Chambers, Whittaker

Chambers, Whittaker

Chambers, Whittaker, 1901–61, U.S. journalist and spy, b. Philadelphia. He joined the U.S. Communist party in 1925 and wrote for its newspaper before engaging (1935–38) in espionage for the USSR. He left the party in 1939 and began working for Time magazine. In 1948 he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, accusing Alger Hiss, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former State Dept. official, of being a Communist party member. Hiss sued for libel, and Chambers then accused him of having been part of an espionage ring. Chambers, now being promoted by Congressman Richard Nixon, led investigators to his Maryland farm, where he produced from a hollowed-out pumpkin State Dept. documents he alleged Hiss had given him. Hiss was indicted for perjury, and after two trials was found guilty (1950) and imprisoned. The case was extremely controversial, and both men were vehemently attacked and defended.


See Chambers's autobiography, Witness (1952, repr. 1983); A. Cooke, A Generation on Trial (1950, 2d ed. 1952); R. Seth, The Sleeping Truth: The Hiss-Chambers Affair Reappraised (1968); A. Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (1978); S. Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers (1997).

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Chambers, Whittaker

(1901–1961) chief witness in perjury trial of Alger Hiss (1949). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 501]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Chambers, Whittaker (b. Jay Vivian Chambers)

(1910–61) journalist, writer, Soviet agent; born in Philadelphia. He studied at Columbia University, gained a modest reputation as a writer, and later translated several works, notably Bambi, into English. He was an active American Communist (1925–29, 1931–38), writing for the Daily Worker and editing the New Masses. Along the way he became an actual agent of Soviet intelligence and passed classified government information to Moscow. Disillusioned by Stalin's purges, he became a virulent anticommunist and edited Time Magazine's foreign affairs section. In 1948, he testified that many executive branch officials were Communist sympathizers and said that Alger Hiss had given him classified materials; this brought about a libel suit by Hiss, who was found guilty; the Hiss-Chambers trial remains a symbol of the whole era that extended from the idealism of Communism in the 1930s to the disillusionment of the late 1940s. Chambers was also an editor of the National Review (1957–60).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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