Hein & History | August 24, 1954: Congress passes Communist Control Act

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On August 24, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation outlawing the Communist Party of the United States.

195lsxzgbs2hrjpgThe Communist Control Act was passed by Congress in response to the growing anti communist feelings in the United States. Though full of ominous language, many found the purpose of the act unclear.

In 1954, the Red Scare still raged in the United States. Although Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most famous of the “red hunters” in America, had been disgraced earlier in the summer of 1954 when he tried to prove that communists were in the U.S. Army, most Americans still believed that communists were at work in their country. Responding to this fear, Congress passed the Communist Control Act in August 1954. The act declared that, “The Communist Party of the United States, though purportedly a political party, is in fact an instrumentality of a conspiracy to overthrow the Government of the United States.” The act went on to charge that the party’s “role as the agency of a hostile foreign power renders its existence a clear and continuing danger to the security of the United States.” The conclusion seemed inescapable: “The Communist Party should be outlawed.” Indeed, that is what many people at the time believed the Communist Control Act accomplished.

A careful reading of the act, however, indicates that the reality was a bit fuzzier. In 1950, Congress passed the Internal Security Act. In many respects, it was merely a version of the Communist Control Act passed four years later. It used the same language to condemn communism and the Communist Party of the United States, and established penalties for anyone belonging to a group calling for the violent overthrow of the American government. However, it very specifically noted that mere membership in the Communist Party, or affiliated organizations, was not in and of itself sufficient cause for arrest or penalty. The 1954 act went one step further by removing the “rights, privileges, and immunities attendant upon legal bodies created under the jurisdiction of the laws of the United States” from the Communist Party. The Communist Control Act made it clear that “nothing in this section shall be construed as amending the Internal Security Act of 1950.” Thus, while the Communist Control Act may have declared that the Communist Party should be outlawed, the act itself did not take this decisive step.

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Were the provisions of the Communist Control Act of 1954 unclear? Read the Act in HeinOnline’s Session Laws Library and see for yourself.

Research this topic more in HeinOnline

From the Law Journal Library: 
The Communist Control Act of 1954: A Proposed Legal-Political Theory of Free Speech by Carl A. Auerbach – 23 U. Chi. L. Rev. 173 (1955-1956)

Cited by 48 Articles | Cited by 1 Case | Accessed 8 times

The Communist Control Act of 1954  – 64 Yale L.J. 712 (1954-1955)

Cited by 21 Articles | Cited by 3 Cases | Accessed 3 times

From U.S. Presidential Library:
Statement by the President upon Signing the Communist Control Act of 1954 – August 24, 1954 by Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1954 Pub. Papers 756 (1954) 
Remarks on the Communist Control Act of 1954 – August 24, 1954 by Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1954 Pub. Papers 759 (1954)
From the U.S. Congressional Documents Collection: 
100 Things You Should Know about Communism Series

Prepared and released by the Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. House of Representatives

Communist Methods of Infiltration (Education)

Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eighty-Third Congress, First Session, February 25, 26, and 27, 1953

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