The Road To Abolishing Huac Essay

4334 words - 17 pages

The Road to Abolishing HUAC: A Comparison of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee

The history of the United States in the twentieth century was significantly influenced by the actions of civil liberties organizations. However, during the reign of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s, civil liberties organizations compromised their principles and did not protest HUAC’s repression of civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) purged its Communist members and sympathizers, condoned congressional investigating committees, and failed to defend individuals whose civil liberties had been abridged. Although the ACLU sought to censure McCarthy and called for the abolition of HUAC, its policies had shifted to the right and it rarely took direct action against HUAC. As a result, several former members of the ACLU created the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC) in 1951 to pick up the initiative dropped by the ACLU. Corliss Lamont, a fervent defender of civil liberties who left the ACLU for the ECLC, claims that he “remained on the Board [of the ALCU] and fought for fundamental civil liberties principles as long as [he] was able to…[but] was fighting a losing battle” (Freedom 278). By 1957, the ECLC dedicated its resources to abolishing HUAC but could not engage the ACLU in its campaign. One questions why the ECLC was active in the condemnation of HUAC in the 1950s, but the ACLU was not. Historians have cited anti-Communism within the Union, a desire to preserve its reputation, and the Union’s lack of resources as reasons why it was not involved in an abolition campaign. Research best supports the claim that the ACLU did not join the abolition campaign because it lacked the power necessary to defeat HUAC and it wished to preserve the Union’s integrity for the future. It took a more passive role by protesting the legality of HUAC in court, where it had more experience. In contrast to the ACLU, the ECLC became abolitionist in order to elevate its status as a civil liberties organization. As evidenced in a pamphlet by Harvey O’Conner, president of the ECLC, it developed a political campaign aimed at the American public, but was unrealistic in its goals and strategies to abolish HUAC. Though the efforts of both the ACLU and ECLC were unsuccessful in limiting the role of HUAC in the 1950s, the ECLC’s actions prompted the ACLU towards a more active role in later years, and HUAC finally ended its inquisitions in 1977.

One explanation regards the ACLU’s actions toward HUAC in terms of anti-Communist hysteria and paranoia at the time. According to Samuel Walker, an expert on civil liberties, Roger Baldwin, director of the ACLU until 1950, “epitomized [the Union’s] ambivalence, torn between his commitment to free speech principles and his hostility toward Communism” (175). Victor Navasky, author of Naming Names, notes that the ACLU...

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