Review: Loyalty And Legislative Action

1065 words - 5 pages

Loyalty and Legislative Action provides a well researched and considered survey and critique of the various activities of the New York state legislature, aimed at ferreting out the dreaded “red menace” from within the state's public education system. It was published in 1951 as part of Cornell's “Studies in Civil Liberty” series. The series was funded by a grant of over a hundred thousand dollars from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1948, “to encourage scholarly research in the field of civil liberties under the present internal security program”.1 The work was one of three which had originally been slated to be part of a summary volume in the series entitled The States and Subversion. However it along with similar accounts of the Tenney Committee in California and the Canwell Committee in Washington were selected by Professor Robert Cushman the series editor for individual publication because of their excellent scholarship. This has proven to be a most judicious decision, as this volume, as well as the others written by Edward Barrett from UC-Berkely and Vern Countryman of Yale, have been widely cited by subsequent generations of scholars in the field, like Julian Jaffe, Stephen Leberstein, and Marjorie Heins. While a close perusal undoubtedly acquaints the reader, at least in a vicarious nature, with a sense of the prevailing paranoia over the perceived threat of communist infiltrators running amok in the government, schools, and organized labor of America at the time, the author maintains an admirable degree of objectivity in his analysis, making this indeed a valuable piece of scholarship in the field.
The work flows chronologically through six chapters that detail the inception, investigations, and fallout of the Lusk, McNaboe, and Rapp-Coudert Committees of the state legislature. In the first chapter, Chamberlain briefly outlines the prevailing factors which gave rise to the nation's first “Red Scare” in the aftermath of the devastation of World War I, the successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and the growing ferment in labor unrest and organization in the rapidly industrializing world. This set the stage for the Lusk Committee in 1919-1920, which clearly degenerated quickly into a good old fashioned witch hunt, that as Chamberlain asserts, “violated almost every canon of responsible conduct....ranged recklessly of individual rights...with wanton disregard for such fundamentals as separation of powers and due process of law.”(203-04)
Chapter two looks into the events of the 1930's in the Empire State. Lawmakers passed the 'Ives Loyalty Oath Law' in 1934, that specifically required teachers and school administrative personnel to swear they were not members of the communist party, nor advocated communism or other ideals subversive to American democracy. The McNaboe investigation which took place two years later was the most significant legislative attempt to ferret out the subversive elements of society, was very much the brainstorm and...

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