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Loyalty Review Board

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Loyalty Review Board

Does an employer have a right to dig into your political beliefs? This was the question of the Loyalty Review Boards during the Cold War. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are two protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution, but their limits have been challenged many times in US history. How far should these protections go? The paranoia and fear of Communism in the 1950s pushed many of these questions to their limits when Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9835.

Loyalty Review Board 1947 Anti-Communist Cover StudySmarterFig. 1 - 1947 Comic Book Showcasing Fear of Communism.

Loyalty Review Board: Cold War

While the Cold War didn't begin until the end of WWII, Soviet spying on the US went back to the 1920s. Groups like the House Un-American Activities Commission (HUAC) and the Republican Party brought the issue of Communists in the US government to significant attention. With Truman facing low approval numbers, Republicans hammered away on implied connections between Democrats and Communists in government.

President Orders Purge of Disloyal from U.S. Posts - New York Times Headline1

Truman Loyalty Review Board 1947

The 1946 midterm elections, held among increasing fears of Communism and a worsening US economy, resulted in Republicans retaking both houses of Congress. Unpopular and accused of Communists influencing his administration, Truman's first reaction to the Republican victory was the creation of the Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty (TECL), which lasted from November 1946 until February 1947.

The commission aimed to develop methods of determining federal employee loyalty to the United States and set the standards for removing or barring individuals determined to be "disloyal" from Federal service. Special Assistant to the Attorney General, A. Devitt Vanech, chaired the commission. TECL heard testimony from law enforcement leaders, like the FBI, and leaders in many government agencies.

FBI Director J Edgar Hoover was very close to Vanech. Hoover constantly pushed to broaden the power and scope of the FBI and saw addressing Communism as an area ripe for FBI expansion. The TECL report resulted in considerable growth of the FBI's authority.

Executive Order 9835

TECL delivered their report to Truman on February 1, 1947, outlining what could be done about fears of subversive infiltration of the US government. They recommended that the potential for harm to be caused by even a single infiltrator was a sufficient cause to go ahead with a loyalty program.

Loyalty Review Board Executive Order 9835 StudySmarterFig. 2 - Truman's Signature on EO 9835.

On March 21, 1947, Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9835, creating the loyalty review program based on the TECL report. The order is commonly referred to as the "Loyalty Order". Those targeted by the order were not just Communist groups but any sort of influence declared hostile or subversive to the United States government.

Truman's private statements at the time indicated that he felt that there was no serious infiltration issue, leading most historians to view the executive order as a totally political move.

Loyalty Review Program

The Loyalty Review Program arising from Executive Order 9835 separated the work between the FBI and the loyalty review boards. Three stages of action resulted from the order: FBI background checks, FBI investigations, and Loyalty Review Boards. As the process escalated, many people withdrew from positions before a final decision was even made.

FBI Background Checks

The first step of the loyalty review program was a routine FBI background check on all federal employees. At the time, there were 2 million federal employees, but over 4 million employees would undergo background checks throughout the life of the loyalty board program under Executive Order 9835. Any association with a subversive organization could raise a red flag that would result in further action.

FBI Investigations

An FBI investigation would begin if anything noteworthy came up on a standard background check. Field investigations included interviews, wiretaps, and other methods. Over 27,000 such investigations occurred.

Loyalty Review Board Definition

The FBI sent its findings to a Loyalty Review Board, which had the power to conduct its own investigation. A current or potential government employee had to be notified in writing about the charges and be given a chance to defend themselves. However, suppose the specifics about the charges or the names of witnesses were decided to be a security issue. In that case, they could be withheld from the accused.

If the Board found "reasonable doubt" about the individual's loyalty to the United States, they faced dismissal from government service. Over 150 of these boards were distributed between different government agencies. They removed 378 people from current or potential jobs, and over 5,000 quit voluntarily at some point in the process.

Offenses

What sort of things interested the board? What kinds of activity ARE subversive? Doing or promoting the following activities are the types of things that loyalty review boards were concerned with:

  • Sabotage
  • Spying
  • Treason
  • Sedition
  • Sharing confidential information
  • Calling for violent government overthrow
  • Any association with fascist, communist, totalitarian, or subversive organizations.

Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations

To determine that an individual had a subversive association, the Board first had to decide what organizations were considered subversive. This list of subversive organizations was titled the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO), created under Attorney General Tom Clarke.

Loyalty Review Board Tom Clark StudySmarterFig. 3 - Attorney General Tom Clark.

Although the list became famous for its use during the loyalty program created by President Truman, a similar list was first compiled in 1940 to aid government hiring. Attempts were made to develop guidelines for what sorts of organizations should be on the list. Still, in the end, it was Justice Department officials' feelings about the organization's beliefs and not specific actions or even doing anything illegal.

Partial AGLOSO

  • Communist Party USA
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • German American Bund
  • National Negro Congress
  • Industrial Workers of the World
  • Silver Shirt Legion of America

The AGLOSO was created for federal use, but during the Red Scare, many state, local, and private employers used the list as well. The boards may have been focused on government employment, but they resulted from a paranoid atmosphere that pervaded society.

Concerns About the AGLOSO

Initially, the list was to be kept secret, which drew condemnation even from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's widow, Eleanor Roosevelt. New York City Mayor Fiorello Laguardia denounced that groups were not given a hearing before being placed on the list. He felt that many organizations belonged on the list but should have a chance to appeal. Newspapers such as the Washington Post hosted editorials condemning the list and its effect of guilt by association. As the list was created, the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against the lack of clear standards and definitions.

LGBTQ+ and Loyalty Review Boards

"Sexual perversion" was the broad terminology used in loyalty review that was generally coded for LGBTQ+ individuals. The LGBTQ+ community was seen as loyalty risks just for being themselves, even if they had no political affiliations. The reasoning was that their behaviors were not commonly accepted at the time, leaving them with parts of their lives that were often held in secret. The FBI felt that threatening to expose these secrets could be exploited by subversive organizations or foreign intelligence services to force cooperation.

End of Loyalty Boards

Initially, the US Supreme Court allowed Executive Order 9835 to continue in a 1950 tied vote. Truman had primarily created the Loyalty Review Board to answer Republican attacks that Democrats were allowing Communists to infiltrate the US government. Yet, it would be Republicans themselves who would end the program.

In 1953, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 in 1953, ending the Loyalty Review Boards. The sentiment still existed, though, as Eisenhower simply streamlined the process to be run by the US Office of Personnel Management with the aid of the FBI.

Loyalty Review Board - Key Takeaways

  • Created by Executive Order 9836 in 1947

  • Republicans made charges that many Communists were infiltrating the US government

  • Created by Truman as a response to Republican victories in the 1946 midterm elections

  • Expanded the scope of the FBI

  • FBI conducted background checks on Federal Employees

  • Loyalty Review Boards could fire employees with "reasonable doubt" as to their loyalty

References

  1. Special to the New York Times. "President Orders Purge of Disloyal from U.S. Posts", (November 26, 1946)

Frequently Asked Questions about Loyalty Review Board

A Loyalty Review Board was a panel that investigated links between current or potential federal employees and organizations deemed to subversive. 

Loyalty Review Boards investigated what political organizations current and potential government employees had been members of, as well aspect of their personal lives. 

The purpose of the Loyalty Review Board was to examine the backgrounds of federal employees for any connnection to groups considered subversive, or susceptibility to influnece by such groups. 

Loyalty Review Boards were created under Executive Order 9835 signed by President Harry Truman based on the findings of the Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty. 

Truman established Loyalty Review Boards as a response to Republican victories in the 1946 midterm elections, as Republicans had campaigned on Communist infiltration of the federal government. 

Final Loyalty Review Board Quiz

Question

What US President created the Loyalty Review Boards?

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Answer

Harry Truman

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Question

What political event led to the Loyalty Review Boards?

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Answer

Republican midterm victory in 1946

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Question

Loyalty Review Boards only targeted overtly Communist groups


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Answer

False 

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Question

What did Executive Order 9835 do?

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Answer

Created the Loyalty Review Program

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Question

What was the job of the Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty?

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Answer

Decide how best to find and remove employees deemed disloyal to the US federal government 

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Question

How did the US Supreme Court decide on the Emlpoyee Loyalty Program in 1950?


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Answer

In a tie vote the program was allowed to stand 

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Question

What President ended the Loyalty Review Boards?

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Answer

Dwight Eisenhower 

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Question

What Federal Agency had their authority expanded by the Loyalty Review Program?

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Answer

FBI

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Question

What was the AGLOSO?

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Answer

A list of subversive organizations used in background checks 

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Question

More people quit their jobs or applications during the loyalty review process than were forcibly removed 

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Answer

True 

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