"I Remain" - A Digital Archive of Letters, Manuscripts, and Ephemera
Contributions >> Digital History Video Course >> Student Work: Essay | Video

For: [Letter] December 18, Washington, DC [to] Tad [Francis E. Walter] / Tom Clark.
[Letter] 1957 November 12, Washington, D.C. [to] Francis E. Walter, Washington, D.C. / J. Edgar Hoover [John Edgar Hoover].

Adam Bentz

At the end of World War Two, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union stood poised to dramatically shape the world for the better. But the uneasy relationship between Communist East and capitalist West soon fell through as Josef Stalin's legions conquered and occupied Eastern Europe. Adding to American fears, China went "red" in 1949 when Mao Tse Tung defeated right-wing leader Chiang Kai-shek. Simultaneously, the Russians acquired the atomic bomb, eliminating the military and political edge the United States had had over its enemy. And by late 1950, American troops were embroiled in a hot war in Korea, trying desperately to hold back what American citizens perceived as Communism on the march.

Life on the home front of the Cold War was no less volatile. Voters, convinced that Communists were infiltrating all levels of society, eagerly supported politicians like Joseph McCarthy, a senator who put on dramatic public displays accusing government officials of ties to Russia. But although McCarthy's story paints a telling picture of the pervasive anti-Communist fear of the 1950s, it is not the whole story. At the same time as McCarthy, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or HUAC, investigated Americans from all walks of life in an incessant attempt to uncover domestic subversion. A contemporary of McCarthy, Representative Francis Eugene Walter, was one of many politicians who led HUAC as chairman. Unlike McCarthy, Walter's career was long and illustrious. But on a closer examination, one can see that Walter, like McCarthy, was a product of his times; a politician with diverse loyalties, and one dominated with an intense, perhaps irrational fear and prejudice toward outsiders, Communist and foreign, a passion that focused his career on a narrow path of inquisition and repression.

Francis Walter was born on May 26, 1894 and grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania. His long career as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives fit well within the heavily-Democratic Lehigh Valley. He attended Lehigh University, then studied law at George Washington University, where he met future political ally J. Edgar Hoover. Walter began practicing corporate law once he gained admittance to the bar in 1919. In 1928, he entered politics as the Northampton County solicitor. He quickly climbed the political ladder by winning election to the U.S. House in 1932 as Franklin Roosevelt and many other members of his party took Washington. Walter would not leave politics until his death on May 31, 1963, ending his thirty-year term in the House.[1]

Walter was a fairly typical Democrat on economics, supporting the New Deal programs of Franklin Roosevelt and later the liberal social policies of Truman and Kennedy. He spent his first few years in Congress working to get federal money for local Pennsylvania projects. But his real interests lay in immigration reform and in domestic security. In these matters, Walter was at best conservative and at worst reactionary.[2]

A 1952 piece of legislation Walter sponsored gives insight into the character and motivations of the man who would rule HUAC. That year, a Democratic Congress passed the McCarran-Walter Act, which amended a national immigration policy dating from 1929. Walter and co-sponsor Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada created a bill that severely restricted overall immigration. The act preserved a decades-old quota system for divvying up allotments for each country.[3]

Moreover, the act specified that quotas be drawn not from the 1950 census, nor from the 1940, nor from the 1930. By drawing quotas based on 1920 census figures, the act was clearly, to use a colloquial expression, "pulling a fast one." McCarran and Walter suffered severe criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle for what they saw (probably correctly) as shameless racism. By using 1920 numbers, Walter and McCarran engineered unfairly high quotas for northwestern Europe and unfairly low numbers for southeastern Europe and the rest of the world. Although twice as many people came from southeastern Europe in 1920, the act still had the effect of granting too many allotments to northwestern Europe, while shortchanging a needy southeastern Europe.[4]

The authors and their supporters defended the act as necessary to preserve the ethnic and cultural makeup of the United States, which meant the preservation of a white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon majority. As northwestern Europeans were the most educated and most skilled people outside of the United States, defenders argued that the quota system would help the economy.[5]

More importantly, Walter and his colleagues feared that immigration from non-Western nations could spread Communism to America very easily. Critics in Walter's own party argued that immigrants from Communist lands could be "pre-screened" for loyalty to the Party, but their arguments lost the initial 1952 battle.[6] The Communist Party of the United States openly opposed the act, inadvertently strengthening the argument for tougher immigration.[7] For many, Communist Party opposition to tougher immigration made it seem only right to support McCarran-Walter.

One of the act's progressive sections, of course, provided for considerable relief to political refugees from Communism.[8] Walter himself was quite favorable to refugees, working with Congress to speed up immigration for European and Hungarian refugees, especially following the 1956 revolution.[9] Although a follower of eugenics, Walter hated Communism more and was eager to aid those forced out of Communist lands, lands he gave a cold shoulder to with the quota system. Although he probably doubted the ability and intelligence of Hungarian refugees, he nonetheless aided them and used them as leverage in his greater war. Refugees were passable in Walter's eyes, of course, because they had proved their disloyalty to Russia and were thus "safe."

Despite these battles, immigration restriction was only a part of Walter's role in Congress. His long service guaranteed him admittance to several House committees, obviously including chairmanship of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, a position he used to forge and then rigorously defend the 1952 act. Walter also became chairman of War Veterans in Congress in 1947, having served in the Navy briefly in both World Wars.[10]

But Walter's greatest contribution to American history was his chairmanship of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a position of power over a committee which he would make his own. Walter joined the committee the January following the 1948 elections. A contemporary political scientist, Robert K. Carr, praised him in 1952 as a competent and intelligent member, in contrast to HUAC's more notorious reactionaries, red-baiters, and members who simply bided their time, adding nothing to HUAC's investigations. Carr claimed that HUAC's very nature attracted the less-able, less-intellectual members of Congress who wanted to build careers on red-baiting, and suggested that Walter's appointment improved the makeup of the body.[11]

HUAC's origin in the murky days of the late 1930s had made it a controversial institution plagued by inconsistency and partisan politics, characteristics that Francis Walter helped change during his chairmanship. HUAC began as the Dies Committee, an independent team of representatives searching for Nazi subversion before and during World War Two. Initiated by anti-fascist Samuel Dickstein (NY) and anti-Communist Martin Dies (TX), both Democratic congressmen, HUAC quickly grew in power and scope, especially after the nation's entry into World War Two. It investigated Nazi subversion at home in the form of German front organizations and also investigated reports of Japanese subversion in the Hawaiian Islands.[12]

Despite its activities in calling forward American Nazis, HUAC did not remain an institution worried about right-wing subversion. By the end of World War Two, conservatives like John E. Rankin (D-MS) had overtaken the institution, not only strengthening its clout in Congress, but also focusing all of HUAC's attention on Communism. Anti-Semitism, mixed with an unhealthy dose of red-baiting, led HUAC to begin its great investigations of Hollywood in the late 1940s. HUAC called up known members of the Communist Party in the 1930s, from writers to directors, to testify about their own politics and about the politics of other Hollywood personalities. HUAC also called actors like Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan, who testified as to how limited Communist infiltration really was, but who also professed their own displeasure with it. The 1940s and early 1950s Hollywood investigations culminated in the infamous Hollywood Ten hearings, in which members asked each witness about his affiliations with the Party and "fellow travelers." If a witness pled the Fifth Amendment, his career was essentially over.[13]

HUAC also investigated labor unions, non-profit organizations, and members of the Washington establishment, like Alger Hiss. As the Soviet Union expanded its empire in the late 1940s, HUAC seemed all the more necessary, although it had always enjoyed strong popular support. Congressmen like Richard Nixon, one of the influential Republicans on the committee, used his participation in its activities as a springboard for the senate, and later much more.[14]

The body that Francis Walter joined in 1949 had thus been around for a decade before his entrance and had caused quite a bit of controversy. Through the first few years of Walter's membership, HUAC investigated the Hollywood Ten and continued investigations of alleged Communists in industry and in public education. But the committee in 1954 was bloated, subject to the whims of reactionaries, and caught up in the growing public disillusionment with Joseph McCarthy's unsupported accusations.[15]

Early 1950s HUAC Chairman Harold H. Velde, a Republican, created a minor scandal when he issued subpoenas to ex-President Truman and Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, as well as others. So far, whomever HUAC called had to appear or risk contempt of Congress. Truman and Clark refused, boldly asserting the separation of powers doctrine. Worse, Velde had issued the subpoenas without notifying Walter, nor any other member of the committee. Walter called Velde's action the "most incredible, insulting, un-American thing" he had ever seen in Congress. Clearly, HUAC needed new, more responsible leadership if it was to continue on in its debatably necessary mission.[16]

Walter's assumption of the leadership of HUAC revamped the committee and refocused its mission, albeit slightly. Upon assuming leadership, he promised that:

Our new investigations will not follow 'patterns.' We will go after Communists as Communists, perhaps geographically and let the patterns of defense industry, or other danger focus upon the various areas through evidence produced. Through evidence produced they will be uncovered.

Although HUAC's main function had been exactly that, i.e. the identification of Communists in America, Walter's assertion turned what had been an investigatory committee of a legislative body into a "star chamber proceeding." It became a defacto inquisition and a very active one.[17]

Walter streamlined HUAC, cutting unnecessary staff members and eliminating even things as trivial as leather cardholders for committee members. He also distanced the committee from the ravings of McCarthy and first HUAC chairman Martin Dies. In his first few years, Walter held significantly fewer days of hearings than had previous chairmen. Public opinion was beginning to tire of anti-Communist investigatory rampages. But the fewer hearings may have also been a sign that Walter had fewer targets than his predecessors. Following the 1956 Soviet crackdown on Hungarian dissidents, the American Communist Party, or CPUSA, virtually fell apart. With even hardcore American Communists embarrassed by the brutality of their "ideal" state, it looked like HUAC might run out of witnesses to call in for interrogation and humiliation.[18]

HUAC nonetheless found targets in cities around America and continued investigating notable American writers and media personalities. From 1955-1956, HUAC brought in witnesses from Fort Wayne, Indiana, targeting union subversion, and from St. Louis, Missouri, targeting industrial subversion. Continuing a tradition of harassing the left-wing dominated arts, HUAC also investigated the supposed Communist infiltration of the New York stage. If there was any doubt about Walter's belief in the reality or potential threat of Communist infiltration, he dismissed it in his comments beginning the New York hearings. HUAC's mission, in his eyes, was to seek out Communists in the entertainment field and to ascertain to what extent they had been able to put Communist propaganda into American entertainment as a means of brainwashing the public. Some of the actors called forward pled the fifth and also refused to testify on free speech grounds. When HUAC called folksinger Pete Seeger forward, he refused to discuss his affiliation on grounds that the committee had no right to ask him.[19]

In 1956, Walter called acclaimed actor Paul Robeson before HUAC during an investigation surrounding passports being given to known Communists. Congress had attempted to prevent Communists from receiving passports, holding that they would use passports to circle the globe advancing the cause. Robeson was in litigation regarding his passport, which the State Department had revoked in 1950, when he came before HUAC. His spirited refusal to answer the Committee's rather simplistic and pointed questions provoked a heated exchange between himself and the chairman. When Robeson questioned Walter's sponsorship of the McCarran-Walter Act, Walter said he was only trying to prevent Robeson's "kind" from coming in and that he wanted to make it easier to kick his kind out.[20]

As HUAC started losing the momentum for such pointless investigations, Walter's relationship with J. Edgar Hoover became essential. Their experience together in law school forged a bond that improved cooperation between the FBI and HUAC during Walter's chairmanship. HUAC had relied on FBI witnesses since 1948.[21] But relations had cooled when hothead Republicans took over the Committee in the early 1950s. Although Hoover was a solid right-winger and favored Republicans, Walter was a college friend and had his respect and trust. As a result, Hoover stepped up FBI information sharing, or leaks, with HUAC, which helped Walter maintain his committee. This continued with occasional conflict.[22] Their relationship was reciprocal. Walter wanted to maintain HUAC at all costs, with grandiose visions of renaming it the Committee on Internal Security, Nationality, and Migration. Walter thus hoped he could extend his power even further on immigration control.[23] In the same way, Hoover used Walter to attack political enemies with exposure when the FBI could not touch them with legal measures.[24] The power of Hoover's FBI deflected much Congressional criticism from HUAC and prolonged its life long after its time.[25]

But despite its Congressional longevity, HUAC began to suffer from intense criticism from the American Left. Civil libertarians held that HUAC's operations, methods, and results were themselves un-American violations of the Constitution and a dangerous departure from democracy. HUAC responded in characteristic fashion. In 1957, HUAC published a pamphlet labeled "Operation Abolition" which accused the New York-based Emergency Civil Liberties Committee and other anti-HUAC groups of Communist ties. Hoover himself praised the pamphlet in a letter to Walter, saying such groups had no knowledge of what civil liberties really were.[26]

Before Walter's life and career drew to a close, HUAC's opposition increased in size, bringing him into conflict with his old alma mater, Lehigh University. In 1960, HUAC held hearings in San Francisco. Hundreds of student activists, who some have claimed became the nucleus of the New Left, met outside to protest HUAC's mission. Some protestors turned violent and police used fire hoses and brute force to remove the students from City Hall. Almost immediately, HUAC produced a newsreel out of subpoenaed news footage. Also called "Operation Abolition," the documentary exaggerated the violence of the students and promulgated the belief that they were red agents. The film traveled the country and millions saw it, learning HUAC distortions as fact.[27]

Within weeks, a student group at Lehigh University railed to defend their fellows in California and provoked Walter's wrath. The Lehigh Arcadians voted to protest the showing of the film and sent a letter to the superintendent of Bethlehem schools to ask him not to show it. Brian Bauknight, a spokesman for the club and leader of the motion, decried the distortions of the film.[28] Walter responded with a letter to the editor of the Bethlehem Globe Times in which he accused the students of being Communist dupes. He denied that the film distorted anything and stood by his claim that Communists had led the protestors astray.[29]

In his last few years, Walter's star rose as he became an essential player in passing Kennedy-era social legislation.[30] In this way, Walter was a typical New Deal Democrat. But in an evaluation of his career, especially the last fifteen years of it, one can see that Walter was anything but a faithful liberal. His support of restrictive immigration puts him in company with many racists and xenophobes of the time. More importantly, his willingness to serve as chairman of HUAC, plus his participation in many of the worse abuses of the red scare show that he was a man plagued by fear of outsiders that justified government abridgement of civil liberties and democratic procedure.

A skilled legislator and a cool-headed man in a time of turmoil, Walter nonetheless was a willing cog in the wheel of McCarthy's America. He was obviously a committed anti-Communist, but also worked for HUAC with future political ambitions in mind, ambitions that were never really fulfilled. HUAC's glory days were over before Walter's chairmanship. He merely prolonged the committee's existence and in the end was remembered un-fondly for it. Walter helped usher in an era of Big Government in the form of economic intervention and social security, dashing the hopes of conservatives who hoped America would survive the Depression by less "socialistic" means. But Walter received criticism not from the right, but from the left. Walter also aided the creation of a Big Brother state that has withstood the test of time, including the Watergate aftermath (which finally killed HUAC in 1975).[31] Walter claimed, as did Hoover and all the red-baiters, that he was defending liberty with his activities, but managed instead to increase government control over the lives of everyone in decisive ways.


Beck, Carl. Contempt of Congress: a Study of the Prosecutions Initiated by the Committee on Un-American Activities, 1947-1957. New Orleans: Hauser Press, 1959.

Bennett, Marion T. "The Immigration and Nationality (McCarran-Walter) Act of 1952, as Amended to 1965." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, "The New Immigration," 367 (1966): 127-136.

Bentley, Eric, ed. Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1969. New York: Viking Press, 1972.

Carr, Robert K. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1945-1950. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1952.

Goodman, Walter. The Committee: the Extraordinary Career of the House on Un-American Activities. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.

Hoover, J. Edgar. Masters of Deceit: the Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958.

Miller, Adam. "The Pioneer Fund: Bankrolling the Professors of Hate." The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 6 (1994-1995): 58-61.

Morgan, Alfred L. "Francis Eugene Walter." Biography Resource Center. 2006. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (4 January 2006), 1-2.

O'Reilly, Kenneth. Hoover and the Un-Americans. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

"Rep. Francis Walter, 69, Dies; Wrote Immigration Restrictions." New York Times, 1 June 1963, 16.

"Student Unit Protesting Walter Film." Allentown Morning Call, 21 Dec. 1960, 7.

Theoharis, Athan G. and John Stuart Cox. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.

Walter, Francis. "Rep. Walter to Lehigh Film Critics." Bethlehem Globe-Times, 19 Dec. 1960, 6.

[1] "Rep. Francis Walter, 69, Dies; Wrote Immigration Restrictions," New York Times, 1 June 1963, 16.

[2] Alfred L. Morgan, "Francis Eugene Walter," Biography Resource Center, 2006, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (4 January 2006), 1-2. It is important to note that Walter was an officer of a group affiliated with the Pioneer Fund, a eugenics organization that to this day supports scientific research establishing differences between the races.[2] To be fair, this does not prove that Walter was himself a racist. Many American liberals were proponents of eugenics in the years before the Allies discovered evidence of Hitler's own eugenics programs. In Adam Miller, "The Pioneer Fund: Bankrolling the Professors of Hate," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 6 (1994-1995): 59.

[3] Marion T. Bennett, "The Immigration and Nationality (McCarran-Walter) Act of 1952, as Amended to 1965," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, "The New Immigration," 367 (1966): 128-130. One-sixth of one percent is about .00167, so if one-hundred thousand Americans were of German birth (as an example), 100,000 times .00167 would produce a quota of 167. The lowest possible quota was fixed at 100.

[4] Ibid, 128-133.

[5] Ibid, 129-134.

[6] Ibid, 132-133.

[7] J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit: the Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958), 200.

[8] Bennett, 127, 134-135.

[9] Morgan, 1.

[10] Ibid, 1.

[11] Robert K. Carr, The House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1945-1950 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1952), 166, 210.

[12] Walter Goodman, The Committee: the Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (New York: Farrarr, Straus and Giroux, 1968), 3-166 in passim.

[13] Ibid, 167-320 in passim.

[14] Ibid, 226-296 in passim.

[15] Ibid, 367-368.

[16] Carl Beck, Contempt of Congress: a Study of the Prosecutions Initiated by the Committee on Un-American Activities, 1945-1957 (New Orleans: Hauser Press, 1959), 101-102.

[17] Ibid, 140-141.

[18] Goodman, 367-368, 400.

[19] Beck, 141-146.

[20] Eric Bentley, ed., Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938-1969 (New York: Viking Press, 1972), 768-777

[21] Kenneth O'Reilly, Hoover and the Un-Americans: the FBI, HUAC, and the Red Menace (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), 236.

[22] Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox, The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988), 316-322.

[23] O'Reilly, 255-257.

[24] Goodman, 415-417.

[25] O'Reilly, 257.

[26] Ibid, 257-258.

[27] Goodman, 429-432.

[28] "Student Unit Protesting Walter Film," Allentown Morning Call, 21 Dec. 1960, 7.

[29] Francis Walter, "Rep. Walter to Lehigh Film Critics," Bethlehem Globe-Times, 19 Dec. 1960, 6.

[30] Goodman, 435.

[31] O'Reilly, 9-11.

powered by CONTENTdm

Lehigh University Digital Library

Conditions of Use