Communist Party Cases

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The Communist Party Cases were a series of cases during the 1950s in which the federal government prosecuted Communist Party members for conspiring and organizing the party to advocate the overthrow of the U.S government by force and violence.

COMMUNISM became a central concern in U.S. law following WORLD WAR II, which ended with the Soviet Union occupying much of Central and Eastern Europe, after having liberated those areas from Nazi occupation. An ally of the United States for most of the war, Soviet President JOSEPH STALIN promised to hold democratic elections in the European countries he occupied. However, the governments in most of

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those countries were eventually converted into Soviet satellite regimes. Meanwhile, Soviet propaganda professed the goal of spreading communist revolution around the world, and Russian leaders remained publicly committed to this doctrine.

American leaders were concerned that talk of a global communist revolution was more than idle propaganda. In addition to the Iron Curtain of Soviet-style communism that had descended over much of Europe, China, another U.S. ally during World War II, was overtaken by communist revolution in 1949. That same year the Soviet Union announced that it had successfully detonated its first atomic bomb, ending a short-lived, U.S. nuclear monopoly. Shortly after this revelation, British scientist Klaus Fuchs and Americans JULIUS AND ETHEL ROSENBERG were implicated in an ESPIONAGE ring that was allegedly responsible for accelerating the Russian NUCLEAR WEAPONS program. In 1950 communist North Korea, aided by Chinese troops and Russian advisors, invaded South Korea, starting what would be a three year conflict.

Communist hysteria in the United States was ratcheted up another notch on February 9, 1950, when Senator JOSEPH MCCARTHY, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, ushered in the era of McCarthyism by delivering his famous speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, where he accused the U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT of harboring communists. The 1950s communist RED SCARE in the United States was marked by a series of freewheeling investigations conducted by several congressional committees, the most notorious of which was the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), which summoned before it thousands of Americans who were asked questions delving into personal beliefs, political affiliations, and loyalties.

The first Communist Party Case, Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S. Ct. 857, 95 L. Ed. 1137 (1951), was decided at the height of McCarthyism. Eugene Dennis was one of a number of persons convicted in federal district court for violation of the SMITH ACT, which proscribed teaching and advocating the violent and forcible overthrow of the U.S...

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