The California State Investigating Committee on Education

Senator Donnelly: I think a good many taxpayers of the state of California feel perhaps we can get along without some of the higher education better than we can by having our children indoctrinated with communism and the professors in a subtle way instilling it into the minds of the children when they are in a formative stage.

Linus Pauling: Yes. You believe it is not right to adhere to the principles of democracy.

Senator Donnelly: No, I did not say anything such as that. I don’t believe any such thing.

Pauling: The right decision to be made is from the average decisions of all people without precluding those whom you would suppress because of their opinion and political beliefs.

Senator Donnelly: That is entirely a different manner, for a person to have an opinion and then to take a position of trust such as teachers have. As one of the…I don’t think it is necessary to have that kind of teacher.

Pauling: Good. Then if you have any case of a teacher of that sort, why not bring them before the board and present evidence?

-Excerpt from State of California’s Ninth Report of the Senate Investigating Committee on Education, 1950.

In 1950, the same year that his associate Sidney Weinbaum was convicted of perjury, Linus Pauling became increasingly involved with the controversy surrounding loyalty oaths for educators in the state of California. Specifically, Pauling spoke out against individual state and institutional policies where loyalty oaths were involved, and wrote letters of support to those who had been victimized by the process. He also made critical public statements about the composition of the University of California Board of Regents, the governing body of the California university system, comments that received ample attention in the media.

On the morning of November 13, in the midst of this activity, Pauling received a subpoena to appear before the California State Investigating Committee on Education (CSICE).

The CSICE committee was rooted in the California Fact-finding Committee on Un-American Activities. This committee (nicknamed the Tenney Committee because of the renowned tenacity of then-chairman Senator Jack Tenney) was the California equivalent of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and was itself a subcommittee formed out of the more general Research Committee of the California State Senate. It conducted investigations of organizations operating in California – such as the John Birch Society – considered to be radical or controversial.

In conjunction with its other investigations, the committee began building a file on Linus Pauling during the late 1940s. The file contained newspaper reports and speech transcripts that seemingly cast doubt on Pauling’s loyalty, and was frequently shared with the FBI as well as members of the anti-communist press. The Tenney file became a useful accessory for legislators and other parties harboring an interest in pursuing Pauling’s purported association with communists and communism.

Pauling was ordered to appear before the CSICE a few hours after being served his subpoena, leaving him practically no time to prepare for the engagement. On his way to the hearing, Pauling reasoned that he was being called to act as an expert witness in relation to loyalty oaths. The committee had recently held investigations examining the effects of loyalty oaths on public educators, and Pauling’s opposition to the oaths was explicit and a matter of public record.

To Pauling’s surprise however, he was questioned for roughly two hours about his views on general political topics. Following this initial session, there was then a recess for lunch, after which the tone and subject matter of the committee’s questioning changed and narrowed. After being asked several related questions, Pauling shared his view that communists should not be allowed to teach in public schools.

However, as part of the same argument, he claimed that keeping communists out of schools was not the intention of loyalty oaths. A real communist, Pauling insisted, would simply lie and take the loyalty oath to avoid detection by authorities. He was then asked if he had been aware of any suspicious activity at Caltech. After answering that he hadn’t, the committee reminded Pauling of his association with Sidney Weinbaum.  Later threads of questioning focused on his criticism of United States government policies and his support for Henry Wallace‘s presidential campaign.

Henry Wallace, 1940s.

Pauling had been a vocal supporter of Wallace during his presidential run in 1948.  Wallace had served as Secretary of Agriculture and then Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt before making his run for executive office as a candidate nominated by the Progressive Party. His platform advocated friendly relations with the Soviet Union, an end to the Cold War, an end to segregation and full voting rights for blacks as well as universal government health insurance.

During the campaign it was charged by many, including influential pundits H.L. Mencken and Dorothy Thompson, that Wallace and the Progressive Party were under covert control by communists. The Wallace campaign was in fact endorsed by the U.S. Communist Party, among many non-communist organizations, and Wallace controversially refused to publicly disavow the communist support. Wallace eventually lost the election to Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman, and in the wake of his unsuccessful campaign, support for Wallace was at times used to establish one’s association with communists or the Communist Party.

After discussing his controversial associations, the Committee at last came to their final question. Pauling was asked if he was then currently a member of the Communist Party, an unsettling inquiry into what Pauling believed were his personal political beliefs. In response, he offered the following justification in preparation for his answer:

It seems to me that as I was thinking about my colleagues at the University of California who were cut off one by one – after thousands of them had voted in opposition to the loyalty oath, they were cut off one by one by the successive advocation of threats that they would lose their jobs and were required to give up their principles as good American citizens, their beliefs – that this was political pressure being imposed, as I have thought about them. Finally, there were left just this little residue of the original number that were finally fired, a hundred or thereabouts. And as I have thought about them, I have tried to decide how long I would stick to my principles about the loyalty oath. I wasn’t able to decide how much strength of character I would have. You never know what you will do until the time arrives for you to do it. I saw man after man, who had spoken strongly against this loyalty oath, sign it when it became evident that he would lose his job if he did not sign it. Now, I feel that the same principle applies here, and I find it hard to decide myself whether to subject myself, perhaps legalistically, just because of a principle, to the difficulties that might arise.

Pauling chose to not answer the committee’s question, on the grounds that the preservation of democracy required him to refuse to answer questions about his personal political beliefs and affiliations without his consent.

Pauling viewed the Communist Party as a political organization, and felt that being forced to admit or disavow involvement with the organization violated his constitutional rights. Perhaps more importantly, Pauling suggested that answering such questions endangered every citizen’s rights to freely choose a political association without fear of reprisal from authority. He was consequently threatened with contempt, but still he refused to answer. The hearing was recessed, and Pauling’s fate was left in a state of limbo.

In fear of the possible contempt citation, Pauling wrote to a friend after the trial who offered him a relatively simple solution, which Pauling quickly acted upon. A statement was written to then Caltech President Lee DuBridge, in which Pauling disavowed involvement with communism or the Communist Party. Pauling also wrote that he did not disagree with the concept of loyalty oaths in general, only those that involved inquiry into political beliefs.

After writing the letter, Pauling read the voluntary statement out loud at a second hearing before the Committee on Education, storming out when he had finished. Afterwards, he received several letters of support and offers for help from friends and general admirers. It seems, however, that Pauling considered the matter closed. In response to a letter that offered testimony and protest on his behalf, Pauling wrote the following:

I am writing to thank you for your letter of December 8.  I thank you especially for indicating a desire to be of help. I am glad to say that I think there is no need for anything to be done, and that I shall not have any more trouble with this committee.

An interesting distinction to note is that Pauling’s main objection to the hearing proceedings was a feeling that he was being forced, unjustifiably, to publicly divulge personal information. It was not the particular content of the committee request, but rather the principle behind the inquiry that instigated his defiance.

Pauling’s experience before the California State Investigating Committee on Education also bears a striking resemblance to the ordeal he would endure nearly ten years later with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS). As with his future appearance before the SISS, Pauling was given suspiciously little time to prepare for his hearing after being delivered his subpoena. Pauling’s association with communism and the Communist Party was likewise a key point of controversy in both hearings, and in both sets of instances he boldly refused to submit to committee member requests.

In the end, it seems that his appearance before the California committee would set the tone for Pauling’s future involvement with government officials tasked with revealing the extent or existence of U.S. communist infiltration. If nothing else, the hearing provided Pauling with a practice run for the trying events that awaited him.

3 Responses

  1. […] Communist Party and Constitutional rights: The Pauling blog on The California State Investigaring committee on education Pauling viewed the Communist Party as a political organization, and felt that being forced to admit […]

  2. […] testimony provided by informants, collections of information from other entities such as the Tenney Committee, and researched material from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearing and […]

  3. […] before several government boards and committees. An FBI agent was in attendance at the 1950 California State Senate Committee on Education hearings where Pauling was questioned about his refusal to sign a loyalty oath – five pages […]

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