Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and the only chief executive to be elected to more than two terms in office.
Roosevelt held the presidency from 1934 to 1945, leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His legislative program, the New Deal, greatly expanded the role of the federal government in American society.
Roosevelt died while on vacation in Georgia just 82 days into his fourth term in office, thrusting newly installed Vice President Harry S. Truman into the presidency. Roosevelt had done virtually nothing to prepare Truman to take over the most powerful office in the world.
Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) became the 33rd President of the United States upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945.
Truman, who had only a high-school education and had been in office as vice president for just 82 days before Roosevelt's sudden death, inherited the monumental task of leading the United States through the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. Truman—who was, while in office, one of the least popular presidents in modern American history—won a surprising second term by defeating Republican Thomas Dewey in the election of 1948.
The Cold War began under Truman's watch, as the president came to believe that he must take a hard stance to contain the expansionistic tendencies of the Soviet Union. The president's Truman Doctrine committed the United States to a policy of supporting foes of communism everywhere in the world. Truman's failure to lead the United States to victory in the Korean War led to a severe decline in support for the president's policies among the American people.
Martin Dies (1900–1972) was a Texas Democrat who served ten terms in the United States House of Representatives between 1930 and 1958.
From 1937 to 1944, Dies headed the House Un-American Activities Committee—then usually known simply as the Dies Committee—as it began the era of intensive investigation of communist activities in America. Dies might fairly be considered the father of McCarthyism.
Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957) was a United States Senator from Wisconsin whose aggressive anticommunist pursuits after 1950 made him the namesake for "McCarthyism."
In 1950, McCarthy created a national sensation by claiming to have a list of 205 names of known communists inside the State Department. (The list was bogus.)
For the next four years, he continued to make more and more spectacular attacks on alleged communists inside the government. His downfall came when he made a series of unwarranted attacks against the United States Army, which fought back in a series of nationally televised hearings that destroyed McCarthy's credibility.
Henry A. Wallace (1888–1965) was an Iowa farmer and longtime progressive politician who served as Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, and Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In the early Cold War years, Wallace opposed President Harry Truman's aggressive anti-Soviet stance, arguing that peaceful cooperation rather than anticommunist containment should be the basis of American foreign policy.
Wallace ran for president in 1948 on the anti-Cold War platform of the new Progressive Party. His crushing defeat—he won only 2.4% of the vote—suggested that straying from the anticommunist Cold War consensus would no longer be tolerated in respectable American political circles.
George C. Marshall (1880–1959) was a powerful American military leader during World War II and the early Cold War. He served as Army Chief of Staff—the American military's highest-ranking officer—during World War II, then as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense in the Truman administration. He was the namesake of the Marshall Plan, the American economic aid package that helped to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.
In the early 1950s, Marshall became the unlikely target of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who recklessly accused Marshall of "having made common cause with Stalin" in "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any such venture in the history of man."
The attack harmed McCarthy's reputation more than it did Marshall's.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), a Republican, was the popular 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. Prior to his presidency, Eisenhower was a lifelong military man, commanding the D-Day invasion while serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.
In the early days of his presidency, Eisenhower—a staunch but not hysterical anticommunist—deplored the inquisitorial excesses of Senator Joseph McCarthy, but felt that McCarthy was too strong to attack directly. Eisenhower was said to be pleased when McCarthy discredited himself and fell from grace during the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954.
Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was a Hollywood actor turned politician, who served as Governor of California from 1967 to 1975 and as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
A Roosevelt Democrat in his younger days, Reagan converted to conservatism during the 1950s and became the beloved standard-bearer of the Republican Party in the late-20th century.
During the late 1940s, Reagan served as the head of Hollywood's actors' union, the Screen Actors Guild. In his union capacity, Reagan volunteered to serve the FBI as a secret informant against communists in the entertainment industry. He testified against the Hollywood Ten before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Elia Kazan (1909–2003) was a Hollywood movie director, winner of Academy Awards for Best Director for Gentlemen's Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954).
In the 1930s, Kazan was briefly a member of the Communist Party. When called to testify before the House Un-American-Activities Committee in 1950, he reluctantly agreed to "name names," informing against other former communists in order to avoid being blacklisted.
Dalton Trumbo (1905–1976) was a screenwriter and novelist, the writer of dozens of Hollywood screenplays, including Spartacus, Exodus, and Roman Holiday.
Trumbo, a member of the Communist Party U.S.A. and perhaps the most famous of the Hollywood Ten, was charged with contempt of Congress and blacklisted from the motion picture industry after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.
Even after being blacklisted, Trumbo continued to author screenplays surreptitiously under pseudonyms. In 1960, he broke the blacklist by receiving credit, in his own name, for Spartacus.
Julius Rosenberg (1918–1953) was a member of the Communist Party U.S.A., executed in 1953 after being convicted under the Espionage Act for participating in a Soviet spy ring. Rosenberg's wife Ethel was executed at the same time.
While many liberals and leftists long believed the Rosenbergs had been unjustly executed in a time of national hysteria over communism, we now know that Julius Rosenberg was, in fact, a Soviet spy, and that Ethel Rosenberg was at least privy to her husband's espionage activities.
Ethel Rosenberg (1915–1953) was a member of the Communist Party U.S.A., executed in 1953 after being convicted under the Espionage Act for participating in a Soviet spy ring. Rosenberg's husband Julius was executed at the same time.
While many liberals and leftists long believed the Rosenbergs had been unjustly executed in a time of national intense anticommuist sentiment, we now know that Julius Rosenberg was, in fact, a Soviet spy, and that Ethel Rosenberg was at least privy to her husband's espionage activities.
Alger Hiss (1904–1996) was a high-ranking official in the State Department of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hiss participated in the critical Yalta Conference at the end of World War II and also played an important role in helping to organize the United Nations. In one of the most notorious espionage trials of the 20th century, he was later accused of being a Soviet spy.
In 1948, an ex-communist named Whittaker Chambers accused Hiss of being a member of the Communist Party and a Soviet spy. Hiss, called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, denied all charges. When Chambers produced evidence suggesting Hiss was lying, Hiss was convicted of perjury and sentenced to four years in prison.
Though he insisted until his dying day that he was innocent, recently disclosed Soviet records suggest that Hiss was, in fact, a Soviet agent.
Klaus Fuchs (1911–1988) was a German-born atomic physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, helping to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. He was also a communist and a Soviet agent.
During his time working on the Manhattan Project, Fuchs conveyed top-secret information on the American atomic program to the Soviet Union. It remains unclear whether information gleaned from Fuchs' spying helped to accelerate the Soviet bomb program, which successfully detonated a nuclear device in 1949.
Fuchs was arrested by British intelligence in 1950. He spent nine years in jail before being deported to communist East Germany, where he lived until 1988.