Martin Dies (1900–1972)

2012-06-13 11:49:50

Martin Dies, born in Colorado, Texas, in 1900, served in the House of Representatives from 1931 to 1944, where he gained notoriety as the first chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee. A prote´ge´e of Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, Dies was initially an early supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. He ultimately became disillusioned with the program, however, and in 1938 he introduced a resolution to create a special committee to ‘‘investigate subversive and un-American propaganda’’ with which he hoped to attack the New Deal.

Between 1938 and 1944, during his tenure as chairman of the HUAC, Dies used the committee’s wideranging mandate to hunt for communists, generating much publicity from the unsupported charges of Communist and Nazi subversion that emanated from HUAC hearings. Dies’s tactics became the model for the later subversion investigations of the post-1945 ‘‘red scare.’’

The committee fed on names. Witnesses before the committee were asked to identify those they suspected of being communist. They were permitted to ramble and indulge in blind accusations with little guidance from the chairman or committee members. Membership records of alleged communist organizations were released publicly without substantiation. Hearings before HUAC were rarely impartial and reflected Dies’s political persuasion. After 1939, consulting seldom, if at all, with other committee members, Dies turned HUAC hearings into a one-man road show that often gave right-wing extremists an arena to cast suspicion on liberal organizations and individuals.

Although Dies left the House in 1944, the committee was reauthorized in 1945, becoming the most notorious of the McCarthy era investigating committees. Dies re-entered Congress in 1953, but by this time his reputation had been eclipsed by that of Joseph McCarthy. Dies was not appointed to HUAC. He left Congress in 1959, but continued his devotion to the anticommunist cause as a dedicated member of the John Birch society. He died in 1972.


References and Further Reading

  • Goodman, Walter. The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.
  • Ogden, August Raymond. The Dies Committee: A Study of the Special House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities. Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1945.

See also House Un-American Activities Committee; John Birch Society; McCarthy, Joseph; New Deal; Roosevelt, Franklin Delano