Martin Dies

Martin Dies

Martin Dies was born in Mitchell County, Texas, on 5th November, 1900. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1919. Dies then went on to study law at the National Defense University in Washington before being admitted to the bar in 1920. Dies worked as a lawyer in Marshall and Orange before becoming a member of the faculty of East Texas Law School.

A member of the Democratic Party, Dies was first elected to the Senate in 1931. On 26th May, 1938, the United States House of Representatives authorized the formation of the Special House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUCA). "The Speaker of the House of Representatives is authorized to appoint a special committee to be composed of seven members for the purpose of conducting an investigation of (1) the extent, character, and object of un-American propaganda activities in the United States, (2) the diffusion within the United States of subversive and un-American propaganda that is instigated from foreign countries or of a domestic origin and attacks the principle of the form of government as guaranteed by the Constitution, and (3) all other questions in relations thereto that would aid Congress in any necessary remedial legislation."

A passionate anti-communist, Dies was the first chairman of the HUAC. Soon afterwards Dies received a telegram from the Ku Klux Klan: "Every true American, and that includes every Klansman, is behind you and your committee in its effort to turn the country back to the honest, freedom-loving, God-fearing American to whom it belongs."

The original intention of the HUCA was to investigate both left-wing and right wing political groups. In a statement made on 20th July 1938, Dies claimed that many Nazis and Communists were leaving the United States because of his pending interrogations. The New Republic argued that the right-wing Dies, who it described as "physically a giant, very young, ambitious, and cocksure" would target those on the left. It was no surprise when Dies immediately announced that he intended to investigate aspects of the New Deal that had been established by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dies also began attacking left-wing artistic groups. This included describing the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League as a Communist-Front organization. The actress, Luise Rainer, replied: "I do not believe in the so-called revelations made by the Dies Investigating Committee. I believe their purpose is purely destructive, aimed at discrediting worthwhile peace and anti-fascist organizations, which are so much needed in these worried times." The film director, John Ford commented in October, 1938: "May I express my whole-hearted desire to cooperate to the utmost of my ability with the Hollywood anti-Nazi League. If this be Communism, count me in."

Another supporter of the HANU, Frederic March, argued: "Every time during the last few years that I have felt impelled to protest an injustice, to cry out against man's inhumanity to man, or to espouse some social reform, I have been called a Communist. Because the founders of our country believed in justice, tolerance and the exercise of such social reform as would benefit the people at large, I insist upon the right to follow their example and still be recognized as a loyal American citizen."

Some called for the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan to be interrogated by the HUAC. Dies however was a supporter of the Klan and had spoken at several of its rallies. Other members of the HUAC such as John Rankin and John S. Wood were also Klan sympathizers. Wood defended the Klan by arguing that: "The threats and intimidations of the Klan are an old American custom, like illegal whisky-making."

The main objective of the HUCA was the investigation of left-wing groups. This included looking at the possibility that the American Communist Party had infiltrated the Federal Writers Project and other New Deal projects. Dies soon came under attack from those who saw the HUCA as a method of blocking progressive policies being advocated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was reflected in the comments made by Vito Marcantonio. "It has become the most convenient method by which you wrap yourselves in the American flag in order to cover up some of the greasy stains on the legislative toga. You can vote against the unemployed, you can vote against the W.P.A. workers, and you can emasculate the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States; you can try to destroy the National Labor Relations Law, the Magna Carta of American labor; you can vote against the farmer; and you can do all that with a great deal of impunity, because after you have done so you do not have to explain your vote."

Dies and another member of the HUCA, J. Parnell Thomas, began to attack the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). Thomas objected to the radical message in some of these plays and claimed that: "Practically every play presented under the auspices of the Project is sheer propaganda for Communism or the New Deal." Elmer Rice was placed in charge of the FTP in New York City. In 1936 alone, the FTP employed 5,385 people in the city. Over a three year period over 12 million people attended performances in the city. Dies accused Rice of being a communist.

In his book, The Trojan Horse in America (1940), Dies argued: "Works Projects Administration was the greatest financial boon which ever came to the Communists in the United States. Stalin could not have done better by his American friends and agents.... In one Federal Writers' Project in New York, one third of the writers were members of the Communist Party. This was proven by their own signatures. Many witnesses have testified that it was necessary for W.P.A. workers to join the Workers Alliance - high-pressure lobby run by the Communist Party - in order to get or retain their jobs.... Several hundred Communists held advisory or administrative positions in the W.P.A. projects. Dies called for the resignations of Harold Ickes, Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins, as the three had "associates who were Socialists, Communists, and crackpots." Roosevelt refused to sack these three members of his government but did bring the Federal Theatre Project to an end.

Several famous writers complained that the HUAC was having an impact on creativity. The author and screenwriter, Dashill Hammett, argued: "We indignantly reject these irresponsible attacks. At this crucial time when the cooperation of all democratic forces is so essential, this attack throws a very dubious light on the character of the whole Dies investigation. It emphasizes the need for the greatest alertness on the part of all democracy-loving American people." Lewis Milestone, the famous film director, argued: "It seems to me that the hysteria of the Dies Committee's investigations have only succeeded in strengthening public belief in the organizations and movements they have attacked. For myself, and for members of the motion picture industry, if our aid to democracies now victims of fascist aggression can be misinterpreted as un-American acts, then perhaps the Dies Committee has its own translation of the word democracy."

The HUCA also began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. Dorothy Parker argued: "The people want democracy - real democracy, Mr. Dies, and they look toward Hollywood to give it to them because they don't get it any more in their newspapers. And that's why you're out here, Mr. Dies - that's why you want to destroy the Hollywood progressive organizations - because you've got to control this medium if you want to bring fascism to this country."

Martin Dies
Martin Dies

In 1945 Emanuel Celler issued a warning to Dies and the Un-American Activities Committee. "The Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities is now a standing investigatory committee with power to initiate legislation.... Bluntly then, the present committee can make its choice. It can either adopt the Dies course of unfounded character assassinations, lynch-law, prosecutor-jury and executioner all in one - or it can proceed in a manner consonant with the American tradition of the right to be heard, the right of counsel and the right of confrontation of witnesses, placing emphasis on investigation of all foreignisms with honest judicious objectivity. If we are to have again an extravaganza of persecution - a deep-seated mania of embracing some I individually conceived notion of alienism, we face again a betrayal of our basic constitutionally guarded frights. The power to investigate is a great public trust. And we ask the newly constituted committee not for one instant to forget that."

Dies lost his seat in 1945 but in 1952 he won election to a new congressman-at-large seat, but he was not allowed to return to the Un-American Activities Committee, which believed that he had damaged the cause of anti-communism.

When Dies decided to run for the Senate in the special election of 1957, Lyndon B. Johnson and Samuel Rayburn, believing that Dies was too conservative to defeat liberal challenger Ralph Yarborough, attempted to pressure him out of the race in favor of Ben Ramsey. He refused and as expected, Dies finished second to Yarborough.

Dies published his autobiography, The Martin Dies' Story in 1963. After leaving Congress he wrote a regular column for American Opinion magazine. In April 1964 he believed that John F. Kennedy had been a victim of a communist conspiracy. However, at this time he did not have all the evidence: "I hope to discuss the circumstances linking the Soviet Union with Oswald's murder of the President. Naturally such evidence must be circumstantial and based upon the dogmatic pattern of Communist behaviour. The Communists are too clever to leave any trace of connection with Oswald." It would seem that at this time Dies was unaware that Lee Harvey Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and on his return had openly associated with left-wing groups such as the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

Martin Dies died in Lufkin, Texas, on 14th November, 1972.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Martin Dies, New York Times (10th August, 1938)

This Committee will not permit any "character assassination" or any "smearing" of innocent people. It is easy to smear someone's name or reputation by unsupported charges or an unjustified attack, but it is difficult to repair the damage that has been done. When any individual or organization is involved in any charge or attack made in the course of the hearings, that individual or organization will be accorded an opportunity to refute such charge or attack.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution (for the continuation of the Dies Committee) presents a very serious issue. It presents the issue of guaranteeing the rights of dissident minorities. Destroy the constitutional rights of minorities, particularly the rights of those minorities that you so vociferously condemn, and you are marching... toward the destruction of democracy. This committee, under the guise of investigating subversive activities, has done its utmost to abolish democratic rights in the United States.

It has failed to distinguish between illegal activities and constitutional activities. It has sought to destroy the right to constitutional activities under the pretext of investigating illegal activities. The rights of minorities to freedom of press, speech, and petition have been endangered as never before by this committee. Oh, I know that when my friend the gentleman from Alabama gets up here he will say, "I subscribe to the doctrine of free speech." Let me say that what the Dies Committee has failed to recognize is the fundamental principle of application. There is a great deal of difference between mere subscription and application. I say that every dissident minority has the right to advocate, it has the right to organize, and it has the right to propagandize. The Dies Committee has failed to recognize the difference between subversive and constitutional.

(2) Telegram sent by the Ku Klux Klan to Martin Dies on the formation of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (1937).

Every true American, and that includes every Klansman, is behind you and your committee in its effort to turn the country back to the honest, freedom-loving, God-fearing American to whom it belongs.

(3) Vito Marcantonio, speech (23rd January, 1940)

Oh, it is perfectly easy to attack a dissident minority. The press applauds. In fact, "communism" has become very, very convenient for many, many Members of this House, and many people outside of it. If communism is destroyed, I do not know what some of you will do. It has become the most convenient method by which you wrap yourselves in the American flag in order to cover up some of the greasy stains on the legislative toga. You can vote against the unemployed, you can vote against the W.P.A. workers, and you can emasculate the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States; you can try to destroy the National Labor Relations Law, the Magna Carta of American labor; you can vote against the farmer; and you can do all that with a great deal of impunity, because after you have done so you do not have to explain your vote. You do not have to defend yourselves to the country and to the unemployed, to labor or to the farmer. All you have to do is stand up here and say, "I am opposed to communism. Let us destroy communism." What are you going to do when there is no more communism in this country?

(4) Martin Dies, The Trojan Horse in America (1940)

Works Projects Administration (WPA) was the greatest financial boon which ever came to the Communists in the United States. Stalin could not have done better by his American friends and agents. Relief projects swarmed with Communists - Communists who were not only recipients of needed relief but who were entrusted by New Deal officials with high administrative positions in the projects. In one Federal Writers' Project in New York, one third of the writers were members of the Communist Party. This was proven by their own signatures. Many witnesses have testified that it was necessary for W.P.A. workers to join the Workers Alliance - high-pressure lobby run by the Communist Party - in order to get or retain their jobs.... Several hundred Communists held advisory or administrative positions in the W.P.A. projects.

(5) Dorothy Parker made an attack on Martin Dies and his Un-American Activities Committee in the magazine Directions (April, 1940)

The people want democracy - real democracy, Mr. Dies, and they look toward Hollywood to give it to them because they don't get it any more in their newspapers. And that's why you're out here, Mr. Dies - that's why you want to destroy the Hollywood progressive organizations - because you've got to control this medium if you want to bring fascism to this country.

(6) Vito Marcantonio, speech (8th February, 1943)

What is the record of the chairman and of this Dies committee in regard to our enemies from within and from without? A record of failure as to the conditions of Japanese espionage and sabotage in regard to Pearl Harbor; complete failure as to the Nazis; failure and callous indifference to the diabolical conspiracy against the country on the part of the 34 indicted domestic Fascists, their 41 organizations, and 42 publications...

There is a reason why Japanese agents and Nazi agents and domestic Fascists escaped the attention of Mr. Dies. It is an old, old story. It is the history of the tragedies of democracies that have fallen. The diversion of the attack from the real enemy by the creation of the Red scare. The war on the Communists, on labor, liberals, progressives, new dealers, and on the Soviet Union, the war against the war administration, now called by Mr. Dies bureaucracy, was what kept Mr. Dies and his committee "too busy."

War against the Communists who, as an integral part of 130,000,000 Americans, are fighting and working like all other Americans for victory against the enemy; war against the Soviet Union, to which the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Dies] dedicated his energies and his writings and his speeches; this was and is the policy of the Dies committee. But this, too, has been, and is, the war which Adolf Hitler has told the world that he is waging. Only the other day Hitler reiterated to the world, in a statement read by Goebbels, that he was fighting "to protect the European family of nations from the dangers of the East," and he continued to proclaim his "crusade against bolshevism." He used this anti-Bolshevik game to ride into power. Mussolini, too, raised the antiCommunist cry in his "march" on Rome in 1922. The Rome-tokyO-berlin Axis, which our enemies formed to conquer the world, was announced as a "crusade against communism." It called itself the antiComintern. The Lavals and the Petains used it in France. The antiCommunist slogan was and is Hitler's technique of conquest, conceived from the very inception of his plan for world conquest. The democracies that fell for it are no more divided by this slogan, and then conquered by Hitler.Hitler and the other two members of the Axis are today again beating the drums of the antiCommunist theme in an effort to split the United Nations and to divide the people within the United Nations.Thus, while Americans are gloriously fighting at Guadalcanal and North Africa and the Red Army is smashing the enemy at Stalingrad and Rostov, Hitler and Mr. Dies are still crusading against communism.It was a sin of omission to have disregarded the danger of the antiCommunist line in time of peace. Then it was part of Hitler's preparation for a war of conquest. To adopt that same line within our own country now, while Hitler and his antiComintern Axis partners use it as a weapon of war against us, would be suicidal.

(7) Emanuel Celler, speech (23rd January, 1945)

The Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities is now a standing investigatory committee with power to initiate legislation. I mean this to be a direct talk. The vaudevillian antics, the brass band tactics, the star chamber proceedings of the Dies Committee have put all of us on notice. Bluntly then, the present committee can make its choice. It can either adopt the Dies course of unfounded character assassinations, lynch-law, prosecutor-jury and executioner all in one - or it can proceed in a manner consonant with the American tradition of the right to be heard, the right of counsel and the right of confrontation of witnesses, placing emphasis on investigation of all foreignisms with honest judicious objectivity. If we are to have again an extravaganza of persecution - a deep-seated mania of embracing some I individually conceived notion of alienism, we face again a betrayal of our basic constitutionally guarded frights. The power to investigate is a great public trust. And we ask the newly constituted committee not for one instant to forget that.

In the final count, it remains with the American people whether it will countenance the continuation of the former practices of the Dies Committee. Illegality will never solve the problem of political lawlessness. As we have seen so clearly demonstrated in Europe, hate breeds hate and the vicious circle revolves with all its attending madness.

Let the overzealous be reminded of Hawthorne's description of those "who go all wrong by too strenuous a resolution to go right."

(8) Emanuel Celler, You Never Leave Brooklyn (1945)

From a study made of the Dies Committee and signed by over one hundred distinguished attorneys, I quote the following: "That the Dies Committee, while giving lip service to impartiality and fair play and proclaiming its devotion to Americanism and American institutions, used its hearings, the forum provided by Congress, for the dissemination of irresponsible slanders against honest public servants and private individuals and against public-spirited organizations, on testimony consisting of surmise, conjecture, unfounded opinion, unsupported conclusions and unwarranted deductions, without any attempt at verification or confirmation, which no self-respecting, fact-finding agency anywhere would consider - a proceeding wholly unworthy of the committee of the legislative body of a great and free Republic."

Thus $625,000 dollars of the taxpayer's money has been spent mainly for looking for ghosts under the bed, to chasing only those tidbits that make lurid headline reading, to, indeed, establishing precedents! Congressional investigations that must necessarily destroy that which the committee professed to protect - namely, the democratic processes in the United States.

It has been charged that 600,000 individuals engaged in subversive activities are abroad in this land. If this is actually so, then the Dies Committee has been woefully derelict in its duty. How many convictions have been obtained because of the work of the Dies Committee? How many of those alleged 600,000 are now lodged in jail? I fear me that the Dies Committee has labored like the mountain and has not even brought forth the mouse.