Sociology Index


Alger Hiss was a lawyer who rose to become a significant public official in the United States through the 1930's and 1940s. In 1948 a magazine editor, who confessed to being a communist, accused Alger Hiss of assisting in the transmittal of documents to the Russians. Alger Hiss denied any involvement but was found guilty in his second trial and sentenced to five years in prison. Many did not believe Alger Hiss's pleas of innocence and the case stimulated support for Senator McCarthy. McCarthyism is the hunt for communists in places of influence in American society.

Alger Hiss was indicted for perjury; the first trial resulted in a hung jury. However, the second trial convicted Alger Hiss on two counts of perjury, resulting in five years of prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Many today still question the innocence or guilt of Alger Hiss's supposed association with the Communist Party in Russia.

It is now widely believed that Alger Hiss was the scapegoat for the loss of China to the Communists and the Russian development of the atomic bomb. Americans found it difficult to believe that either of these events could have happened without duplicity and thus looked to subversion, spies, lack of loyalty and moral degeneration as explanations for these world developments. On November 15, 1996 Alger Hiss died in New York City at the age of ninety-two. Many today still question the innocence or guilt of Alger Hiss's supposed association with the Communist Party in Russia.

Alger Hiss Biographical Sketch prepared by Erica Walbert. Alger Hiss attended Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School. From 1930 to 1933, Alger Hiss practiced law in Boston and New York. Furthermore, Alger Hiss was granted important jobs in the government from 1934 until 1947. During the Cold War against Russia, in August of 1948, Whittaker Chambers, an ex-Communist, testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee that Alger Hiss was a member of the Communist party and a spy.

The Alger Hiss Perjury Trials: A Dramatic Perspective on Legal Rhetoric, Ritter, Kurt W.

The two Alger Hiss perjury trials of 1949 provide an opportunity to compare two different aspects of trial drama: courtroom drama and crime drama. The dual quality of trial drama stems not only from the contest between the plots of the prosecution and the defense, but from the tension between the immediate courtroom scene and the distant scene of the crime.

In the first Alger Hiss perjury trial, the prosecution focused on the testimony and truthfulness of Hiss's accuser, Whittaker Chambers, thus stressing the courtroom drama rather than the crime drama; the defense then attempted to discredit Chambers and portray Hiss as honorable.

Linder, Douglas. The Alger Hiss Trials: An Account. 2003. Famous Trials. 15 November 2005.
Rappaport, Doreen. Be the Judge, Be the Jury: The Alger Hiss Trial. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. 
Smith, John Chabot. Alger Hiss: The True Story. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976. 
White, G. Edward. Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars. New York: Oxford UP, 2004.
Hiss, Tony. The View from Alger's Window: A Son's Memoir. New York: Knopf, 1999. 
Ruddy, T. Michael. The Alger Hiss Espionage Case. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005. 
Weinstein, Allen. Perjury: the Hiss-Chambers Case. New York: Random House, 1997.