Klux Klan instead of agreeing with the rest of the HUAC that the Klan was harmless. 1

The Hollywood Ten

In 1947, the HUAC began investigating The Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who had volunteered to be witnesses and worked in Hollywood. These witnesses named several people who held communist views. Ten of the people named, called the Hollywood Ten, refused to answer any questions and were found guilty of contempt of congress and sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison. These, along with over three hundred others who refused to talk or were found to have Communist views were placed on a blacklist drawn up by the Hollywood film studios. Having their name on this blacklist kept them from working in the entertainment industry in the United States. 1

The Alger Hiss Hearings


The next large investigation undertaken by the HUAC was the hearings that eventually led to the Alger Hiss trial. In July of 1948 the HUAC listened to the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley. At this time, Mundt was acting chairman of the HUAC. Bentley testified that she had been a courier for the communist party and named people she had contacted in the government. Bentley testified that those contacts had resulted in the transmission of secret document to Russian agents. Mundt then introduced Whittaker Chambers, a man who had previously given information about Communism to the FBI, as a surprise witness to corroborate Bentley's testimony. Chambers testified how, in the past, he had been involved in the Communist party but had since broken away. Chambers named several people as being in the top level of the Communist party. One of those named, Alger Hiss, came as a shock to the HUAC.2, p105-127

Alger Hiss was the respected president of the Carnegie Endowment. He had led an exemplary life and was widely respected. Alger Hiss head of the accusation and requested to address the issue in front of the committee on August 5th. During the hearing, Alger Hiss denied ever being a member of the Communist party or ever having met Whittaker Chambers. He came across as very suave and confident; he persuaded observers and the press that he was telling the truth and that Chambers had to be the liar.2, p105-127

Nixon persuaded the HUAC to allow him to head a subcommittee and go to Chambers house to interrogate him personally and extensively. During the interview, Chambers gave a wealth of detail and information about Alger Hiss and about his own Communist background. The subcommittee left Chamber's house certain that he could not be lying.2, p105-127

The situation was finally brought to a head at a public hearing which was a confrontation between Chambers and Hiss. Hiss stated that he had known Chambers, but that he had been George Crosley at the time. Chambers claimed that Hiss had turned over an old car to the Communist party for its use. Hiss stated that Chambers was attempting to ruin his life but Mundt insisted that Chambers was only testifying because he was forced to and had no reason to lie.2, p105-127


During the next few days other witnesses came forward to corroborate Chamber's testimony and other evidence was also discovered to suggest that Chambers was telling the truth and Hiss was lying. On August 28th, the HUAC issued a report on its findings written by Mundt. The next step came when Hiss filed litigation against Chambers for libel and Chambers was called before the Grand Jury in October to testify about the Communist charges. The Grand Jury began to look into the possibility of indicting either Hiss or Chambers for perjury. Chambers decided to show everything he had and released several documents handwritten by Hiss and film that showed Hiss as an espionage agent. This evidence became known as the "pumpkin papers". Hiss testified before the Grand Jury in December and was indicted on perjury charges.2, p105-127

The trial of Alger Hiss on two counts of perjury began on May 31st, 1949 and, after one mistrial, ended with Hiss being convicted of both counts of perjury on January 21st, 1950. 2, p105-127

Mundt-Nixon Bill


In 1948, Mundt introduced a bill to help combat communism. The Mundt-Nixon bill, as it came to be called, required the registration of Communists in the United States and barred them from holding office. The bill was introduced as an alternative to the McDonough bill which would have made Communism a treasonable act. Mundt feared that outlawing Communism would just drive it underground and make it impossible to combat. The bill ultimately received approval in both the Senate and the House and took its final form as the McCarran Act in 1950.2, p105-127

In 1969 the HUAC was renamed the Internal Security Committee but in another six years it was dissolved and the functions it had served were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee. 2, p105-127

Mundt also gave several speeches on Communism and its effects on the government as well as what needed to be done to control communism. This is a speech he gave on April 30, 1948.

"The need for legislation to Control Communist activities in the United States cannot be questioned. Ten years of investigation by the Committee on Un-American Activities and by its predecessors have established: 3 that the Communist movement in the United States is foreign-controlled; 4 that its ultimate objective with respect to the United States is to overthrow our free American institutions in favor of a Communist totalitarian dictatorship to be controlled from abroad; 5 that its activities are carried on by secret and conspiratorial methods; and 6 that its activities, both because of the alarming march of Communist forces abroad and because of the scope and nature of Communist activities here in the United States, constitute an immediate and powerful threat to the security of the United States and to the American way of life. The conclusion that the Communist movement constitutes a threat to the security of the United States and to the American way of life is not the cry of alarmists.7 The Communist program of conquest throughun-americanreachery, deceit, infiltration, espionage, sabotage, corruption, and terrorism has been carried out in country after country and is an ever growing threat in other countries. There is ample evidence that one of the primary objectives of the world Communist movement, directed from within the most powerful existing Communist totalitarian dictatorship, is to repeat this pattern in the United States. There is incontrovertible evidence of the fact that the Communist Party of the United States is dominated by such totalitarian dictatorship and that it is one of the principal instrumentalities used by the world Communist movement, directed from within that totalitarian dictatorship, in its ruthless and tireless endeavor to advance the world march of communism. The findings, which support these conclusions, and the vast quantity of evidence on which they are based, are set forth in detail in the numerous reports which this committee and its predecessors have printed and circulated. Corroboration has been supplied by independent and exhaustive research by other committees of Congress." 7

  1. "HUAC" Spartacus Educational. 16 Nov. 2004
  2. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People. Madison, SD: Leader Printing Company, 1988.
  3. "About UNESCO" UNESCO.ORG 16 Nov. 2004
  4. Congressional Boredom. Mundt Archives, Madison, SD
  5. "Form 'Mundt For Congress Club' In Lake County" Madison Daily Sentinel 21 Feb, 1936
  6. Hachten, Arthur. "House, Senate in Uproar over Argentine Beef." Washington D.C. Post 16 May, 1936
  7. "Karl Mundt" Spartacus Educational. 16 Nov. 2004
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