[Video Still]

Hear Alger Hiss talk about the political climate after FDR died

Need some background on the case?
Click here:

- The Timeline
- The Bookshelf

- The Cast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

v

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Timeline

 
1904 

November 11 - Alger Hiss is born in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

 
1906 

December 15 - Donald Hiss, Alger's younger brother, is born, also in Baltimore. 

 

 
1907 

April 7 - Hiss's father, Charles Alger Hiss, dies in Baltimore.

 

 
1924 

Summer - Hiss meets Priscilla Harriet Fansler (b. October 13, 1903), a Bryn Mawr graduate, on a student boat trip to Europe. However, she soon marries Thayer Hobson. 

 

 
1926 

June - Alger Hiss graduates from Johns Hopkins University

September - Hiss enters Harvard Law School.

September 19 - Timothy Hobson is born. 

 
1929 

January - Priscilla Hobson and Thayer Hobson are divorced. 

June - Hiss graduates from Harvard Law School and is chosen to be secretary to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Three years later, Donald Hiss also clerks for Holmes. They are the only brothers to share this position. 

December 11 - Alger Hiss marries Priscilla Fansler Hobson. 

 
1930 

October - With his one-year appointment as Holmes's secretary complete, Hiss joins the law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart in Boston, Massachusetts. 

 

 
1932 

Spring - After Priscilla decides to write a book in New York with her sister-in-law, the Hisses move to Manhattan. Hiss joins the law firm of Cotton, Franklin, Wright & Gordon. 

 

 
1933 

March 4 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt is inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States. The New Deal begins. 

March - At the urging of his former law professor, Felix Frankfurter, Hiss joins the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and the Hisses move to 3411 O St. in Georgetown. (Donald Hiss would later become a "New Dealer" as well, working first in the Labor Department and later, like his brother Alger, in the State Department.) 

 
1934 

Spring - The Hisses move to a top floor walk-up apartment at 2831 28th Street. 

July - Hiss becomes counsel to the Nye Committee of the U.S. Senate, which is investigating profiteering in the munitions industry. 

December (or possibly early 1935) - Hiss meets "George Crosley," a freelance writer, in connection with Hiss's Nye Committee work. Hiss helps Crosley with his articles and, after a friendship is established, with some small loans. Fourteen years later, Hiss learns Crosley's real name - Whittaker Chambers

 
1935 

March 6 - Justice Holmes dies. Holmes remains the revered mentor and moral touchstone for both Alger and Donald Hiss for the rest of their lives. 

Spring - The Hisses move from 28th Street to 2905 P St., a three-story home. With the rent paid on the last two months of the lease on 28th Street, Hiss rents that apartment to Crosley, who needs a place to stay while he finishes work on his magazine articles. Before taking up residence in the 28th Street apartment, the Hisses allow Crosley, his wife and infant daughter to spend several days in an upstairs guest room at P Street until a moving van with the Crosleys' things arrive. 

August - Hiss joins the Justice Department as Special Assistant to the Solicitor General to write the government's brief defending the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (A.A.A.). Its legality is being challenged in court. 

Spring - Hiss lends his old Ford roadster to Crosley. 

Fall or winter - Crosley gives Hiss a bright red oriental rug in partial payment of his debts. 

 
1936 

Summer - In June, the Hisses move to 1245 Thirtieth St. The next month, Hiss officially turns his old Ford over to Crosley and signs over the title certificate to the Cherner Motor Company. Later that summer, Hiss concludes that Crosley will never pay his loans back. Hiss turns down another loan request and terminates his friendship with Crosley.  

September - At the invitation of Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre, Hiss joins the Trade Agreements division of the State Department as Sayre's assistant. 

 

 
1937

December - The Hisses move to a larger home on Volta Place.

 

 
1939 

September 1 - In an interview with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr., Whittaker Chambers names Hiss and his brother Donald as having been targeted for possible recruitment by members of the Communist underground. Chambers tells Berle he left the Communist Party in 1937. 

September - Hiss becomes assistant to Stanley K. Hornbeck, State Department Adviser on Political Relations for Far Eastern Affairs.

 
1941

August 5 - Tony Hiss is born.

 

 
1942 

May - Chambers gives a written statement to the FBI, with no mention of espionage. Again, he says he left the Party in 1937

 

 
1943 

August - The Hisses buy a house at 3210 P St. 

 

 
1944 

Spring - Hiss is appointed deputy director of the State Department's Office of Special Political Affairs. His job is to begin planning for a world at peace. 

August - Hiss organizes the Dumbarton Oaks Conference which sets the groundwork for the United Nations. 

 
1945 

February - Hiss is a junior member of the U.S. delegation to the Yalta conference as an adviser to Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr

March - Chambers meets with Raymond Murphy, a State Department security officer. He names Hiss and 26 others as being affiliated with an underground communist group. Chambers again says he left the Party in 1937. Chambers repeats this to the FBI later in the year. 

April 12 - F.D.R. dies. Harry S Truman becomes the 33rd President of the United States. For Alger and Donald Hiss, Roosevelt was the preeminent world leader of the 20th Century. 

April - At the age of 40, Hiss becomes Director of the Office of Political Affairs. Shortly thereafter, he serves as Secretary General of the San Francisco Conference, which drafts the United Nations Charter. After the conference, Hiss is chosen to fly the charter to Washington in a special military airplane for President Truman's signature.

November - The Rev. John Cronin, an anti-communist Roman Catholic priest, circulates a report on communists in the government. The report names Hiss. Its source is Chambers. The United States Chamber of Commerce asks Cronin to prepare a similar report for its use. That report is later given to Rep. Richard M. Nixon after he is elected to the House of Representatives. 

 
1946 

March - Hiss is interviewed by the FBI after reports circulate that a Congressman may charge that he is a Communist. 

August - Chambers is interviewed again by Raymond Murphy of the State Department, and again says he left the Party in 1937. He also denies that any espionage had occurred among the underground communist group in Washington. 

 
1947 

February 1 - Hiss leaves the government to become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Hisses move to East Eighth Street in New York City.

June - FBI agents visit Hiss at his office and ask him about charges that he is a Communist and also ask him if he knows anyone named Whittaker Chambers. Hiss denies being a Communist and says he never knew anyone by the name of Whittaker Chambers.

 

 
1948 

August 3 - Chambers testifies before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that Hiss was a member of an underground Communist Party group. He says the purpose of the group was not espionage and also testifies that he left the Party in 1937. 

August 5 - Hiss appears before HUAC to deny the charge. He says he would like to meet his accuser. The committee wants to drop the case, but committee member Nixon and committee investigator Robert E. Stripling prevail on the rest to appoint a subcommittee to re-interview Chambers. Nixon believes that, despite Hiss's denials, they can show that Hiss knew Chambers.  

August 7 - The committee interviews Chambers. Chambers offers a number of details about the Hisses' lives (some correct and others incorrect). He also says Hiss never knew him as Whittaker Chambers, but simply as "Carl." 

August 9 - Nixon meets privately with Chambers at the latter's farm in Westminster, Maryland. 

August 11 - Nixon again meets Chambers at the farm. Chambers shows him a bird book he says he got from Hiss. A couple of days later, Nixon again goes out to the farm. Nixon leaks to the press that the committee has information backing Chambers' side of the story. 

August 16 - Hiss appears before HUAC under subpoena. He asks for the opportunity to meet Chambers face-to-face. Nixon asks him for details about his life in an attempt to corroborate Chambers' story. Hiss says he has written down the name of a man who he thinks might be Chambers. After a break in the testimony, Hiss reveals the name of George Crosley and tells the story of his relationship with him. 

August 16 - Harry Dexter White, a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Roosevelt administration, who is also accused by Chambers of being a member of the underground, dies of a heart attack several days after being questioned by the committee.

August 17 - Hiss is called by a committee member and asked to appear at the Commodore Hotel in New York. Waiting for him there are several committee members and Chambers. Hiss identifies Chambers as Crosley, a name Chambers denies using. Hiss challenges Chambers to repeat his charges in public, saying that if he does he will be sued for libel. 

August 25 - In a public hearing that is in essence a staged event for television cameras, Hiss and Chambers both testify. This is the first Congressional hearing ever televised. 

August 27 - Chambers appears on Meet the Press and repeats his charges. Hiss sues him for libel. 

August 28 - HUAC issues a report entitled "Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States," despite Chambers' repeated assertions that no espionage occurred. 

September Nixon writes a letter to John Foster Dulles, the Carnegie Endowment's chairman of the board, summarizing, as he sees it, the testimony before HUAC. Nixon says Hiss committed perjury, although he admits there is no evidence that Hiss had been a member of the Party. Dulles (who later becomes Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration) circulates the letter to the endowment's trustees. 

October 15 - The Justice Department investigates Chambers' story and concludes there is no basis for any charges in the case. 

November 4 - Pretrial examinations begin in the libel suit in Baltimore, Maryland. Chambers is asked to produce any documents to support his claims. Chambers alludes for the first time to Hiss supplying documents and says he read State Department documents at Hiss's home. He makes reference to specific documents he claims he had seen 12 years before. 

November 17 - Chambers says he went to the home of Nathan I. Levine, his wife's nephew, and retrieved an envelope he says he had given Levine to store some 10 years before. Chambers would testify that inside the envelope were 65 pages of typewritten copies of State Department documents, four scraps of paper in Hiss's handwriting, two strips of developed film, three rolls of undeveloped film, eight pages of handwritten notes (supposedly by Harry Dexter White), and two other items that have never been identified. The documents are dated through 1938, months after the date Chambers has stated under oath that he left the Communist Party. Chambers hands over the handwritten notes and the typed documents, but keeps the film.

November 18 - At Hiss's direction, the papers (later called the Baltimore Documents) are turned over to the Justice Department. 

December 1 - Nixon visits Chambers at his farm. When Chambers indicates he turned over some material and that there is more to come, Nixon tells him to save it for the committee. Chambers places the two rolls of film in a hollowed-out pumpkin in his yard.

December 2 - HUAC serves a subpoena on Chambers, demanding he turn over the remaining material to the committee. Chambers takes committee staffers out to his yard and gives them the film. Against the orders of the judge in the libel suit, Chambers also gives HUAC investigators photostats of the typed and handwritten documents he had previously submitted to the court. This information is soon leaked to the press by the committee. Nixon poses with a stack of documents that is four-feet high. The number of pages publicly released from the film is 58 pages.

December 6-15 - Simultaneously, HUAC and a federal grand jury hear testimony on the case, with HUAC leaking information that supports Chambers. Nixon refuses the grand jury's request for the film but misleadingly informs the jurors that only Alger Hiss could have given this material to Chambers. Nixon urges the panel not to indict Chambers for perjury. One of those called before the grand jury is Henry Julian Wadleigh, an employee in the Trade Agreement Sections of the State Department. Wadleigh at first takes the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer questions before the grand jury, but later testifies that he gave documents to Chambers. 

December 15 - On its last day of service, the grand jury indicts Hiss on two counts of perjury, alleging that he lied when he said he didn't see Chambers after January 1, 1937 and when he said he never turned over any documents to Chambers. Espionage charges are not pursued because of the statute of limitations.

 
1949 

May 31 - Hiss's first perjury trial opens in New York before Judge Samuel H. Kaufman. Lloyd Paul Stryker, a well-regarded criminal defense lawyer, is Hiss's lead attorney.

July 8 - The trial ends with the jury deadlocked (8-4 for conviction). 

November 17 - Hiss's second trial begins before a new judge, Henry W. Goddard, after Kaufman is removed following charges by Nixon and others that he favored the defense in his rulings. Hiss also has a new lead attorney, Claude B. Cross, of Boston. 

 
1950

January 21 - Hiss is convicted on both counts.

January 25 - Hiss is sentenced to five years in prison but is released on $10,000 bail, pending appeal. The appeal is based, in part, on a re-examination of the trial evidence, and also on repeated misconduct by the prosecutor. (See comments on the appeals strategy by Kenneth Simon, a Hiss lawyer.) At his sentencing, Hiss says, "I want only to add that I am confident that in the future the full facts of how Whittaker Chambers was able to carry out forgery by typewriter will be disclosed."

Dec. 7 - Hiss's appeal is denied.

 
1951 

January - A request for a rehearing of the appeal is denied. 

March 12 - U.S. Supreme Court denies to hear Hiss's appeal. 

March 22 - Hiss goes to prison. Most of his sentence is served at the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a medium-security facility 100 miles west of New York City.

In prison, Hiss works in a storeroom, plays handball, teaches several inmates to read, and writes down his innermost thoughts and feelings in a series of 445 letters he sends home. (Many excerpts are later published in Tony Hiss's book, "The View From Alger's Window.")

 
1952 

January 24 - Hiss's motion for a new trial is filed.

May - Whittaker Chambers' autobiography, "Witness," is published and becomes an immediate bestseller.

July 22 - Judge Goddard denies the motion for a new trial. 

November - With the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the 34th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon becomes vice president. 

 
1953

January 30 - The same three-judge appellate panel which turned down Hiss's original appeal also denies his motion for a new trial. 

June 27 - The Supreme Court declines to review the case.

 

 
1954

November 27 - Hiss is released from prison, two weeks after his 50th birthday. He returns home to New York City and begins to write a book on the case. 

 

 
1956

November - Eisenhower and Nixon are reelected.

 

 

1957

Hiss publishes his first book, "In the Court of Public Opinion," which recapitulates the events of the Hiss case and puts forward new evidence that has come to light since his conviction. The book reiterates his confidence that he will one day be exonerated.

 

 
1960 

November - John F. Kennedy is elected as 35th President of the United States, defeating Richard M. Nixon. 

 

 
1961

July 9 - Whittaker Chambers dies. His death is announced publicly three days later. 

 

 
1962

November - Richard M. Nixon loses the California gubernatorial race to G. Pat Brown. At a subsequent bitter press conference the next day, he says he is retiring from politics, telling reporters, they "won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore." 

 

 
1966

March - The Freedom of Information Act is passed. After complaints that the government is restricting the flow of information, the act is amended in 1974 (in part because of the Watergate scandal) to encourage the release of more documents. Hiss requests government files as they relate to his case. Eventually, some 40,000 pages of files from the FBI, Justice Department, State Department and CIA are released to him. 

 

 
1968

November - Richard M. Nixon is elected as the 37th President of the United States. 

 

 
1972

March - The "Hiss Act" is declared unconstitutional. The act was specifically passed to deny Hiss his federal pension, as it prohibited the payment of federal pensions to anyone convicted of perjury relating to the national security of the United States. Judge Roger Robb, a Nixon appointee, says the act is unconstitutional because it is aimed at a single individual rather than applying to the citizens of the country.  

November - Richard M. Nixon is elected to a second term. 

 

1974 

 

August 9 - Richard M. Nixon resigns the presidency under pressure, avoiding impeachment because of his actions in the Watergate scandal.

1975

 

 

August 5 - Hiss is readmitted to the Massachusetts bar by order of the state's Supreme Judicial Court, which declares in a unanimous decision that, regardless of the conviction, he has demonstrated the "moral and intellectual fitness" required to be an attorney at law. He is the first lawyer to have been reinstated in Massachusetts. To read more about this, click here.

 

 
1978

July 27 - With funding and attorneys provided by the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, Hiss files a petition in federal court for a writ of coram nobis, to overturn the guilty verdict because of prosecutorial misconduct detailed in the FBI files released under the Freedom of Information Act. 

 

 
1982

July 15 - The petition is denied by Judge Richard Owen, who was appointed to the bench by President Richard M. Nixon.

 

 
1983

Feb. 16 - The Second Circuit Court of Appeals denies Hiss's appeal of Owen's decision.

October 11 - The U.S. Supreme court declines to hear the suit.


 
1984

October 14 - Priscilla Hiss dies in New York City, one day after her 81st birthday. 


 
1989

May 18 - Donald Hiss dies.


 
1994

April 22 - Richard M. Nixon dies in New York City. 


 
1996

November 15 - Alger Hiss dies in New York City, four days after his 92nd birthday.


 
1999

October - Hiss case grand jury testimony is unsealed after 51 years, by order of Judge Peter K. Leisure, a federal judge in New York. The ruling offers important new insights into the Hiss case, showing more instances of Whittaker Chambers' unreliability as a witness; and misleading testimony by Richard M. Nixon. The ruling is also groundbreaking in extending constitutional protections, establishing for the first time the principle that some cases are of such overwhelming historic importance that the public's right to know is stronger than the need for grand jury secrecy.

 


Back to the Courtroom

 

| Home | Site Map | Courtroom | Bookshelf | Timeline | Cast | Who Was Alger Hiss |