Was Alger Hiss Guilty?
IT IS time to think again about Alger Hiss. The cold war is over, and its casualties petition for rehabilitation. While committees publish advertisements demanding posthumous justice for the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss acts for himself. He asks the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to reinstate him to the Bar of the Commonwealth on the ground that he is presently of good moral character, and in New York he announces to the press that he will soon move to reopen his case and demonstrate his innocence. “In 1948,” he says, “a man named Whittaker Chambers swore that he had been a Communist spy, and that I, a State Department official, had given him government papers in 1938. I never gave him secret papers. But largely because a young Congressman named Nixon said he believed Chambers, I was convicted of perjury when I denied the charges and went to jail for 44 months.” Nixon ended his career in fraud, Hiss seems to suggest, and he began it with fraud. The prosecution was yet another Nixon connivance, a deception whose purpose was to destroy Hiss and convict an entire generation of American liberals.*
Before making up our minds, we had better find out what happened in the case. There are 3,307 printed pages of testimony, another thousand pages of exhibits, 595 pages of lawyers’ briefs and affidavits, and three judicial opinions. Out of this welter of materials, let me try to winnow answers to the two questions which are the subject of this article. What was the evidence? Does the evidence justify the verdict of guilt?
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