McCarran Act or Internal Security Act of 1950

"The Internal Security Act of 1950, somtimes called the McCarran Act or the anticommunist law, is one of the most controversial and least understood laws in the history of the republic. Yet it is of high importance that Americans understand it, since it involves (1) our national safety and (2) individual liberties." So began Beverly Smith's inquiry "How Will Our Laws Against Traitors Work?" which appeared in the January 13, 1951, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The Internal Security Act, popularly named for Nevada's Senator Pat McCarran, an aging hack who, in fact, commandeered the legislation from an earlier version by congressmen Karl Mundt and (of all people) Richard Nixon argued for the fingerprinting and registration of all "subversives" at large in the United States. As the SEP article reports, the act's passage by House and Senate was quite controversial. President Tr uman, who had himself imposed the Loyalty Order for federal government employees in 1947, immediately vetoed it, on the grounds that it "would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights [and] would actually weaken our internal security measures." But his veto w as overridden by a humbling 89 percent majority vote, and McCarran's newly formed Senate Internal Security Subcommittee working closely with Hoover's FBI set up shop and conducted hearings for the next twentyńseven years. One of the more bucolic provisi ons of the McCarran Act was its authorization of concentration camps "for emergency situations."

But the McCarran Act was only the tip of the inquisitorial iceberg. HUAC was still in operation, although it had been relatively quiet since its Hollywood Ten triumph, and it quickly had to spring back into action to prove its continuing validity. In 195 1, HUAC began its second wave of show business hearings, far outstripping its 1947 predecessor in scope, fanfare, and shamelessness. Needing a forum that would give full rein to his lust for the limelight, Senator Joseph McCarthy attached himself to the newly formed Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, assuming its chairmanship in 1953. It was under the glare of that subcommittee's 1954 probe of the Army that Tailgunner Joe would finally crash and burn. Add to the above the "Red squads" that the police departments of cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit all had established by this time, and it becomes clear that the number of actual Communist agents operating in the U.S. must have been infinitely less than the number of Feds, cops, and subcommittees bent on wiretapping, surveilling, exposing, interrogating, blackmailing, indicting, and imprisoning them. But then, as J. Edgar Hoover was fond of pointing out, "It only took twenty-three Commies to overthrow Russia."

Citation for this entry.
Philip Morrison, a Cornell Professor of Physics, expressed doubts about atomic warfare and then had to face SISS in 1952. SISS had a special way of outing those named in anticommunist testimony.


Document URL:
Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:12 EDT