As World War II was ending, a fear-driven movement known as the Second Red Scare began to spread across the United States. Americans feared that the Soviet Union hoped to spread communism all over the world, overthrowing both democratic and capitalist institutions as it went. Communism was, in theory, an expansionist ideology, spread through revolution. It suggested that the working class would overthrow the middle and upper classes. With the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern and Central Europe, many Americans believed that this nation would continue to militarily spread communism.
Once the United States no longer had to concentrate its efforts on winning World War II, many Americans became afraid that communism might spread to the United States and threaten the nation’s democratic values. Both the federal government and state governments reacted to that fear by attacking potential communist threats.
One of the main tactics used at the federal level was the creation of various investigative committees. Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired one such committee, hoping to end communist influence in the federal government.
Thousands of federal government workers came under suspicion of being loyal to the communists, and many of these people lost their jobs. The federal government also investigated the motion picture, television, and radio industries, believing that communists were spreading their propaganda through these media. This fear of communism did not just grip the federal government. In 1951, the Ohio General Assembly implemented the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee, a joint committee of state representatives and senators charged with determining communism’s influence in Ohio.
The committee was based upon the federal government’s House Un-American Activities Committee, and its members received sweeping powers to question Ohioans about their ties to communism. Between 1951 and 1954, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee, headed by House member Samuel Devine, questioned forty Ohioans, asking each person, “Right now, are you an active member of the Communist Party?” Every person refused to answer, citing the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects Americans against self-incrimination. Most of the accused were college students or people during the 1930s who advocated socialist or communist programs to end the Great Depression. Various grand juries eventually indicted the forty people, with fifteen of these accused being convicted for supporting communism.
In 1952, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee contended that 1,300 Ohioans were members of the Communist Party. In 1953, the Ohio General Assembly, with Governor Frank Lausche’s approval, extended the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee’s existence. Lausche generally opposed the committee’s actions, but he faced great pressure from Ohio voters, who feared communism, to continue seeking out communists. The governor contended that the committee’s actions might put into “grave danger. . .the reputations of innocent people against whom accusations can be made on the basis of rumor and frequently rooted in malice,” but he also stated that “Communism is a menace to our country.”
Lausche did veto a bill that would give jail terms and hefty monetary fines for anyone found guilty of communist leanings, but the Ohio General Assembly, at Samuel Devine’s urging, passed the bill over the governor’s veto. The Ohio Un-American Activities Committee continued its investigations for the next several years. As Lausche feared, the fervor of state and federal officials in rooting out communists led to major violations of civil liberties. By the mid 1950s, these violations had begun to convince many Americans to not support the actions of the state and the federal governments, thus bringing the worst aspects of the Second Red Scare to an end, although many Americans continued to fear communists and their influence.