Alger Hiss

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Alger Hiss
BirthplaceBaltimore, Maryland, United States
EducationBaltimore City College high school Johns Hopkins University Harvard Law School

Hiss, Alger

(ăl`jər), 1904–96, American public official, b. Baltimore. After serving (1929–30) as secretary to Justice Oliver Wendell HolmesHolmes, Oliver Wendell,
1841–1935, American jurist, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1902–32), b. Boston; son of the writer Oliver Wendell Holmes.
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, Hiss practiced law in Boston and New York City. He then was attached to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (1933–35) and to the Dept. of Justice (1935–36). He entered the Dept. of State in 1936 and rose rapidly to become an adviser at various international conferences and a coordinator of American foreign policy. In 1947, he resigned his government post to become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In Aug., 1948, Whittaker ChambersChambers, 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.
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, a magazine editor and former Communist party courier, accused Hiss of having helped transmit confidential government documents to the Russians. Hiss denied these charges; since, under the statute of limitations, he could not be tried for espionage, he was indicted (Dec., 1948) on two counts of perjury. When he was first brought to trial in 1949, the jury was unable to reach a decision. At a second trial Hiss was found guilty (Jan., 1950) and sentenced to a five-year prison term. His trial created great controversy; many believed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had tampered with evidence in order to secure a conviction. Hiss was released from prison in Nov., 1954, his term shortened for good conduct. In 1957 he wrote In the Court of Public Opinion, in which he denied all charges against him. Hiss maintained his innocence to his death; Soviet files made public in 1995 convinced most observers that he had been guilty, but controversy lingers.


See W. Chambers, Witness (1952, repr. 1983); R. Seth, The Sleeping Truth: The Hiss-Chambers Affair Reappraised (1968); A. Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (1978).

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Hiss, Alger (1904–)

imprisoned for perjury during espionage hearings. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1247]
See: Perjury
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hiss, Alger

(1904–  ) lawyer, government official; born in Baltimore, Md. A lawyer who had clerked with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, he went to work for President Roosevelt's New Deal, eventually joining the State Department. He rose rapidly in the State Department (1936–45), going with President Roosevelt to Yalta. He was President of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace (1945–49) when Whittaker Chambers accused him of having been a spy for the Russians. Convicted of perjury in 1950, he went to prison for four years, writing and lecturing in his own defense afterward. In 1992 a Russian with access to Soviet files announced that Hiss had never been a Soviet agent, but this seemed unlikely to put a complete end to the controversy that had surrounded Hiss since 1948.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.