Executive Order 9835 - Background and Truman's Motivations

Background and Truman's Motivations

U.S. relations with the Soviet Union rapidly deteriorated following World War II. There were accompanying concerns about government infiltration by communists. These two issues drastically altered the American political climate, and by 1946 Truman had appointed a commission to study government employee loyalty; this, eventually, led to EO 9835. In what amounted to a loss of civil liberties for government employees, a number of motivating factors fell into place which induced another Red Scare. The relationship with the Soviet Union must be considered one of the most important among them. As the U.S. fell from being wartime allies to staunch adversaries with the USSR, American obsession with perceived dangers associated with the Soviet Union, and Communists in general, began to grow. Much of this obsession was fueled by reports, in and out of the government, of Soviet spy activity in North America. Coupled with economic tension following World War II, this helped foster a general state of anger and anxiety in the United States and its government. As Congressional elections approached in late 1946, many American conservative groups engaged in deliberate attempts to ignite a fifth Red Scare. The Republican Party, assisted by a coalition which included the Catholic Church, the FBI and private entrepreneurs, worked to inflame public fear and suspicion. As fear of Communist infiltration in the government grew, it became a central campaign issue in the 1946 elections.

Fresh investigations by the then permanent House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) ensured that the issue would stay on the minds of constituents, and Republicans found a niche they could use for an election advantage. HUAC, amid the anxieties of the elections and international tensions, had investigated several alleged Communist "front" organizations. These investigations led to fresh questions about employee loyalty from the House committee. Republicans, looking for big Congressional gains, took full advantage of this atmosphere and made the issue a central theme of the 1946 campaign. Communist infiltration, along with attacks on the Truman administration's economic policies, were manifested in campaign slogans such as "Had Enough?" and "Communism vs. Republicanism." Meanwhile, under the leadership of Republican National Chairman Carroll Reece, the Republican Party made repeated anti-Communist attacks on Truman and Congressional Democrats. Reece often referred to the "pink puppets in control of the federal bureaucracy." House Republican leader Joe Martin made pledges promising to clean out Communists from high positions in the U.S. government. Voters responded in kind, and the election of 1946 was a huge Republican victory as they gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1932.

Two weeks after the sweeping Republican victory, the president announced the creation of the President's Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty (TCEL) on November 25, 1946. News of the TCEL made the front page of The New York Times under the headline "President orders purge of disloyal from U.S. posts." Truman's commission consisted of representatives from six government departments under the chairmanship of Special Assistant to the Attorney General A. Devitt Vanech, who was close to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover at the time. The commission sought to determine federal loyalty standards and establish procedures for removal or disqualification of disloyal or subversive persons from federal posts.

Contemporary observers as well as historians have characterized Truman's action surrounding TCEL and the 1947 executive order as purely politically motivated. The timing of his actions so close to the Democratic electoral defeat, and his request that TCEL submit its report by February 1, 1947, have caused the action to be interpreted as a move to preempt further action on the loyalty issue from the new Congress, now controlled by a Republican majority. This assertion is supported by both Truman himself and statements made later by White House Counsel Clark Clifford in his memoir. On February 28, 1947, about a month before he signed EO 9835, Truman wrote to Pennsylvania Governor George Earle, "People are very much wrought up about the Communist 'bugaboo' but I am of the opinion that the country is perfectly safe so far as Communism is concerned - we have too many sane people." Clifford declared in his 1991 memoir that his "greatest regret" from his decades in government was his failure to "make more of an effort to kill the loyalty program at its inception, in 1946-47." As if to leave no doubt, Clifford added that the 1946 elections had "weakened" Truman but "emboldened Hoover and his allies." Clifford wrote that the creation of the TCEL was the result of pressure from FBI Director Hoover and Attorney General Tom Clark, who "constantly urged the President to expand the investigative authority of the FBI."

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