Talk:Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders

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Featured article Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders is a featured article; it (or a previous version of it) has been identified as one of the best articles produced by the Wikipedia community. Even so, if you can update or improve it, please do so.
Main Page trophy This article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on August 20, 2012.

RfC: What is best title?[edit]

I"m planning on nominating this article for FA status, and I want to make sure it has the best title. Unfortunately, the sources do not uniformly use a single phrase for this major cold war event, so there are three several candidates:

  1. Foley Square trial
  2. Smith Act trial of 1949
  3. 1949 trial of US Communist leaders (or some variation thereof)
  4. Smith Act trials of US Communists (plural emphasizes inclusion of second-tier trials)
  5. Cold War trials of US Communist party leaders

I'd appreciate it if other editors could glance through the sources, and evaluate those candidate titles against the criteria of WP:TITLE, and give an opinion. The WP:TITLE criteria are: Recognizability, Naturalness, Precision, Conciseness, and Consistency. This Talk page above has a brief discussion on the title here, but no conclusions were reached. Thanks in advance for any help. --Noleander (talk) 13:57, 16 March 2012 (UTC)

  • Comment - I have no strong feeling about which is best: all three are decent. I initially named the article Foley Square trial because that is what the Belknap source calls it. Some Google hit stats are:
    • "Foley Square trial" - 145 on Web (133 in Books)
    • "Smith act trial" Dennis 1949 - 146 on Web ( 43 Books)
    • trial 1949 communist leaders party dennis - 493 Web ( 364 books)
    • "Smith act trial of 1949" - 10 on Web ( 7 in Books)
The above stats are actual sites (not the initial guess visible on the first Google results page). 1949 trial of US Communist leaders ranks high on Recognizability criterion; but Foley Square trial is high on Conciseness. Smith Act trial of 1949 may be superior because that is more specific than "foley square" which is the location where the trial happened, but Smith Act trial of 1949 is not, verbatim, used by many sources. Note that The Smith Act trial probably should not be used as a title for this article because there were several Smith Act trials including a a trial in 1941 totally unrelated to this one. There is an entire book devoted to the event, titled The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial, but the book does not have a specific phrase it uses for the event. Belknap has an article devoted to the event, and he calls it "The Foley Square trial". The sources treat this as an important event in the Cold War, much like the Hollywood ten (redirects to Hollywood blacklist) or the Alger Hiss trial, unfortunately, the titles of those articles are not good models for this article's title. --Noleander (talk) 14:03, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
Even the Scopes Trial had a formal name: The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes. What is the formal name of this one? MathewTownsend (talk) 14:36, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for bringing up the Scopes trial ... that is a good model for this article. Unfortunately, tons of sources call it "the Scopes trial" so that is a slam dunk; but for the cold war event that is the subject of this article, the sources have not yet settled on a single moniker. I'm starting to think that 1949 trial of US Communist leaders is better, but I'd like to wait and see what other, uninvolved editors think. Hence the RfC. Regarding formal title: I believe the formal title was United States v. Foster et al, but I'm not 100% sure. The sources do not use the formal title ... in fact I'm not aware of any WP article named after the formal title of a lower-court trial (cf Roe v Wade which was a SCOTUS case). In any case, the sources do not use the formal case name when discussing this cold war event. --Noleander (talk) 14:42, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Requests for input - I notified 8 or 9 random editors about this RfC, with the hopes of getting some input from a wide range of editors. I selected the random editors from the Law and History lists of the RfC Feedback Request Service. --Noleander (talk) 15:20, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Responding to request for input: "The Foley Square trial" is concise, I agree. I prefer it. All titles should be redirected to the one decided upon. In that way, all those looking for the trial under the name they know it, will find the WP article. DonaldRichardSands (talk) 15:29, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
  • (edit conflict) Another response to request for input: Normally, I worship at the altar of WP:COMMONNAME, but that's not going to help us here. I think "Foley square trial" scores lots of points for conciseness. Have there other other high-profile trials under the Smith act, or high-profile trials in 1949? That might affect the specificity of the latter two options. "1949" might not be desirable in the title if events started before 1949 (and if effects in later years are an important part of the article). bobrayner (talk) 15:37, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
Regarding "other trials under Smith Act": Yes, there were two other notable trials under the Smith Act: one in 1941 (defendants SWP) and one in 1943 (defendants US Nazi party) ... see Smith Act trials. Regarding year "1949": The defendants were indicted in 1948, and the trial officially opened in late 1948 .. but there were 3 months of jury selection & other pre-trial stuff. So the trial itself went from January to October 1949. Appeals lasted another 2 years after that. --Noleander (talk) 15:58, 16 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Responding to request for input: While I would normally push for using an official case name (such as United States v. Foster et al.), I concede that this article constitutes a special situation. I'm not completely comfortable with "Foley Square trial" because it's not unique (there were obviously other trials conducted in the same courthouse) and it's apparently used by only one source. "1949 trial of US Communist leaders" seems more specific, though I question whether anyone would ever think of looking up the article via this title. I would prefer something in any case that contains the year (such as "Foley Square trial of 1949", or "Smith Act trial of 1949"). — Richwales 03:42, 17 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Yet another response to request for input: Let's look at the tabled options above. #3 is not preferable because it somehow implies that all American communist leaders were tried in that same year. #4 may be a bit better, but as suggested above it makes no distinction to which trials of which US communists, and also gives no context about the time, the place or the background. The last one, #5, is too broad as the Cold War lasted several years and could refer to any incident during the McCarthy era, and the article refers mainly to 1949 and the subsequent trials that followed in the aftermath. I think either one of the first two are the best options, and would suggest either "1949 Foley Square trials" (to indicate the date, unless this happens to be the only trial ever taking place in relation to Foley Square) or "1949 Smith Act trials" (which gets more hits on Google, and puts the date prior to the event name). ~AH1 (discuss!) 18:33, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
AH1: Thanks for responding. Regarding your suggestions: the trials (there were about a dozen) lasted from 1949 to 1953. The first trial was, far and away, the most famous and heaviliy publicized (twice on the cover of Time magazine during the course of the 10 month trial). Only the first trial was in New York's Foley Square Courthouse, the others were in various cities around the country. The sources only use "Foley Square trial" to identify the 1949 trial. The sources often say "the Smith Act trials" or "the Smith Act trials of US communists" (the latter to distinguish from a few other Smith Act trials against, e.g. American Nazis). I agree that #5 "Cold War ..." is a bit too broad. --Noleander (talk) 19:15, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
  • But Foley Square is a courthouse, and there were many trials there in 1949 having nothing to do with the Smith Act or communism. MathewTownsend (talk) 19:22, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Comment - MT: Yes, I agree, and that point seems to rule out candidate #1. Based on the discussion below, a title that emphasizes the 1949 trial alone is causing too much confusion. That rules out candidates #1 #2 and #3:
  1. Foley Square trial
  2. Smith Act trial of 1949
  3. 1949 trial of US Communist leaders (or some variation thereof)
  4. Smith Act trials of US Communists (plural emphasizes inclusion of second-tier trials)
  5. Cold War trials of US Communist party leaders
Likewise, AH's comments above, and the discussion below suggests that a broad title like #5 "Cold War trials" is inferior to #4, because #4 is more precise (plus, the sources use #4 more than #5). There are 17,000 hits in Google Books for "Smith Act trials"; 6,000 for "Smith act trials" communist leaders. By process of elimination, #4 is starting to look like the best choice. But I'll wait a couple more days to see if there is any more input before renaming the article. --Noleander (talk) 19:27, 18 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Comment - Based on the interim results above, I've moved the article to Smith Act trials of communist party leaders. If anyone has additional thoughts, or other ideas, please continue the conversation. --Noleander (talk) 19:11, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Belatedly weighing in in support of the move: In case what Noleander calls the "interim results" are disputed, I'll add that "Foley Square trials" is the worst choice. MathewTownsend isn't completely correct in saying that Foley Square is a courthouse; as noted in our Foley Square article, the area is actually the site of multiple courthouses, two of which (one federal, one state) have each seen many significant trials. As an attorney who's appeared in each of those courthouses, I find the phrase "Foley Square trials" to be like "the New York Times story" -- in some contexts, the meaning would be clear and this would be an acceptable shorthand, but not as the title of an article in a general-interest encyclopedia. JamesMLane t c 23:34, 26 March 2012 (UTC)

"Clear and present danger" material, etc[edit]

Savidan: In the Talk page above here, you pointed out a couple of issues that needed resolution. I'm planning on nominating the article for FA status soon, and I want to make sure the issues are resolved to your satisfaction. The issues were (1) material about the jury instructions (".. as a matter of law.."); and (2) material about Hand's "grave and probable" vs "clear and present". After your comments, I re-read the sources and updated the material to address the concerns. If you have time, could you review the new material and see if there are any remaining issues? The material can be found in the article at: (a) jury instructions material; and (b) clear and present. Also, note that the Legal Appeals section has a prominent "see also" link to First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#Speech_critical_of_the_government which is the article in WP that goes into detail about the relevant legal tests. Thanks. --Noleander (talk) 18:31, 16 March 2012 (UTC)

More on appeals needed[edit]

I received a talk page notice that the author intends to nominate this article for featured. Before I would be able to consider supporting this article for that status, I would want to see more detail on the appeals. Be specific. Don't just say "dozens." Be clear about which defendants appealed and which defendants didn't; which appeals were consolidated and which appeals weren't; what judges heard what appeals (in the Second Circuit); which went to the Supreme Court; what issues were litigated on appeal and how were they decided. Once we see the full picture on this, it will also be easier for others to judge whether separating the trial from the Supreme Court case is appropriate. Savidan 05:09, 17 March 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for providing feedback. I've looked through the sources, and they don't give a lot of detail on the appeals (such as the names of specific defendants; nor any consolidation info); in fact, I cannot even find the names of any except for Hand's decision. Here is one representative quote from Arthur Sabin (professor at The John Marshall Law School): In calmer times: the Supreme Court and Red Monday, page 46:
"The Dennis [lower court] trial encompassed many thousands of pages of record and resulted in not one, but more than a dozen, appellate-level decisions, including at least five United States Supreme Court opinions These cases on appeal contained another important result, highly relevant to those times and since: the contempt proceedings initiated by Judge Medina against certain defendants and all of the defense lawyers [Sacher v. United States]."
The sources do explicitly mention three supreme court decisions that arose from the trial:
The Sacher Supreme Court case which arose from the Foley Square / 1949 Smith Act trial is covered in lots of sources in its own right (I gather it was the first case in which the Supreme Court definitively upheld the right of a federal judge to impose contempt of court punishments on attorneys ... but I have not researched that much).
The Dennis decision is the most famous of the Supreme Court cases.
The Yates v. United States decision is always discussed by the sources also. That is, the sources generally treat the 1949 Smith Act trial as the main event, which led to the follow-on trials of the "second tier" communist leaders, which also had multiple supreme court cases (!) including Yates v. United States.
Regarding the possibility of merging this article with Dennis v. United States: the sources always discuss this topic as an organic whole consisting of several events: the cold war, the lower court trial; the Dennis Supreme court case; the subsequent "second tier trials", and the Yates Supreme court case which essentially overturned Dennis ... each of which could have its own WP article. Singling out the Dennis article as the "main" article is not supported by the sources ... for instance, the Yates case is also mentioned by them with equal prominence.
The sources tend to fall into two categories, suggesting that WP should have two articles: (1) this article, which focuses on the cold war political/historical/cultural events (comparable to Hollywood ten or Alger Hiss); and (2) an article focusing on the legal aspects of free speech that is critical of government. Both articles would encompass multiple Supreme Court decisions. In fact, there is already a start on the second article, namely First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#Speech_critical_of_the_government. That should be expanded into a full article in its own right, covering the legal details of Dennis v. United States, Yates v. United States, and the several other related cases. --Noleander (talk) 15:55, 17 March 2012 (UTC)
This issue you raise also relates to the "what title is best" RfC above. Specifically, the current title "Foley Square trial" is perhaps causing confusion because it leads readers to think the article is only about that one trial. But, in fact, the article is about several lower court trials (including the "second tier" trials). Perhaps one way to resolve both issues is to rename the article to a name that avoids that confusion. Maybe something like Smith Act trials of US Communists or similar. The plural would emphasize that there were about a dozen Smith Act trials against US communists from 1949 to 1953, and that they, collectively, resulted in several Supreme Court decisions. --Noleander (talk) 17:35, 17 March 2012 (UTC)
I'd support a change of titles along the lines you suggest. It would remove the problems of the article's focus that a title that seemingly refers to a specific trial presents. MathewTownsend (talk) 17:39, 17 March 2012 (UTC)
Yes, I think that title solves all sorts of problems. I can't believe I didn't think of it before. --Noleander (talk) 17:41, 17 March 2012 (UTC)
It allows you to address the broad subject of the trials, aftermath etc. which your sources seem to do. The problem of focus prevented me from supporting the GA1. MathewTownsend (talk) 17:51, 17 March 2012 (UTC)

If your sources don't even mention all five Supreme Court opinions, you simply haven't consulted enough sources. You can start with the text of the five Supreme Court opinions themselves. Very likely, each of the five (not just Yates) has received substantial commentary and analysis from other sources. Given the time period, any appeal to the Second Circuit would have been published in the Federal Reporter, and thus also documented. These too will almost certainly have received some commentary and analysis, although probably less than the Supreme Court cases. As for a title along the lines of "Smith Act trials," this is not much better. That is like referring to the Gotti trial as the "RICO Act trial." This was not the only prosecution under the Smith Act to go to trial, not the only one to involve Communists. Savidan 06:13, 18 March 2012 (UTC)

Ah, that explains a lot. The topic of this article is not "the supreme court case(s)", it is - based on what the sources discuss - "the cold war episodes involving the trial(s) of US communist leaders". That is how all of the sources treat it. The sources do mention the supreme court cases, but usually that accounts for 2% to 10% of their material. The article accurately represents the material (emphasis and proportion) that the sources discuss. As for reading the supreme court decisions themselves: I did read three of them, but the WP:Primary source and WP:Secondary source guidelines suggest that secondary sources are preferred as the basis for articles. Here are some of the sources I consulted:
Secondary sources utilized for the article
  • Auerbach, Jerold S., Unequal Justice: Lawyers and Social Change in Modern America, Oxford University Press, 1977, ISBN 9780195021707
  • Belknap, Michal R., Cold War Political Justice: the Smith Act, the Communist Party, and American civil liberties, Greenwood Press, 1977, ISBN 9780837196923
  • Belknap, Michal R., "Foley Square Trial", in American political trials, (Michal Belknap, Ed.), Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994, ISBN 9780275944377
  • Belknap, Michal R., "Cold War, Communism, and Free Speech", in Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia (Vol 2), (John W. Johnson, Ed.), Taylor & Francis, 2001, ISBN 9780415930192
  • Martelle, Scott, The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial, Rutgers University Press, 2011, ISBN 9780813549385
  • Morgan, Ted, Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America, Random House Digital, Inc., 2004, ISBN 9780812973020
  • Navasky, Victor S., Naming Names, Macmillan, 2003, ISBN 9780809001835
  • Redish, Martin H., The Logic of Persecution: Free Expression and the McCarthy Era, Stanford University Press, 2005, ISBN 9780804755931
  • Sabin, Arthur J., In Calmer Times: the Supreme Court and Red Monday, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, ISBN 9780812235074
  • Starobin, Joseph R., American Communism in Crisis, 1943–1957, University of California Press, 1975, ISBN 9780520027961
  • Walker, Samuel, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU, Oxford University Press, 1990, ISBN 0195045394
Secondary sources, not yet utilized for the article
  • Caute, David, The Great Fear: the Anti-Communist purge under Truman and Eisenhower, Simon and Schuster, 1978, ISBN 9780671226824
  • McKiernan, John, "Socrates and the Smith Act: the Dennis prosecution and the trial of Socrates in 399 B.C.", Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 15 (Fall, 2005), pp 65–119
  • Nathanson, Nathaniel, "The Communist trial and the clear-and-present-danger test", Harvard Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 7 (May, 1950), pp 1167–1175
  • Schrecker, Ellen, Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, Princeton University Press, 1999, ISBN 9780691048703
  • Smith, Craig R., Silencing the Opposition: How the U.S. Government Suppressed Freedom of Expression During Major Crises, SUNY Press, 2011, ISBN 9781438435190
  • Steinberg, Peter L., The Great "Red menace": United States Prosecution of American Communists, 1947–1952, Greenwood Press, 1984, ISBN 9780313230202
  • Stone, Geoffrey R., Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, W. W. Norton, 2004, ISBN 9780393058802
Selected works by Smith Act defendants
  • Davis, Benjamin, Communist councilman from Harlem: autobiographical notes written in a federal penitentiary, International Publishers Co, 1991, ISBN 9780717806805
  • Dennis, Eugene, Ideas They Cannot Jail, International Publishers, 1950
  • Dennis, Eugene, Letters from prison, International Publishers, 1956
  • Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley, et al., 13 Communists Speak to the Court, New Century Publishers, 1953
  • Foster, William Z., History of the Communist Party of the United States, Greenwood Press, 1968, ISBN 9780837104232
  • Gates, John, The Story of an American Communist, Nelson, 1958
  • Green, Gil, Cold War Fugitive: a personal story of the McCarthy years, International Publishers, 1984, ISBN 9780717806157
  • Healey, Dorothy; and Isserman, Maurice, California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party, University of Illinois Press, 1993, ISBN 9780252062780
  • Lannon, Albert, Second String Red: The Life of Al Lannon, American Communist, Lexington Books, 1999, ISBN 9780739100028
  • Nelson, Steve, Steve Nelson, American Radical, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992, ISBN 9780822954712
  • Scales, Junius Irving, et al., Cause at Heart: A Former Communist Remembers, University of Georgia Press, 2005, ISBN 9780820327853
  • Williamson, John, Dangerous Scot: the Life and Work of an American "Undesirable"., International Publishers, 1969
  • Winston, Henry, Africa's Struggle for Freedom, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.: a selection of political analyses, New Outlook Publishers, 1972
Selected works by prosecution witnesses
As you can see, all there is a large amount of literature on these cold war trials. Could you help me understand your concern by answering some specific questions: (1) What secondary sources are you relying on to conclude that the current level of detail about the appeals is not sufficient? (2) Can you identify a secondary source on this topic that covers material not already in the sources listed above? (3) Have you read any of the sources listed above? (4) in the sources above, what percentage of the material is devoted to the supreme court cases? (5) Are you aware of any other WP article cluster about a very widely publicized lower court trial that resulted in multiple Supreme Court cases (so we can look at it as a possible model for this article)? (6) You write "this was not the only prosecution under the Smith Act to go to trial, not the only one to involve Communists" - however, the article does cover all Smith Act trials of the CPUSA ... what source makes you think otherwise? (7) You write that "Smith Act trials" is not a suitable title for the article because it is not precise: Yet Google Books has 17,000 hits for "Smith Act trials"; what trials are those authors referring to? (8) You write "Before I would be able to consider supporting this article for that status, I would want to see more detail on the appeals" - Assuming that the article was improved to meet that request, what title would you give the resultant article? Thanks in advance for answering the questions ... the answers will help me understand the concerns you have, and - ultimately - help improve the article. --Noleander (talk) 13:36, 18 March 2012 (UTC)

This article has shifted in scope from when I first saw it. When I first saw it, it included only the Foley Square trial. Now, it purports to cover the trials in all the Smith Act prosecutions where the defendants were communists. I think neither is sensible. I am not inclined to think that biting off trials, and ignoring appeals, is a sensible scope for an article to have. It would not fair to a defendant to write about the trial where a defendant was convicted without mention (or with only barebones mention) of the appeal that reversed the defendants conviction. It is no more appropriate to omit appeals that affirm. Beyond fairness, it does not comport with the basic demands of context and relevance in an encyclopedia. My view is that the appeals must be included, whether the scope is the single prosecution or all. My original comments were given under the assumption that the scope was the single prosecution. And I continue to think that the specific things I mentioned in my first post in this section are achievable. While I do not personally have time right now to find secondary sources for you, I am not inclined to believe that two Supreme Court cases entirely escaped the historical record. Nor do I think that any Wikipedia policy prevents you from citing to a published opinion itself in all instances. If the scope is the single trial, I think article should have a == heading for appeals (that includes mention of the appeals that did not reach the Supreme Court) and a === heading under that for each of the five Supreme Court cases. It need not be as exhuastive as an article solely about a case whose trial produced a single appeal would be; a substantial summary of each (with the things I mentioned earlier being the bare minimum) would do. The "speech critical of the government" section of the First Amendment article does not absolve this article of doing this. That section has both a broader and a narrower scope than what I am describing. That section is broader because it includes all cases relating to the legal concept of speech critical of the government, an issue which was not only litigated with respect to the Smith Act. That section is narrower because it does not mention all the issues raised on appeal, either from this trial, or from all Smith Act Trials. If the intended scope is to include all Smith Act prosecutions of communists, the coverage of those other than the Foley Square prosecution is so bare bones that it is hard for me to comment, but I would not think it sensible to completely separate trial and appeal for those either. If the mention of the trials other than the Foley Square trial is really so bare bones that you cannot expand beyond what is given here, then the addition of these two paragraphs does not change my view about how much coverage of the Foley appeals is appropriate for this article. If it is more substantial, it should be expanded, perhaps with an eye towards creating daughter articles, and the first logical candidate would be the Foley Square prosecution itself. The title is not as important to me as getting the scope right. I am happy to clarify my comments for you, within reason, but I am not interested in having page after page of debate in multiple forums, or submitting myself to cross-examination on the exact scope of my knowledge in this area. I think it is sufficient to appraise you of my concerns a single time. Savidan 21:47, 21 March 2012 (UTC)

Noleander, I think the kind of sources you come up with is a function of how you search. The books load toward sociological/political interpretations of the events and not so much on the law. That's why I suggest that you not attempt a "legal" article which would not likely include autobiographies, for example. The sources are loaded toward a social/political view as we look back today and not toward a legal interpretation of how the law was affected. (By the way, there's a new biography on J. Edgar Hoover that says he wasn't interested in going after Communists, but was pressured by Harry Truman to do so. He was way more interested in the mob.) MathewTownsend (talk) 22:10, 21 March 2012 (UTC)
Savidan: Thanks for the feedback. To recap: the key improvement you are suggesting is to add more material - even relying on primary sources if necessary - that gives more details about all the fed. appeals and supreme court cases that are related to the set of trials. And you want them in dedicated subsections: one for (all the) fed appeals, and one subsection each for each supreme court case. I can do that. I'll look again for more legal sources (as MT suggests), and add as much as I can. Thanks again. --Noleander (talk) 00:46, 22 March 2012 (UTC)
I found the other two cases that Sabin was referring to: they are
I'll go ahead and add info about them into the article. Thanks for prompting me to search further! --Noleander (talk) 15:33, 22 March 2012 (UTC)

Improvements to the article[edit]

Based on the great suggestions from editors, above, I've made a few improvements to the article:

  • Re-scoped the article so it explicitly covers all the Smith Act trials of CPUSA leaders, not just the 1949 trial
  • Added a hatnote at top of article disambiguating it from other similar Smith Act articles/topics
  • Rename article to Smith Act trials of communist party leaders or a variant thereof (waiting a couple of more days on this, pending additional input)

These improvements should help resolve some of the issues raised above. One remaining issue is evaluating the relationship between this article and First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#Speech_critical_of_the_government. The latter article (actually, just a section within an article) covers the constitutional issues of the Smith Act trials. More work needs to be done to see if/how any material can be shared between the articles. Note that this article currently has a "main" link to the 2nd article. --Noleander (talk) 21:27, 18 March 2012 (UTC)

Based on a previous discussion on the constitutional issues (which seem complex and legalistic), I wonder if the article should try to address them here. This article is more sociological or political history rather than a legal article, though it uses a legal trial as a "take off". MathewTownsend (talk) 19:19, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

RfC on legal appeals material[edit]

Should this article include more material on the legal appeals (namely: the federal appeals, the supreme court cases, and associated constitutional issues)?

Background: this article has two sections already that deal with legal appeals: here and here. A user has suggested that more information should be added. User Noleander has looked for additional material, but cannot find any that is supported by the sources and is relevant to the Smith Act trials. Note that WP has a related article First Amendment to the United States Constitution which includes a section devoted to "Speech critical of the government", and that section already includes a discussion of the constitutional issues raised by the Smith Act trials. In addition, WP already has articles on three of the Supreme Court cases: Dennis v. United States, Yates v. United States, and Sacher v. United States. So this RfC should also address how these multiple articles should split-up the legal material. --Noleander (talk) 19:19, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

  • Comment - I have no objection to adding more material into the article about the legal appeals, but I'm having a hard time finding any. Another editor has suggested adding more (see discussion here), but has not yet provided any secondary sources to justify the inclusion. I've double checked all the reliable secondary sources, and I cannot find any additional non-trivial material to add. If some secondary sources are found (that relate to these Smith Act trials) I'd be happy to add the material into the article ... provided that this article does not infringe on the existing First Amendment to the United States Constitution article (or the 3 supreme court case articles listsed above). --Noleander (talk) 19:22, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
To follow on to what user MathewTownsend writes above: I concur that this article's focus is on the political/historical/social aspects of the trials, treating them as a Cold War/McCarthyism episode of US history; contrasted with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution article which is the home of the legalistic/constitutional material. Naturally, there should be a small amount of overlap, but not too much. --Noleander (talk) 19:27, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Comment: No need to try to squish in more info that may only be tangential to the article itself. Status quo looks fine. Lord Roem (talk) 21:30, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Comment - I agree with Lord Roem. I like the article the way it is. MathewTownsend (talk) 21:35, 19 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Comment - without squishing, i think you could add some. Soosim (talk) 06:38, 20 March 2012 (UTC)
I agree the article has room to add some more material; but the question is: what material? I cannot find any additional material in the secondary sources which discuss the Smith Act trials. Even if we were to find some more material on the constitutional First Amendment issues, that material should be added to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution article (see the section devoted to "Speech critical of the government"). This RfC is asking for new sources which contain new material related to the Smith Act trials. --Noleander (talk) 14:02, 20 March 2012 (UTC)
  • Sample source - Here is a typical secondary source that discusses the legal aspects of Dennis & Yates. The book is Congress shall make no law: the First Amendment, unprotected expression, and the Supreme Court, by a professor at Univ of Virginia. The key points the author makes are (pp 7-8):
    • The court was "bitterly divided" during the Dennis decision
    • The Dennis decision was a "watershed" case
    • in Dennis, the "Vinson court reforumlated the clear and present danger test" and "rendered virtually futile further relilance on the test".
    • In Vinson's hand, the "clear and present danger test became a balancing technique for rationalizing restrictions on speech and press"
    • Hands decision: Hand "concluded that it [the C and P test] was no more than a balancing technique. But he also .. gave the test greater precision by adding that courts must consider 'whether the gravity of evil discounted by its improbability, jutifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the danger'".
    • "The opinions in Dennis underscore the competing interpretative approaches toward the first amendment in the early and mid-twentieth century."
    • Yates: "By the time [Yates] appeal was granted in 1955 … Vinson and his three supporters in Dennis were off the bench. … Eisenhower had apppointed Earl Warren as chief justice". paraphrase: Reed, Jackson, and Minton had been replaced by Whittaker, Harlan, and Brennan.
    • "Harlan's opinion for the court in Yates abandoned the clear and present danger test and substituted instead an explicitly balancing approach on which First Amendment freedoms were weighted against society's right of self-preservation. He claimed that was the essence of Dennis in distinguishing between advocacy of abstract doctrines (which receive FA protection) and the advocacy of violence and unlawful action."
I have not yet used this source, but it does have a couple of tidbits that are not yet in this article (nor in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution article). I'll go ahead and add a few more factoids from this source, but this source is representative of the kind of depth & details the secondary sources go into on the legal appeals, so I don't think much more is going to be found. --Noleander (talk) 15:15, 20 March 2012 (UTC)
I added new material, from the above source, into the article. I also submitted the article for another Peer Review, to get a fresh pair of eyes before the FA nomination. --Noleander (talk) 17:15, 21 March 2012 (UTC)

My verbose comments can be found on this same page. I do not intend to restate all my points within this section. Summary: I think the proper scope for an article about a case is the entire case, from complaint to final disposition. This includes appeals. I think the same for an article about a family of companion cases, although I am skeptical of the recent page move because this aren't doesn't include much about the non-Foley Square cases. Savidan 22:10, 21 March 2012 (UTC)

Comment: Decisions handed down in appeals can be stated in one line. That is something that could be included with the case citation. Otherwise it seems counterproductive to turn it into a complete legal history.—Djathinkimacowboy 18:06, 22 March 2012 (UTC)
That's a good point. I think, as Savidan points out, it is appropriate to mention all the significant appeals cases, and even to briefly summarize them. The only reason to limit the detail in this article is if it starts overstepping and taking on the duty of the other articles which are specifically about the legal cases. Here are some other articles that do (or should) have the nitty-gritty legal detail:
I think this article is reaching a good state now, thanks to Savidan's prompting. A lot of detail on the appeals has been recently added, including specifically naming the cases. I'm still in the middle of adding material, so stay tuned. --Noleander (talk) 18:15, 22 March 2012 (UTC)
The other possibility that occurs to me is to create a new article of intermediate generality, about appellate treatment of prosecutions of Communists. It would fall between the articles about specific appeals (such as Dennis) and the overall First Amendment article. Such an artice would be a logical home for some of the points noted by Noleander from the Clear and Present Danger book. My inclination is that, without doing original research, there's probably not enough encyclopedic material to make such a new article appropriate; what we have can fit in either the articles about specific appeals or the First Amendment article. I don't agree with Djathinkimacowboy about confining the coverage in this article to one line, though. These trials are significant partly because they're part of the history of the CPUSA and the government's attacks on it, but also partly because they generated historically important appeals. JamesMLane t c 23:58, 26 March 2012 (UTC)
One easy way to implement that suggestion (of a new intermediate article) is simply to split-off the "Speech critical of government" section (into its own article) from the First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution article. The WP:CONTENT FORK and WP:SUMMARY STYLE guidelines cover that process. That "speech critical of government" topic is rather significant, and could stand on its own. I probably won't undertake that task myself, because I've got my hands full with this article, which is best viewed as a subarticle of the Communist Party USA article or the Smith Act article. --Noleander (talk) 01:22, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I made this point above, but I will repeat it because it appears to have been ignored: "speech critical of the government" is a legal issue that has been litigated in a far broader context than the Smith Act. To name a few others: Espionage Act of 1917, Sedition Act of 1918, the state criminal syndicalism statutes, etc. Thus, to claim that an article (or section) at that title would serve as a main article for the First Amendment implications of the Smith Act, or actually for the First Amendment issues decided in the Smith Act prosecutions of communists, is simply to true. Savidan 04:30, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I agree. But I don't see any comment above suggesting that "speech critical of the government" is 100% about the Smith Act ... but maybe I'm misreading JamesMLane's comment? This RfC is asking: Where in WP should the legal details about the Smith Act trials go? The First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution article is one of the (multiple) articles that already contains legal information about the Smith Act trials. And that article is missing some additional, detailed legal material regarding the Smith Act trials. --Noleander (talk) 13:00, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

More on other trials[edit]

If the intention is to keep the scope of this article as all the Smith Act trials of Communist party leaders, it needs considerable work for the non-Foley square trials. The infobox in the intro should probably be moved to the relevant section (and each trial might need its own such box, if boxes are to be used). Perhaps you could start by counting exactly how many trials there were. And then giving each its own == section. Perhaps collecting the bare minimum information about each trial: names of all the defendants; district in which the defendants were indicted and tried; name of the presiding judge; key dates (each indictment, each trial, each verdict); result at trial (conviction, acquittal, mistrial); result of appeal if any (e.g. affirmed, reversed for sufficiency, reversed for procedural issue and remanded for new trial, etc.). The Foley Square trial might justifiably get more coverage, but right now the others get questionably little coverage. Savidan 04:24, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I can look into that information, but - based on what I've seen so far - giving the other trials much more coverage would start to violate the WP:UNDUE policy. The sources tend to treat them as an afterthought, as in "here was this big 1949 trial (blah, blah, blah) and then there were these smaller trials". Yates is the only one of the dozen second-tier trials that is discussed to any degree. But I'll see what I can find. Thanks for the input. --Noleander (talk) 13:00, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
I don't agree at all that giving such basic facts (classic who, what, when, where) can be "undue." Savidan 13:13, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
Yes, you're right about the who/what/when/where ... if it is limited to that. I'll see if I can find that info. As far as I can tell there were about 150 defendants, but I have not yet seen a source that lists them all, or even lists more than a few. --Noleander (talk) 13:19, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
I would say that it is probably unnecessary to mention every defendant. Most notable defendants should get some mention, but a lengthy list does not serve the reader well. And if the major references on the Smith Act trials does not see fit to mention every defendant, no reason we should. And if trials don't get a lot of play in sources, I see no problem with lumping them together.--Wehwalt (talk) 20:23, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
Do you think the lengthy section on prison and deaths etc. of the defendants is necessary? MathewTownsend (talk) 21:44, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
Status update: I've put all the information on the 2ndary trials that I can find in the secondary sources. I found the complete list of all the cities, and added that. I found the total count of all indictments and convictions, and added that. I found about 6 names of individuals, and added them. And, of course, there are the three Supreme Court cases: Yates, Noto, and Scales: those each have a dedicated section, with some good legal detail. I have not been able to find a complete list of all 144 defendants, but, as user Wehwalt says above, it may not be encyclopedic to list them all, because the sources treat them (except for the Yates case) rather superficially. If anyone can think of other information (that may be in the secondary sources) let me know and I'll add it. --Noleander (talk) 00:51, 30 March 2012 (UTC)


Are you talking about the recently added sentences which mention the Rosenberg trial? I just added that text in response to the Peer Review, where the reviewer suggested adding more material that would explain the anti-communist feelings in the US at the time of the events of the article. The new sentences read:
  • "Subsequent high-profile hearings involving alleged communists included the 1950 conviction of Alger Hiss, the 1951 trial of the Rosenbergs, and the 1954 investigation of J. Robert Oppenheimer"
  • "Also in these years, the US expanded the Radio Free Europe broadcasting system in an effort to promote Western political ideals in Eastern Europe. In March 1951, American communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for the USSR. In 1952 the US exploded its first hydrogen bomb, and the USSR followed suit in 1953."
The context should indicate to the reader that the Rosenbergs were not defendants in the Smith Act trials that are the subject of the article. But if you think those sentences should be worded more clearly, let me know and I can re-word them (or, of course, you can edit it directly). Thanks for raising that issue. --Noleander (talk) 19:03, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

Link to Peer review[edit]

Further review[edit]

At Noleander's request, I'll add a few comments here as an informal peer review:

  • I made a few minor copyedits.
  • In "Background", where you say "the US government passed the Smith Act in 1940", I think it's more typical to say "the US Congress passed the Smith Act in 1940" [Done --Noleander (talk) 15:13, 6 April 2012 (UTC)]
  • In "Start of the trial" this sentence should probably be broken up: "The Smith Act trial was held in the Foley Square federal courthouse in New York City, and opened on November 1, 1948; preliminary proceedings and jury selection lasted until January 17, 1949; the defendants first appeared in court on March 7; and the trial concluded on October 14, 1949." [Done --Noleander (talk) 15:13, 6 April 2012 (UTC)]
  • I'll try to read some more later tonight or this weekend. --Coemgenus (talk) 14:48, 6 April 2012 (UTC)
Thanks ... any help is appreciated. One special area that needs input from reviewers is assessing the amount of detail regarding the legal/constitutional aspects: Does the article need more detail? or less? If more: what sort of detail? Should the article push off more legal/constitutional information into related articles like Dennis v. United States, Yates v. United States, and First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#Speech_critical_of_the_government? Or is the level of detail detail in this article appropriate? Thanks! --Noleander (talk) 15:08, 6 April 2012 (UTC)
Sorry to take so long in returning here. I've just finished the article, and really can't find fault with it. A truly excellent work that I'll be glad to support at FAC. As to the legal issues, I think leaving them in is a good idea. The summaries aren't too long, and are important to the story. --Coemgenus (talk) 23:47, 8 April 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for the review and the edits you made to the article. --Noleander (talk) 12:31, 9 April 2012 (UTC)

More detail needed for Venona material[edit]

AJCohn: The material regarding the Venona intercepts is good material ... but I think it needs to be integrated better into the article. Can you supply a few more details (here on the talk page) so I can work on integrating it? If you can just give me some raw quotes from the source(s), I can take it from there. For example, in the lead you put " The Truman administration also used intelligence gathered from its then secret Venona Project which intercepted and deciphered diplomatic cables from Moscow to its New York Embassy, to determine which members of the Communist Party’s leadership were acting intelligence assets for the Soviet Union" ... I've glanced at the Haynes source in Google Books, but I don't seen anything that directly says that. Ditto for the sentence "the government was made aware that high ranking US Communist Party members like Eugene Dennis, Earl Browder, Gus Hall and other Party functionaries were being covertly financed by the Soviet Union, or were acting as intelligence and espionage assets for the KGB." ... I believe that may be in the source, but I cannot find it. Thanks. --Noleander (talk) 16:30, 14 May 2012 (UTC)

... also, here are some specific Qs that should be addressed in this article (if the Haynes source discusses them):
  1. Did the prosecutors of the Smith Act trials know about the Venona source/material? Or was Venona related to the trials only indirectly in the sense that Venona caused the original 1949 charges to get brought?
  2. If Venona did play a role in the 1949 charges getting brought, who was the Venona-knowledgeable person who did that? Hoover?
  3. The CPUSA defendants in the Smith Act had tons of connections to the Communist Party of the USSR, including receiving guidance and financial support ... that was well known even without the Venona material. What specific proof of espionage by any of the 12 defendants were included in the Venona materials? (Note that Browder was not a defendant). I.e. which of the 12 defendants, if any, did the Venona material explicitly show where engaged in espionage? Dennis? Foster? Any of the lower-level leaders?
  4. There is an important distinction between a CPUSA leader (such as Dennis or Foster) having a relationship with the Communist Party of the USSR (such as merely communicating secretly, receiving financial assistance, etc) and the conclusion that they were "spying" or "conducting espionage". Do any secondary sources (such as Haynes) say that "CPUSA leader ABC was a spy" or anything similar? We'll need explicit quotes from the secondary sources before that kind of assertion can be included in the article.
Thanks in advance for any help. --Noleander (talk) 20:39, 14 May 2012 (UTC)
... also, on (4) above, I see the following material in the Venona article:

Some remain skeptical of both the substance and the prevailing interpretations made since the release of the VENONA material. Victor Navasky, editor and publisher of The Nation, has written several editorials highly critical of John Earl Haynes' and Harvey Klehr's interpretation of recent work on the subject of Soviet espionage. Navasky claims the VENONA material is being used to “distort … our understanding of the cold war” and that the files are potential “time bombs of misinformation”.[4] Commenting on the list of 349 Americans identified by VENONA, published in an appendix to Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Navasky wrote, "The reader is left with the implication — unfair and unproven — that every name on the list was involved in espionage, and as a result, otherwise careful historians and mainstream journalists now routinely refer to VENONA as proof that many hundreds of Americans were part of the red spy network."[4] Navasky goes further in his defense of the listed people and has claimed that a great deal of the so-called espionage that went on was nothing more than “exchanges of information among people of good will” and that “most of these exchanges were innocent and were within the law”.[5]

can you shed any light on that? If the secondary sources are in dispute, that needs to be reflected in how the Venona material is presented in this article (e.g. the wording should be qualified as in "Venona may have ..." rather than 100% conclusive wording). --Noleander (talk) 21:00, 14 May 2012 (UTC)

Here are some of the relevant passages I was refering to:

Information from the Venona decryptions underlay the policies of U.S. government officials in their approach to the issue of domestic communism. The investigations and prosecutions of American Communists undertaken by the federal government in the late 1940s and early 1950s were premised on an assumption that the CPUSA had assisted Soviet espionage. This view contributed to the Truman administration's executive order in 1947, reinforced in the early 1950s under the Eisenhower administration, that U.S. government employees be subjected to loyalty and security investigations. The understanding also lay behind the 1948 decision by Truman's attorney general to prosecute the leaders of the CPUSA under the sedition sections of the Smith Act. It was an explicit assumption behind congressional investigations of domestic communism in the late 1940s and 1950s, and it permeated public attitudes toward domestic communism. pg 22 Haynes & Khler
In late 1945 and in 1946, the White House had reacted with a mixture of indifference and skepticism to FBI reports indicating significant Soviet espionage activity in the United States. Truman administration officials even whitewashed evidence pointing to the theft of American classified documents in the 1945 Amerasia case (see chapter 6) because they did not wish to put at risk the continuation of the wartime Soviet-American alliance and wanted to avoid the political embarrassment of a security scandal. By early 1947, however, this indifference ended. The accumulation of information from defectors such as Elizabeth Bentley and Igor Gouzenko, along with the Venona decryptions, made senior Truman administration officials realize that reports of Soviet spying constituted more than FBI paranoia. No government could operate successfully if it ignored the challenge to its integrity that Stalin's espionage offensive represented. In addition, the White House sensed that there was sufficient substance to the emerging picture of a massive Soviet espionage campaign, one assisted by American Communists, that the Truman administration was vulnerable to Republican charges of having ignored a serious threat to American security. President Truman reversed course and in March 1947 issued a sweeping executive order establishing a comprehensive security vetting program for U.S. government employees. He also created the Central Intelligence Agency, a stronger and larger version of the OSS, which he had abolished just two years earlier. In 1948 the Truman administration followed up these acts by indicting the leaders of the CPUSA under the sedition sections of the 1940 Smith Act. While the Venona Project and the decrypted messages themselves remained secret, the substance of the messages with the names of scores of Americans who had assisted Soviet espionage circulated among American military and civilian security officials. From the security officials the information went to senior executive-branch political appointees and members of Congress. They, in turn, passed it on to journalists and commentators, who conveyed the alarming news to the general public. pg 14 Haynes & Khler

On the specific questions

1. The source isn’t specific enough as to whether the prosecution knew. It only states that Hoover, senior FBI officials and individuals in the DOJ (aside from FBI) knew of the contents of Venona. The source is clear the Venona was a deciding factor in prosecuting CP leaders.

2. Out of the 12, here are the individuals that were positively indentified through Venona: Eugene Dennis, John Gates, Jack Stachel, Robert G. Thompson,

3. There is a distinction between having a relationship and “having a relationship”, very true, but the “relationship” that the above mentioned had was directly tied to intelligence work. Who in particular would you have me elaborate on?

4. Not to sound pedantic, but saying Haynes’ and Khler’s work is in dispute because of Navasky, is like saying the NIST report on the WTC collapse is in dispute because of James H. Fetzer. H&K have a done remarkable job answering their (very few) critics, and many have ceded the debate on the particulars (Rosenbergs, White, Hiss, etcetera) and have gone to a broader criticism that these people didn’t stain the reputation of the Party. I personally don’t find 5000 words in The Nation Magazine (which employed its fair share of KGB spies) to be compelling enough to seriously challenge the thousands of pages and several books H&K (and various collaborators) have compiled on this subject. AJCohn (talk) 21:52, 14 May 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for the quotes. I was hoping for something more specific, like "In 1947 Hoover read the March Venona intercepts, and based on those he asked the DOJ to initiate charges against Dennis and Hall ..." or something like that. Based on the Haynes quotes you provided above, it sounds like the Hayne's source is a bit vague on the details of the chain leading from the intercepts to the trials. Based on the quotes above, this article could probably say something like "Members of the Truman administration, but not Truman himself, had access to Venona intercepts of USSR intelligence communications which indicated that several leaders of the CPUSA received funding and guidance from the USSR, and those communications contributed to the administration's decision to charge CPUSA officials". [temporary emphasis on "contributed" for Talk page purposes]. The quotes from Haynes you provide above do not support such specific statements as "which members of the Communist Party’s leadership were acting intelligence assets for the Soviet Union" or "the government was made aware that high ranking US Communist Party members like Eugene Dennis, Earl Browder, Gus Hall and other Party functionaries were being covertly financed by the Soviet Union, or were acting as intelligence and espionage assets for the KGB." [italics are specific assertions which need a quote from a secondary source]. Unless you can provide additional quotes for those two examples, we'll have to reword it to reflect the more indirect/vague wording that is present in the Haynes quotes you give above. Do you have any more quotes from Haynes that would help? --Noleander (talk) 01:49, 15 May 2012 (UTC)
The point of the excerpts was to demonstrate Venona's impact on the prosecution (generic) and not to the specific prosecutions of any individual. Did you want additional material on Dennis, Gates, etc? — Preceding unsigned comment added by AJCohn (talkcontribs) 13:17, 15 May 2012 (UTC)
Yes, can you supply any more quotes from 2ndary source: (a) quotes that show that the govmt specifically relied on the the Venona material to initiate the Smith Act indictments (preferably naming a date and govmt official involved); and (b) quotes that specifically state that the Venona material demonstrated that some (which?) of the 12 defendants were "agents" or "assets" or "carried out espionage". Thanks. --Noleander (talk) 13:32, 15 May 2012 (UTC)
AJC: Pending additional quotes from sources, I've modifed the text in the article to be consistent with the quotes provided above:

In addition to international events, the US government officials compiled domestic evidence of spying by the USSR within the United States. In 1945 a Soviet spy, Elizabeth Bentley, repudiated the USSR and gave the FBI a large list of Soviet agents in the United States. The FBI also had access to secret Soviet communications, available from the Venona decryption effort, which indicated significant efforts by Soviet agents to conduct espionage within the United States. The growing influence of communism around the world and the evidence of Soviet spies within the US motivated the Department of Justice – spearheaded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – to initiate an investigation of communists within the United States.

I think that is a fair summary of the source material so far. We can modify it as more material becomes available (e.g. material that specifically says that Venona demonstrated that some of the defendants were spies; or says that Venona directly caused the DOJ to initiate indictments, etc). --Noleander (talk) 18:06, 15 May 2012 (UTC)

Here's a very different source for the import of the Verona intercepts: Moynihan, Daniel (1999), Secrecy: The American Experience, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-08079-7;. I hope you don't get distracted from the trials by too much of this. Verona is background info and closely held. Not the sort of thing to be shared with prosecutors. Moynihan argues that if the contents of Verona had been more widely shared, the entire approach to "subversion" might have been different. Bmclaughlin9 (talk) 13:42, 17 June 2012 (UTC)

Add Bentley[edit]

Note to self: add sentence on Elizabeth Bentley (in 1945 stopped spying for USSR and gave info to FBI ... her info became public in 1948). Many sources, e.g. The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide, Athan G. Theoharis, page 27. --Noleander (talk) 13:34, 15 May 2012 (UTC)

Background and associated image[edit]

The Source of the image Step by step greene.jpg, used in the "Background" section, is an image database maintained by the William and Anita Newman Library, Baruch College, CUNY.

The 2nd sentence of the Background section misrepresents the Red Scare of 1919-20 as indicative of fear of communists, a term rarely used in the US at that time. The most common targets were bolsheviks and anarchists. The fear was of revolution, not of everything else implied in the term communism. Note the illustration: labor radicalism leads inevitably to the overthrow of government and chaos, i.e, anarchy, not collectivism or statism. I'd make the same complaint of the image caption. The Red Scare's targets and concerns were far more generic (labor, immigration, foreign ideology) than communism. Bmclaughlin9 (talk) 20:17, 11 June 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for the info ... I'll update the article & pic data accordingly. --Noleander (talk) 21:14, 11 June 2012 (UTC)

NY Times citation[edit]

Searching the archives of the New York Times online, I cannot locate this article, which is now used at ref 48: cite news|title = Communist Drive in Industry Bared | work = The New York Times | first= Russell | last = Porter | page = 11 | date = April 29, 1949. That doesn't mean the article isn't there (necessarily), since sometimes there are indexing problems. But usually with persistence I can track down something like this, which should include the name Calomiris at least. But in this instance I can't, even though the citation includes author and title. Puzzling. Bmclaughlin9 (talk) 13:32, 17 June 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for pointing that out. That material is from the Martelle book, pp 148-149; and Martelle cites (in his footnotes) that NY Times article. I must have intended to write "NYTimes, cited by Martelle pp 148,149" but only managed the first half. I'll update this article's footnote to cite Martell per WP:SAYWHEREYOUGOTIT. --Noleander (talk) 13:51, 17 June 2012 (UTC)


RE: "In response, the US House of Representatives passed a bill in August to outlaw protests near federal courthouses, but the Senate never voted on it.[26][33]"

The first citation is to Life magazine, where we read: "in August the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing pickets at federal trials. But the Senate had not acted on it by the trial's end."
The second citation is to Walker, where it says that "a bill to prohibit the picketing of federal courts was introduced in Congress", but nothing about a vote in either House or Senate.

So are we talking about "protests" (a general term) or picketing (a comparatively specific term)? New York Times articles describe pickets as the issue at the trial, e.g. here and as the object of the legislation here.

Do we know the Senate never voted on it or just that the Senate didn't vote on it before the end of the trial as Life's Oct 24 1949 issue says?

In 1950 the McCarran Internal Security Act (a sadly deficient wikipedia article) was passed over Truman's veto by votes of 286-48 and 57-10. According to the Times here report of the legislation's provisions (September 25, 1950), "Picketing of Federal Courts is made a felony."

Bmclaughlin9 (talk) 02:34, 25 June 2012 (UTC)

Thanks for pointing that out. I presumed the anti-picketing law was never passed, but maybe it was? The only sources I recall that touch on that are the two that you repeat above. I'll do some more research and see if I can get to the bottom of it. --Noleander (talk) 03:02, 25 June 2012 (UTC)
I wonder if the 1949 law that passed the House was the Mundt–Ferguson Communist Registration Bill ... that article says that it did not pass the Senate; and then portions of it were later incorporated into the McCarran Internal Security Act. --Noleander (talk) 03:08, 25 June 2012 (UTC)
BMc: Do you have access to JSTOR? there is an article that may shed light on this: "The Internal Security Act of 1950", Columbia Law Review; Vol. 51, No. 5, Security and Civil Liberties (May, 1951), pp. 606-660; Published by: Columbia Law Review Association, Inc.; Article Stable URL: --Noleander (talk) 03:13, 25 June 2012 (UTC)

That article mentions picketing only in a note that says it will not cover the restrictions on picketing. Bmclaughlin9 (talk) 10:51, 25 June 2012 (UTC)

Earth calling[edit]

I've been doing some bold copyediting in the last 24 hours.

  • (a) I'm somewhat surprised, given the amount of discussion here in recent months, that no one seems to have noticed the several [clarification needed] tags and so forth, not to mention fixed any of the little (I hope) errors I've inevitably introduced. There'd be no hurry on this except...
  • (b) I just realized this is supposed to become Today's Featured in a day or two. And here I've littered it with all these [clarification needed] tags and stuff -- which please note raise issue I believe are there independent of any copyediting, and ought to be address before it becomes Today's.

Anyone home? EEng (talk) 04:14, 19 August 2012 (UTC)

  • I've been paying attention and I think you've improved the wording immensely. As far as supplying sources though, I don't have them. I did the first GA review and failed the article. I also complained at the FAC. So I'm not in a position to do other than praise your writing skills and agree that the tags are needed. MathewTownsend (talk) 00:12, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
  • A lot of these issues look fixable, but it would be tough to do so without having the sources on hand. Mark Arsten (talk) 01:01, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
  • His copy editing is good - an improvement IMO. MathewTownsend (talk) 01:06, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
  • I just commented one bit out, so two down. We might want to bring this issue up at WT:TFAR, if the TFA's author isn't active the day before the article hits the main page, there's no way to avoid this. Mark Arsten (talk) 01:07, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
  • I moved a couple refs and removed two cite needed tags, it seemed like the refs I moved were intended to cover the two statements. Well, it's been up for two hours now and I've only had to block one person for editing it, so this is going smoothly :) Mark Arsten (talk) 02:04, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I'm not convinced of the value of the removal of dates from image captions. If there were only one trial, then it would be justified, but there were multiple trials and distinguishing the "1949 trial" seems sensible to me. I don't accept that the reader should be forced to work out from the text of the article which trial each image refers to. Other opinions? --RexxS (talk) 02:19, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

To the extent that images are well within the very large 1949 section, readers can know to which trial their captions refer not by working it out from the text of the article, rather simply from the section in which the images are displayed. Anyway, I'm not convinced that captions referring to "the trial" are any more problematic than captions referring to "the defendants" or "the defense attorneys" (which have been there since long ago) nor, for that matter, any more ambiguous than article text proper making similar references. If you really feel that captions need to be specific as to which trial(s), I think it would be best to try to vary the stilted "1949 trial...1949 trial....1949 trial" over and over. EEng (talk) 02:39, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
The first one that I saw removed was from the lead image, which is clearly a loss of information. The 1949 trial section is in fact so large that a casual surfer might find themselves looking at an image so far away from the heading that it is by no means obvious that it refers to the 1949 trial. You can't assume that someone browsing knows the background to the same extent as you do. Finally, I'm not convinced by the claim that "1949 trial" is stilted. You removed dates from captions reading:
I simply don't see that having the phrase "1949 trial" in three out of the thirteen captions matches your description of 'the stilted "1949 trial...1949 trial....1949 trial" over and over'. This sort of sacrifice of useful information for a weak aesthetic reason really isn't improving the experience of reading our encyclopedia for most viewers. --RexxS (talk) 03:20, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
  • Lead image: Problem solved by shortening to Defendants Robert Thompson and Benjamin J. Davis surrounded by supporters. Anticipating an objection that this removes yet more information: yes, that's true -- but why does it even matter that the photo was taken, specifically, "during the trial" instead of (possibly) "just before the trial opened"? It adds little. Otherwise, why not extend the caption to include all kinds of conceivably informative data e.g. Defendants Robert Thompson and Benjamin J. Davis surrounded by supporters late in the evening at Washington Square Park, in donated clothes, just after the halfway point of the 1949 trial?
  • Courthouse image: Problem solved by removing the image, which I was going to propose anyway. Such an "establishing shot", of a generic-looking building whose appearance tells the reader nothing really, might be appropriate in a children's book, but is just deadweight here, in my opinion (as the article text becomes more concise the layout's becoming overdense with images anyway).
  • Crowd image: Happy to add back 1949 since I don't want you losing any more sleep over this.
However, you still seem to miss the main point in my earlier post. Your concern that casual surfers "might find themselves looking at an image so far away from the heading that it is by no means obvious that it refers to the 1949 trial" I could re-render as a worry that casual surfers "might find themselves reading a phrase such as the defendants so far away from the heading that it is by no means obvious that it refers to defendants in the 1949 trial" -- the latter problem ought to be just as serious and yet no one seems to worry about it. (Though admittedly captions are meant to be somewhat more self-contained than text, I don't think this invalidates my point.)
You may be right that 1949 trial appeared in only three captions, but it was all over the place in the article in toto. Any number of potential annoyances might detract from the pleasure of reading. A possible ambiguity in a caption is one such annoyance, hypnotic repetition of a certain phrase is another, and deciding which the reader will have to tolerate is an exercise in good writing.
EEng (talk) 06:10, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
Actually I was exactly right that "1949 trial" appeared in only three captions, but thanks for your grudging acceptance anyway. In the case of the lead image - which is not part of the 1949 trial section - it needs to state which trial it refers to. The article is entitled "Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders". That's trials in the plural and your edit to the lead caption loses the disambiguation between the trials for no gain. You miss the point that the '1949' in "Defendants Robert Thompson and Benjamin J. Davis surrounded by supporters during the 1949 trial" does not serve the purpose of conveying the time that the photograph was taken, but of identifying which trial the picture relates to. The rest of the argumentum ad absurdum becomes clearly irrelevant for the same reason. As for the other captions, you are still missing the point that the article is about more than one trial. While a casual surfer would not be astonished to see that an article about trials would contain the word "defendant", they could not be expected to immediately recognise which of the trials any particular image is related to without suitable text. The '1949' qualifier served a purpose and you made the article worse by removing it. --RexxS (talk) 15:32, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

Some of the recent edits are useful, but a few have caused the article to misrepresent the sources ... I'll try to rectify so that the article more accurately reflects the tone & balance of the sources. --Noleander (talk) 13:37, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

Please exercise more care: Someone put this in the article: "Congress had refused to authorize membership in the League of Nations and President Woodrow Wilson was disabled, the country essentially leaderless.[1] (see image)." The article has been through two GA reviews, three Peer Reviews, and a Featured Article review. Yikes. --Noleander (talk) 13:41, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
Someone removed "Leaders of the CPUSA, bitter rivals of the Trotskyist SWP, supported the Smith Act prosecution of the SWP" from the Background section ... that is a critical fact that many sources emphasize. I'll restore it. --Noleander (talk) 13:45, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
Why? "After the war's end, however, several factors contributed to renewed " ... what purpose does "however" serve here? --Noleander (talk) 13:47, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
The biggest damage seems to be in the Background section: important information was removed, and some errors were introduced. I'll revert the section, and see if I can find any useful changes to re-introduce. --Noleander (talk) 13:50, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
One change that might be useful is that some editor added mention of Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 to the Background section; but even that was not quite right: it is sourced to an entire book, without a specific page number (Murray, Robert K. (1955), Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919–1920). As a general rule, page numbers are needed. Also, it is best if the source specifically ties the concepts to the Smith Act trials, although for Background sections, that is sometimes not needed. --Noleander (talk) 13:56, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
Source needed: Someone changed a pic caption to include the word "reporters" ("Outside the courthouse during the 1949 trial: defendants' supporters, onlookers, reporters, and police.") The source only mentions supporters of the defendants, not reporters. I'll revert the change, but in the future, please supply a source when new material is added. Thanks. --Noleander (talk) 14:11, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
Word missing from caption: another editor just fixed another major problem that was introduced yesterday: the word "the" was missing from a caption. --Noleander (talk) 14:43, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
I think the article is now in decent shape. I'm not saying it is perfect. If anyone wants to improve the Background or "Start of trial" sections, could they please propose the improvement here in the Talk page first ... that way we can look at the sources and make sure we get it right before putting it in the article. Thanks. --Noleander (talk) 14:43, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

FA questionability[edit]

Some more information needed such as the fact that the US goverment was trying to get rid of popular mass movements and so on, (the idea that there was fear of soviet actions etc is laughable, eg Stalin promised to stay out of the greek civil war and the US supported the anticommunist forces, the communist partisans, mostly peasant and worker based i.e the population hundreds of thousands were killed), maybe have a legacy or aftermath section which has relevant news articles today that reflect upon this period. Just something I thought when reading through.--JTBX (talk) 14:00, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

I'm sure there is lots of room for improvement in the article. I can help look for sources, but I cannot quite understand your points. You write:
  1. the US goverment was trying to get rid of popular mass movements and so on
  2. the idea that there was fear of soviet actions etc is laughable, eg Stalin promised to stay out of the greek civil war and the US supported the anticommunist forces, the communist partisans, mostly peasant and worker based i.e the population hundreds of thousands were killed,
  3. maybe have a legacy or aftermath section which has relevant news articles today that reflect upon this period.
I understand the final point (although I don't recall any source discussing that, I can look again) ... can you clarify the first two points? --Noleander (talk) 14:15, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for your response.

Okay well first is the fact that you have to remeber during this time, the business community hated the New Deal measures, and they were signed mostly in response to mass activism from workers and the population (and they worked, naturally, to curb the worst effects of the depression). After the war there was an opportunity to get rid of mass opposition, if you can find any reason to arrest common people, demonize unions, demonize organisations, arrest blacks etc etc then yes they did it, this should be added, with references of course. I apologise if this makes little sense as I have been very tired lately.

There was certainly hysteria at the time, but you have to remeber public opinion was only in favour because it was whipped up by those in power. In fact if anything, not the communists but the business community wanted to overthrow the goverment

Second point, here [1] if theres anything else Ill try to add it, its hard to find sources etc, but yes this was my point, a lot of wikipedians are obviously american and so you actually dont get a neutral point of view on a whole range of articles. --JTBX (talk) 12:16, 21 August 2012 (UTC)

page numbers given[edit]

The page numbers are from the first reference: Murray, Robert K. (1955), Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919–1920, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 978-0-313-22673-1. Online version[2]

  • nation leaderless, Wilson disabled - ref is on page 11

Note: the first reference in article, to "many Americans were fearful that Bolshevism and anarchism would lead to disruption within the US." - doesn't have page number. Please add page number or remove, as you did the other information referenced to the same source but without page numbers.

MathewTownsend (talk) 16:15, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

Racial integration in the CPUSA leadership[edit]

Someone more expert than I perhaps could comment on this matter: a reader will observe that the leadership of the CPUSA was racially integrated (although there were no women among the leadership figures who were on trial). During the era when the trial took place (and for much of U.S. history) most institutions were dominated by whites. The leadership of the two main U.S. political parties was white. The photographs were so interesting because they showed the leadership of the CPUSA to be more integrated than the leadership of the principal US political parties. Even the defense team was integrated!Iss246 (talk) 19:34, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

Yes, the CPUSA was a pioneer in racial equality in the USA throughout the first half 20th century. For example, the CPUSA was the primary defender of the Scottsboro boys. That particular aspect of the CPUSA is best covered in the CPUSA article .. but I'm not sure if it is addressed there or not. --Noleander (talk) 19:50, 20 August 2012 (UTC)

Grammar in proposed lead[edit]

Ironman: the following text you are proposing is not right: "The Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders were held from 1949 to 1958 when leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) were accused of violating the Smith Act, ..." That wording is saying that "1949 to 1958" is the period "when leader of the CPUSA ...". Could you please propose improved wording here on the Talk page, so we can take a look and refine it before it goes into the article? Thanks. --Noleander (talk) 15:12, 21 August 2012 (UTC)

Alternatives include: (a) "The Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders were a series of trials held from 1949 to 1958 in which leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) were accused of violating the Smith Act ..."; Or if the repetition of "trials" is a concern: (b) "The Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders were a series of federal prosecutions conducted from 1949 to 1958 in which leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) were accused of violating the Smith Act, ..." . --Noleander (talk) 14:27, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

Two names in lead?[edit]

Ironman: Why do you think both names of the Smith Act should go in the lead, where space is tight, rather than the body? --Noleander (talk) 14:59, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

Eradication, Decimation, Depletion[edit]

User:DOSGuy and I are having a gentlemanly disagreement about the meaning of some words. He objected here to the use of "decimate" because, as he said, Decimate means "to kill 1 in 10" (a Roman punishment) -- "deci" means 1/10th. It appears that most of the leadership was prosecuted, and membership dropped from 60k to 5k, so this was much worse than decimation. Eradicate means "to tear up by the roots". The problem with his point is that he is using the origins of both terms to make his point. Both words mean something very different in contemporary English. For example, the current #1 definition of "eradicate" on is "to remove or destroy utterly",[3] and it uses smallpox as an example. "Eradicate" was simply wrong to use in this context, as the entirety of the CPUSA's leadership was not destroyed; eradication would be used if, after the trials, there were zero remaining members of the leadership.

His objection to "decimate" is similarly based upon classical, not contemporary usage. While we all recognize the origins of decimate, the word today does not require nor even imply a 1/10 destruction. Indeed, it almost always means something more severe. Note the definition #1 definition: to destroy a great number or proportion of,[4] and it gives as an example The population was decimated by a plague.

So, to my mind, while his intentions are quite honorable, DOSGuy's understanding of the connotations of these words is simply lacking.

His current edit,[5] while clearly an improvement on "eradicate", is also, in my opinion, missing a subtle nuance in meaning. He now wishes to use "deplete". The definitions on would appear to support this usage. However, feeling that something is missing from my regular go-to source, I looked elsewhere. While its definition of deplete was similar to's Merriam Webster's examples go more to the point I was looking for. Look here:

  • Activities such as logging and mining deplete our natural resources.
  • We completely depleted our life savings when we bought our new house.

What we see here is closer to what I think most people think of when they use "deplete". What makes "deplete" different is that there is (I believe) usually a recognition that the process that is causing the depletion is either natural or at least not malicious. Depletion is something that just happens naturally, unless "replenishment" occurs. I deplete the gas in my car every time I drive, but if I am wise, I will fill it up. Depletion has an entirely different feel, at least to me and MW, than what happened with the Smith Act trials, which were an attempt at eradication. No one attempts to "eradicate" that which they deplete; it is understood that the resource being depleted should be husbanded wisely and made available for future use. That was not what was happening in these trials.

I'll not revert DOSGuy now, but I would really, really, appreciate some input from other editors on this one. (talk) 14:06, 23 August 2012 (UTC)

I've decided that, for purposes of this discussion, it might be easier if I have a username, instead of just being, so here it is: CruncherMon (talk) 17:14, 23 August 2012 (UTC)
My understanding is that decimate originally meant to remove 1 out of 10, particularly as a manner of punishing a large group (e.g. a group of soldiers that did not behave honorably). However, in modern English, the word has come to mean to remove a large portion of. Decimate is probably better in this context than deplete, since the later connotes a gradual, intentional reduction. --Noleander (talk) 17:27, 23 August 2012 (UTC)
Well stated. I would say further that, just as deplete connotes something gradual and predictable, decimate connotes something harsh or severe. CruncherMon (talk) 17:54, 23 August 2012 (UTC)

Noleander edit[edit]

I strongly endorse this edit. Not just for the reasons stated above, but even more importantly, for the way Noleander has constructed the opening sentence. Very fine work. CruncherMon (talk) 18:45, 28 August 2012 (UTC)

"Start of the trial" Section Quibble[edit]

Under "Earth calling" in Talk, Noleander asked for proposed improvements to the "Start of trial" section.

I noticed inaccuracies in ¶2 of that section:

The trial opened on November 1, 1948, and preliminary proceedings and jury selection lasted until January 17, 1949; the defendants first appeared in court on March 7, and the case concluded on October 14, 1949.

I would revise that sentence thus, based on the documentation below (sorry, I don't know how to do references properly):

The trial opened on January 17, 1949 after several postponements. [Refs under Postponement #3, Postponement #4, and Trial Opening] The defense team then began an unsuccessful seven-week challenge to the jury system in the Southern District. [Ref under Defense Challenges] The defendants first appeared in court on March 7, and the case concluded on October 14, 1949. [Existing refs]


The trial opening appears to have been 17 Jan 1949, after several postponements having been granted the defense. Jury selection was delayed until early March after seven weeks of unsuccessful defense challenges. The prosecution's opening statement was delivered 21 Mar 1949.

Trial Opening. According to The Christian Science Monitor, 21 Jan 1949, p. 12:

Preliminaries for the main trial began on Jan. 17 and may go on for many days before there is even a jury picked to begin weighing the question whether top members of the Communist Party have violated the Smith Act…


Postponement #1. According to The Hartford Courant, 17 Aug 1948, p. 1:
New York, Aug. 16. — (UP.)— Federal Judge Harold Medina refused today to extend until after the November elections the case of 12 key Communists indicted for plotting to overthrow the government.
The Communists had asked [sic] an extension from August 23 to November 23 to file motions questioning the constitutionality of the Smith Act, under which they were indicted. Medina granted an extension until September 27, but refused to postpone the case until after the elections.
Postponement #2. I could not find documentation of this, but it is mentioned in Postponement #3 below.
Postponement #3. According to the Daily Boston Globe, 02 Nov 1948, p. 7:
New York, Nov. 1 — Judge Harold R. Medina, of United States District Court, assigned himself today to preside at the trial of the 12-man national board of the Communist party, and set Nov. 15 as "the actual date of commencement."
It was the third postponement granted to the leaders of the Communist party…
Postponement #4. According to The Hartford Courant, 18 Nov 1948, p. 1:
New York, Nov. 17.—(UP.)— Federal Judge Harold Medina today set January 17 as the date for the trial of 12 top American Communist leaders.

Jury Selection Delayed Due to Defense Challenges. According to Daily Boston Globe, 18 Jan 1949, p. 3, jury selection had not yet taken place when the trial opened on 17 Jan:

While 500 prospective jurors waited impatiently to be called and examined, the eight-man defense battery urged Judge Harold R. Medina to grant a stay of 90 days or longer and advanced at least 10 different grounds for delay. All were denied.

Jury instructions were given by Judge Medina on 18 Mar 1949, according to the New York Times, 19 Mar 1949, p. 8. The story also states that the defendants

have been technically on trial for nine weeks, but the first seven weeks were taken up by a futile defense challenge to the whole jury system in this Federal District. The last two weeks have been devoted to a careful selection of jurors to guarantee a fair trial by an impartial jury. The actual trial is now about to begin.

Opening Statement. The prosecution's U.S. Atty. John F. X. McGohey delivered the government's opening statement on 21 Mar 1949 according to the New York Times, 22 Mar 1949, p. 1.

--M. David Hughes (talk) 20:50, 20 September 2013 (UTC)