Ohio Un-American Activities Committee

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With the Cold War's outbreak during the late 1940s, many Americans feared the spread of communism. A majority of Americans became convinced that the Soviet Union sought to spread its communist ideology around the world, overthrowing the United States' capitalist economy and representative democracy. Many government leaders at the national and state levels became convinced that communists were actively at work within the United States to overthrow the nation.

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. Due to the immense fear among Americans of a potential communist takeover, support of communism became a crime during this Second Red Scare. 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. 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 to 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. Eventually, the committee ceased operation. This was primarily due to a growing realization that the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee's actions violated Ohioans' basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech and the right to assemble peaceably.

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