Hoover, J. Edgar
J. Edgar Hoover
Born January 1, 1895
Died May 2, 1972
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
J . Edgar Hoover joined the Bureau of Investigation (later called the Federal Bureau of Investigation) in 1917 and became its director in 1924. He would remain in that position for the next forty-eight years until his death in 1972, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Hoover transformed the organization from a scandal-ridden agency into an elite corps of highly regimented special agents. The American public was hungry for a return to law and order. Its confidence in law enforcement was badly shaken by the lawlessness of the Prohibition Era (1920–33), a period when liquor was illegal and organized crime grew wealthy by supplying Americans with various forms of alcohol. Then, just as Prohibition ended, outlaws began sweeping across America's Midwest, robbing banks and terrifying citizens. Hoover's agency ended the crime wave and restored public confidence in law enforcement.
During the later 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), along with many Americans, increasingly feared that the fascism taking hold in Germany and Italy and the communism of the Soviet Union could gain a foothold in the United States. Fascism is a political movement or regime characterized by dictatorship, militarism, and racism. Communism is a political and economic system in which the Communist Party controls almost all aspects of citizens' lives and private ownership of property is banned. U.S. leaders wanted American businesses to be able to compete and profit on a global scale. Therefore, neither fascism nor communism was compatible with America's democratic or capitalist values.
Roosevelt relied on Hoover to oversee the national security of the United States. Following World War II (1939–45), the democratic United States and the communist Soviet Union fought each other with words and threats. During this so-called Cold War (1945–91), Hoover and his agency staunchly guarded against the spread of communism to American soil. Preaching law and order, Hoover assumed the role of protector of America's democratic values. The legality of the FBI's activities, particularly undercover surveillance, or spying, was sometimes questioned. However, Hoover himself was esteemed for single-handedly establishing an internationally respected law enforcement agency.
John Edgar Hoover was the last of four children born to Dickerson Naylor Hoover and Annie Scheitlin Hoover; he arrived on New Year's Day in 1895 in Washington, D.C. The Hoover home was located on Capitol Hill, within blocks of the Library of Congress. Those who lived in the neighborhood, which was known as Seward Square, were predominantly white, middle-class Protestants who held government jobs. Hoover's father was a printer with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Hoover was a frail child, so his mother paid careful attention to him. She was his moral guide and disciplinarian. Hoover remained very close to his mother, living with her in the house where he was born for forty-three years until her death in 1938.
Efficient and effective
Hoover was very bright and graduated at the top of his class from the prestigious Central High School in 1913. After high school, Hoover worked as a file clerk at the Library of Congress and attended night classes at National University Law School, which later became part of George Washington University. He received his law degree in 1916 and a graduate degree in law in 1917. That same year, the United States entered World War I (1914–18). The Alien Enemy Bureau in the Department of Justice hired twenty-two-year-old Hoover to process newly arriving German and Austro-Hungarian immigrants; his job was to determine whether any of them might pose a threat to America.
Besides the world war, another event held America's attention in 1917: A revolution in Russia brought the communists to power. This heightened U.S. government leaders' fears that communist influence might also be growing in the United States. To alleviate these fears, the U.S. attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936), put Hoover in charge of the Justice Department's General Intelligence Division (GID). The GID's job was to track down, arrest, and deport alien radicals, citizens of other countries living in the United States who advocated extreme change. Hoover also became assistant to the attorney general in November 1918. In that position, Hoover planned and directed raids (known as the Palmer Raids) on foreign radicals in three U.S. cities in November 1919 and January 1920. The raids resulted in mass arrests and the deportation of some well-known anarchists. (Deportation is the act of sending illegal aliens out of the country. Anarchists are people who reject governmental authority.) Hoover's investigations for the GID made him the nation's premier expert in communist activities on the home front. The antiradical campaign ordered by Attorney General Palmer ended amid charges from the Justice Department that the civil liberties, or freedom from governmental interference, of those arrested had been disregarded. Nevertheless, through each assignment he undertook, Hoover had gained a reputation for being extremely efficient and effective.
Director of the Bureau of Investigation
In 1921, the attorney general placed the GID within the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) and appointed Hoover as the assistant director of BOI. Congress charged the agency with investigating federal crimes such as bank robberies, kidnapping, and car thefts. On May 10, 1924, at the age of twenty-nine, Hoover was appointed director of the BOI. The BOI was full of scandal and corruption. As director, Hoover worked diligently to improve the image and effectiveness of the organization. He raised the standards for agents and fired many whom he considered unqualified. He replaced them with an elite group of men who were mostly young, white, and college-educated. Hoover demanded total conformity and a strict moral code among his agents.
Hoover also brought scientific law enforcement techniques to the agency. He established a fingerprint identification department, modern investigation laboratories, and a system for maintaining comprehensive crime statistics. As a result, the BOI gained more importance and responsibility. Still, neither Hoover nor the BOI was well known outside government circles. Furthermore, the law placed severe limitations on the types of activities BOI agents could carry out. Agents could not make arrests or even carry guns. Often they found themselves assigned to trailing prostitutes or petty criminals. However, the role and activities of the BOI would change dramatically in the mid-1930s.
The economic hard times of the Great Depression (1929–41) spawned the rise of notorious outlaws in the Midwest in 1933 and 1934. Driving fast cars and carrying machine guns, they robbed isolated banks and service stations at will, leaving a bloody trail behind. Among the outlaws were Bonnie and Clyde, "Ma" Barker (1871–1935), "Machine Gun" Kelly (1895–1954), "Pretty Boy" Floyd (1901–1934), John Dillinger (1903–1934), and "Baby Face" Nelson (1908–1934). Seeking to raise the public's awareness of the BOI, Hoover targeted these high-profile criminals for maximum publicity benefit. BOI agents, who had only recently been authorized to carry weapons and make arrests, gunned down five of these outlaws in 1934: Bonnie and Clyde in May, Dillinger in July, Floyd in October, and Nelson in November. They shot and killed "Ma" Barker in 1935.
The BOI agents, including Hoover, became national heroes and received considerable media attention. The box office hit G-Men was released in 1935 (The term G-men was thought to stand for "government men.") Popular actor James Cagney (1899–1986) played a character who was patterned after Hoover. That same year, the BOI was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and its "G-men" became known as FBI agents. The FBI's successes and related publicity restored the public's confidence in law enforcement. To maintain his heroic image, Hoover would sometimes personally lead raids with the news media on hand. For example, a classic case of Hoover heroics occurred in 1937 when a top New York City criminal surrendered personally to Hoover. Reporters and photographers captured the entire event. To Americans, Hoover and his agents became larger-than-life heroes.
Despite his success against the Midwest outlaws and individual criminals, Hoover chose not to battle organized crime. By illegally supplying alcohol to Americans during Prohibition, organized crime had become incredibly wealthy and powerful. Hoover did not want to risk a poor showing in a battle against organized crime; this would have damaged the new positive image of the FBI. Instead, Hoover preferred to hunt down lawless individuals, who were much easier targets. Throughout his career, Hoover denied the existence of organized crime in the United States. This denial contributed to the rapid growth of organized crime, which continued to grow and prosper through the mid-twentieth century. The FBI did not earnestly enter the battle against organized crime until after Hoover's death.
Threats during World War II
In the 1930s, tensions in Europe rose as Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), leader of the Nazi Party, became the dictator of Germany. Fascism had taken hold in Germany and in Italy as well. Along with communism in the Soviet Union, fascism was seen as a threat to America's democratic principles. In the late 1930s and throughout World War II, President Roosevelt assigned the FBI to secretly monitor the activities of any communists or fascists in the United States. Hoover rose in prominence as the head of U.S. domestic counterintelligence (stopping enemies from spying or gathering secret information) and countersabotage (preventing enemy destruction of U.S. facilities). He compiled information on the daily habits and
organizational memberships of numerous people, searching for those who might turn into enemies of democracy. He kept lists of the names of "questionable" individuals. In 1942, FBI agents captured would-be criminals from Germany who had landed in a submarine on Long Island. Their capture received extensive coverage in the media; because of such coverage, the public believed that the FBI was on top of threats to the United States.
Protecting America in the Cold War
At the end of World War II, the Cold War began. The Cold War was a prolonged battle for world dominance between the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. Threats and propaganda were the chief weapons used in the conflict. The campaign against communism dominated Hoover's life, and in the late 1940s uncovering communist infiltration of the U.S. federal government was a high priority. Hoover's FBI investigated the backgrounds of numerous government employees. The Republican Party in particular supported these investigations and revived the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Congress. The HUAC was a congressional group established to investigate and root out any communist influences within the United States. Intent on exposing communists in such organizations as labor unions, Hoover eagerly supplied HUAC with information. Scoring yet another high-visibility case, Hoover and his FBI agents uncovered information on a spy ring that had funneled secret information from the Manhattan Project, the United States' secret atomic bomb project, to the Soviets. "Atomic spy" Klaus Fuchs (1911–1988) was exposed. Arrests in the case led to the conviction and execution of Julius Rosenberg (1918–1953) and Ethel Rosenberg (1915–1953), a husband and wife who were members of the spy ring.
To educate the public about the domestic threat of communism, Hoover authored a widely read book called Masters of Deceit (1958). The book sold 250,000 copies in hard-back and 2 million in paperback (through twenty-nine printings, ending in 1970). Loving the spotlight and publicity, Hoover also worked with the national media on the production of radio and television programs and Hollywood movies. These productions included The FBI Story (1959), starring Jimmy Stewart (1908–1997), and a popular television series, The FBI, which ran from 1965 to 1974.
Impressed with Hoover's success in combating all manner of criminal activities, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63; see entry) asked Hoover to investigate the Ku Klux Klan, an antiblack hate group in the United States. However, Hoover had his own ideas of whom to target next. More and more groups caught his attention as potential threats to traditional middle-American values. For example, Hoover targeted black American organizations such as the militant Black Panthers, as well as people protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1954–75). Hoover also waged a smear campaign, in which one attempts to tarnish another's reputation, against civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). Claiming that King had communist ties, Hoover tried to destroy King's credibility and career. Hoover continued his warnings about communists through the 1960s, but by then the American Communist Party had ceased to have any real influence in the United States. To many Americans, Hoover's warnings began to seem irrational and misplaced; Hoover no longer projected the calm, cool image of America's chief law enforcer.
In his forty-eighth year as director of the FBI (fifty-five years total working in the bureau), Hoover died in his sleep in Washington, D.C., his hometown. His body lay in state in the Capitol's Rotunda; one of only several dozen Americans who have received this honor. Throughout his career as head of the FBI, Hoover had worked hard to maintain a clean public reputation. However, casting a shadow of suspicion over his activities, Hoover ordered his personal secretary to destroy all his personal files upon his death. His tactics of surveillance, wiretapping (secretly listening to telephone conversations), and keeping detailed files on innocent citizens he deemed suspicious violated the civil liberties of many Americans.
After his death, Hoover became the subject of a Senate investigative committee in 1975 and 1976. The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities determined that Hoover had greatly abused his governmental authority and had violated the First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly (freedom to meet with others) by harassing those he considered a threat. Yet Hoover's positive contributions could not be overlooked. He organized and led an effective, elite federal law enforcement agency through nearly half a century of U.S. history.
For More Information
Nash, Jay R. A Critical Study of the Life and Times of J. Edgar Hoover and His FBI. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1972.
Powers, Richard Gid. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Free Press, 1987.
Sullivan, William C. The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover's FBI. New York: Norton, 1979.
Summers, Anthony. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1993.
Theoharis, Athan G., and John S. Cox. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
"FBI History." Federal Bureau of Investigation.http://www.fbi.gov/fbihistory.htm (accessed on September 5, 2003).
How to Fight Communism
As director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for almost thirty Cold War years, J. Edgar Hoover was charged with gathering information on possible communist influences within the United States, including people who were spying for communist countries. In 1947, Hoover wrote an article titled "How to Fight Communism," which was published in Newsweek magazine's June 9 issue. The article contains a list of "Ten 'Don'ts' by Mr. Hoover." A few of the "don'ts" included:
Don't let Communists in your organization or Labor union out-work, out-vote or out-number you.
Don't be hoodwinked by Communist propaganda that says one thing but means destruction of the American Way of Life. Expose it with the truth.
Don't give aid and comfort to the Communist cause by joining front organizations [groups that hide the identity of the actual cause], contributing to their campaign chests or by championing their cause in any way, shape or form.
Don't let Communists infiltrate into our schools, churches and [molders] of public opinion, the press, radio and screen.
Hoover, J. Edgar
J. Edgar Hoover
born january 1, 1895washington, d.c.
died may 2, 1972 washington, d.c.
director of the federal bureau of investigation
"Hoover directed the Bureau [Federal Bureau of Investigation] so long that he seemed fixed in the political landscape of Washington. The grim scowl was that of a man who had seen all evil, heard all evil, and could be counted on to warn of any evil that would put the nation in danger."
richard gid powers in secrecy and power: the life of j. edgar hoover
J. Edgar Hoover first joined the U.S. Department of Justice as a law clerk in 1917, rising to director of the Department's Bureau of Investigation (later the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI) by 1924. He would remain in that position for the next forty-eight years until his death in 1972, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Hoover transformed the bureau from an agency ridden with scandal to an elite corps of highly regimented Special Agents. The American public wanted protection from the outlaws of the early 1930s, and Hoover's agency was able to end the crime wave and restore public confidence in law enforcement. During the later 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) along with many other Americans feared that the fascism in Europe and the Communism of the Soviet Union could gain a foothold in the United States. (Fascism is a political system characterized by dictatorship, militarism, and racism. Soviet Communism was a political doctrine that aimed to eliminate private property so that goods would be equally available to all people. Such an economic system cannot co-exist with capitalism, which is primarily based on the private ownership of property and business.) Roosevelt relied on Hoover to oversee the national security of the United States. Following World War II (1939–45) the United States and the Soviet Union fought each other for several decades with words and threats. During this period of nonviolent hostility, referred to as the cold war (1945–91), Hoover and his agency staunchly guarded against the spread of communism to American soil. The FBI made a regular practice of undercover surveillance (spying) and maintaining secret files on citizens who seemed suspicious in any way. The legality of these and other activities was often questioned. Yet even amid these concerns, Hoover managed to single-handedly establish an internationally respected law enforcement agency.
John Edgar Hoover was the last of four children born to Dickerson Naylor Hoover and Annie Marie Scheitlin Hoover. He arrived on New Year's Day in 1895 in Washington, D.C. His family's home was located on Capitol Hill just behind the Library of Congress in a white, middle-class, Protestant neighborhood known as Seward Square.
Hoover's father was a printer with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Hoover's mother paid careful attention to her youngest child because he was frail. He also had a stuttering problem that he overcame by speaking very fast. As an adult Hoover would remain close to his mother, living with her in the house where he was born for forty-three years until her death in 1938.
Rising through the ranks
Hoover was very bright and graduated at the top of his class from the prestigious Central High School in 1913. After high school, Hoover got a job as a file clerk with the Library of Congress and attended night classes at National University Law School. He received his law degree in 1916 and a graduate degree in law the following year in 1917 just when the United States entered World War I (1914–18). That same year the Alien Enemy Bureau in the Department of Justice hired twenty-two-year-old Hoover to process newly arriving German citizens to determine if any of them might pose a threat to America. Also in 1917, a revolution brought the Communists to power in Russia. Federal government leaders feared that the Communist influence might spread to the United States. The General Intelligence Division (GID) was established within the Justice Department to track down, arrest, and deport alien radicals. U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer chose Hoover to head the agency. Hoover also became assistant to the attorney general in November 1918. In that position Hoover planned and directed raids on foreign anarchists and communists in three U.S. cities in November 1919 and January 1920. The raids resulted in mass arrests, and some well-known anarchists (those who oppose government rule over individuals) were deported (officially forced to leave the country). The investigations Hoover conducted during this period made him the nation's expert in communist activities taking place in the United States. He held this role for the rest of his life. His campaign against radicals ended amid charges that he and other law enforcement officials were disregarding the civil liberties of the accused. Nevertheless, Hoover, despite his youth, had gained a reputation of being extremely efficient and effective in each assignment he undertook.
In 1921 the attorney general placed the GID within the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) and appointed Hoover assistant director of the BOI. The BOI would be renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935. Congress gave the agency the task of investigating federal crimes such as bank robberies, kidnappings, and car thefts. At twenty-nine years of age Hoover rose to the director's position on May 10, 1924. The BOI was filled with scandal and corruption. As director, Hoover worked diligently to improve the image and effectiveness of the organization. He raised the standards for agents by firing those he considered unqualified and replacing them with an elite group of men who were mostly young, white, and college-educated. Hoover also brought scientific law enforcement techniques to the agency, establishing a fingerprint identification department, modern investigation laboratories, and maintenance of comprehensive crime statistics. As a result, the BOI was able to take on greater responsibilities. Under Hoover's leadership it had become an important and prestigious agency.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation
The catastrophic attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, brought the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) chief concern—national security—into clear focus. It is the FBI's responsibility to investigate over two hundred categories of federal crime, and domestic terrorism has top priority. It is the FBI's job to defend the United States against any similar attack in the future and against the threat of nuclear, biological, or chemical attack.
For almost a century, the FBI saw its mission grow and shift as new threats to the United States arose. The agency had its beginnings in 1908, when the U.S. attorney general hired thirty-four special law enforcement agents to work within the U.S. Justice Department. In March 1909 they were given the name Bureau of Investigation (BOI), and in 1935 the name was changed to Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI headquarters, located in Washington, D.C., provides direction and support to fifty-six field offices, several hundred related agencies, four specialized field facilities, and over forty foreign offices. The foreign offices work with American and local authorities on federal crimes. At the start of the twenty-first century, the FBI had 11,400 Special Agents and over 16,400 other employees including professional, administrative, technical, and maintenance positions. About 9,800 of these employees worked at the Washington headquarters, and the other 18,000 worked in the numerous field offices.
Training for agents is provided at the FBI National Academy located in Quantico, Virginia. The academy was founded on July 29, 1935, by J. Edgar Hoover, and twenty-three students were enrolled that year. By 1999 the program had graduated over 32,000 students. The academy has a strong reputation among international law enforcement; 128 foreign countries send trainees through the program. The curriculum includes eleven weeks of training for higher-level law enforcement officers. To qualify for FBI Special Agent training, a candidate must be between twenty-three and thirty-seven years of age, meet certain physical requirements, and hold a college degree.
Restoring confidence in law enforcement
The economic hard times of the Great Depression spawned the rise of notorious outlaws in the Midwest in 1933 and 1934. Driving fast cars and carrying machine guns, they robbed isolated banks and service stations, leaving a bloody trail behind. Among the outlaws were Bonnie and Clyde, "Ma" Barker, George "Machine Gun" Kelly (1895–1954), Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd (1901–1934), John Dillinger (1903–1934), and George "Baby Face" Nelson (1908–1934). Hoover, seeking to raise the public's awareness of the BOI, targeted these well-known criminals to gain the maximum publicity benefit for his agency. With the help of the Texas Rangers, BOI agents, only recently authorized to carry weapons and make arrests, shot and killed Bonnie and Clyde in May 1934. BOI agents then gunned down Dillinger in July 1934, Floyd in October 1934, Nelson in November 1934, and Barker in 1935.
The agents, including Hoover, became national heroes and the subjects of considerable media attention. The movie G-Men, released in 1935, features a main character (played by James Cagney, 1904–1986) who is patterned after Hoover. "G-men" reportedly was short for government men. The movie was a big box-office hit. That same year the BOI was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and its G-men became known as FBI agents. The FBI's successes and related publicity helped restore public confidence in law enforcement that had been badly shaken by the lawlessness of the Prohibition era (1920–33) when organized crime supplied much of the population with banned liquor. To maintain his heroic image, Hoover would at times personally lead raids with reporters on hand. For example, a classic case of heroics for Hoover occurred in 1937, when a top New York City criminal surrendered personally to Hoover just as one of his primary critics, New York State attorney general Thomas Dewey (1902–1971), was closing in. Newspaper reporters and photographers were on hand to record the event.
Despite his success against the Midwest outlaws and individual criminals, Hoover chose not to attack organized crime. By supplying banned alcohol to Americans during the years of Prohibition, between 1920 and 1933, organized crime had become incredibly wealthy and powerful. By taking on such a powerful adversary, Hoover might have jeopardized the new winning image of the FBI. Instead he focused on the easier targets of lawless individuals. Hoover denied the existence of organized crime in the United States, and he continued to deny it throughout his career. This denial contributed to the growth of organized crime, which continued to prosper through the mid-twentieth century. The FBI did not earnestly enter the battle against organized crime until after Hoover's death.
Threats from abroad
Tensions in Europe rose during the 1930s as Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), leader of the Nazi Party, became the dictator of a fascist Germany. President Franklin D. Roosevelt assigned the FBI to secretly monitor the activities of fascists in the United States. Hoover rose in prominence as the head of domestic counterintelligence (preventing enemies from gathering information), counterespionage (detecting and preventing enemy spying), and countersabotage (preventing enemy destruction of U.S. facilities) in the United States. He compiled information on the daily habits and organizational memberships of numerous people, searching for those who might turn into enemies of democracy. In 1942 FBI agents captured German saboteurs who had landed in a submarine near Long Island, New York. This incident received great attention in the media and gave the public confidence that the FBI was on top of threats to the U.S. homeland.
Protecting America from communism
World War II was followed by the cold war (1945–91), a prolonged struggle for world dominance between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were words of propaganda and threats. The campaign against communism dominated Hoover's life. In the late 1940s the FBI investigated the backgrounds of numerous government employees, checking for communist infiltration of the U.S. federal government. The Republican Party in particular supported these investigations and established the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Congress. Hoover eagerly supplied HUAC with information, intent on exposing communists in labor unions and other organizations. In another high-visibility case, Hoover uncovered an atomic spy ring seeking to sell nuclear bomb secrets to foreign nations. The arrests led to convictions and executions in 1953 of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. To educate the public about the domestic threat of Communism, Hoover authored a widely read book, Masters of Deceit, in 1958. In twelve years and twenty-nine printings the book sold 250,000 copies in hard-back and two million in paperback. Still seeking positive publicity to maintain his public prestige, Hoover worked with the national media on the production of radio and television programs and Hollywood movies. These productions included The FBI Story (1959), starring James Stewart (1908–1997), and a popular television series, The FBI, that ran from 1965 to 1974.
Noting Hoover's success in weeding out hidden threats, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) directed Hoover to target the Ku Klux Klan, an antiblack terrorist hate group. Hoover identified more and more groups that he believed threatened traditional American values. He targeted black American organizations such as the militant Black Panthers and protesters opposing the Vietnam War (1954–75). Hoover also waged a smear campaign against civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). Claiming King had communist ties, he tried to destroy King's credibility and career.
Hoover was in his forty-eighth year as director of the FBI when he died in his sleep in Washington, D.C., in May 1972. His body lay in state in the Capitol's rotunda, an honor given to only twenty-one Americans in the history of the United States. Hoover had worked hard to maintain a clean public reputation through the many decades he served as the head of the FBI. However, casting a shadow of suspicion over his past activities as head of the agency, Hoover ordered his personal secretary to destroy all of his personal files upon his death. His tactics of surveillance, wiretaps (secretly listening to telephone conversations), and keeping detailed files on numerous citizens never charged with crimes had posed a major threat to civil liberties. After his death, in 1975 and 1976, Hoover became the subject of a Senate investigative committee, the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. The committee determined that Hoover greatly abused his governmental authority, violating the civil liberties of free speech and association (freedom to meet with others) by harassing those he considered a threat.
For More Information
nash, jay r. a critical study of the life and times of j. edgar hoover and hisfbi. chicago, il: nelson-hall, 1972.
powers, richard gid. secrecy and power: the life of j. edgar hoover. new york, ny: free press, 1987.
sullivan, william c. the bureau: my thirty years in hoover's fbi. new york, ny: norton, 1979.
summers, anthony. official and confidential: the secret life of j. edgarhoover. new york, ny: g. p. putnam's sons, 1993.
theoharis, athan g., and john s. cox. the boss: j. edgar hoover and thegreat american inquisition. philadelphia, pa: temple university press, 1988.
federal bureau of investigation.http://www.fbi.gov (accessed on september 8, 2002).
Hoover, J. Edgar
Hoover, J. Edgar 1895-1972
John Edgar Hoover was born in Washington, D.C., on January 1, 1895, and died there on May 2, 1972. He served as director of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (BOI)—known after 1935 as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—from 1924 until his death. During his long tenure he greatly expanded the bureau, giving to it much of its modern identity, but he was also the focus of a great deal of controversy because of his autocratic leadership style and his frequent abuses of power in the name of fighting subversion.
After earning a law degree from George Washington University in 1917, Hoover joined the Justice Department during World War I (1914–1918), working in (and briefly heading) its Enemy Aliens Registration Section. Two years later he was chosen as head of the newly established General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department. In this capacity, he was involved in the Palmer Raids (1919–1920), during the course of which U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936) ordered the arrest of thousands of radical political figures, violating their civil rights, and deporting hundreds who were not U.S. citizens. Hoover’s role in this effort eventually led to his appointment by President Calvin Coolidge as the sixth director of the Bureau of Investigation in May of 1924.
As director of the BOI, Hoover expanded the bureau’s staff. He also modernized its methods of conducting criminal investigations by, among other things, establishing what would become the FBI Laboratory and amassing, in the bureau’s Identification Division, an enormous collection of criminal’s fingerprints. The bureau rose to prominence during what is often referred to as the “lawless decade” of the 1920s, and during the 1930s it engaged in a number of high-profile battles with such famous criminals of the Depression era as John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, Bonny Parker and Clyde Barrow, and Machine Gun Kelly. After its name change to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935, the bureau became increasingly a part of the American vocabulary.
During World War II (1939–1945) the bureau played an important role in domestic surveillance, and its efforts led to the capture of a number of Nazi agents and saboteurs working undercover in the United States. In the years following the war, however, Hoover’s war against subversion took a more controversial turn. During the late 1940s and early 1950s he became deeply involved in the anti-Communist movement known popularly as McCarthyism —after the reckless, witch hunt methods of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin (1908–1957). In the name of rooting out Communist subversion, Hoover authorized illegal wiretapping and spying on thousands of suspected Communists. In the second half of the 1950s he expanded his area of concern to the emerging civil rights movement, which he also believed to be subversive in character. He sought to discredit the work of the early civil rights leader T. R. M. Howard (1908–1976), and later made similar efforts against Martin Luther King Jr.
Hoover served during the administrations of eight presidents, and while several of these individuals—especially Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon—felt that he had grown too powerful, none was able or willing to remove him from office, due in part to his and the FBI’s near-iconic status in the mind of the average American. Celebrations of the FBI in American popular culture that contributed to this status included a long-running radio program (The FBI in Peace and War, 1944–1958), a popular television series (The F.B.I., 1965–1974), and a 1959 film, The FBI Story, starring the well-known Hollywood actor James Stewart. Hoover himself was the author of several books, among them the best-selling Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It (1958).
Hoover’s management style at the bureau was highly autocratic, and he was greatly feared by those who worked for him. Following his death in 1972, Clyde Tolson (1900–1975), his longtime friend and associate FBI director, succeeded him as director.
In the years following Hoover’s death the controversies surrounding his life and career have continued to grow. Among them, suggestions of homosexuality (in Anthony Summers’s Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover ) and possible African American ancestry (in Millie McGhee’s Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover—Passing for White? ) have rendered particularly ironic Hoover’s use of information regarding sexual orientation as a means of attacking or intimidating political opponents and his strong opposition to the postwar civil rights movement.
Garrow, David J. 1981. The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis. New York: W. W. Norton.
McGhee, Millie L. 2000. Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover—Passing for White? Rancho Cucamonga, CA: Allen-Morris.
Powers, Richard Gid. 1983. G-Men: Hoover’s FBI in American Popular Culture. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Summers, Anthony. 1993. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Theoharis, Athan G., and John Stuart Cox. 1988. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Hoover, J. Edgar
J. Edgar Hoover
Born January 1, 1895 (Washington, D.C.)
Died May 2, 1972 (Washington, D.C.)
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
During his tenure J. Edgar Hoover built the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. Appointed director in 1924, he held the position for nearly fifty years, through eight presidents beginning with Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29) and ending with Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74).
"I have observed the rise of international communism with great concern, particularly communist efforts to infiltrate and infect our American way of life."
Though gaining great fame for his apprehension of several famous outlaws, Hoover's primary notoriety as the nation's leading law officer came from attacking potential criminal activity by political radicals over several decades. Hoover contributed to national stability and security during the intense international and domestic emergencies of the Bolshevik Revolution (takeover of Russia by communists), the Nazi threat of World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allied forces defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Cold War (1945–91). The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry from 1945 to 1991 between the United States and the Soviet Union falling just short of military conflict.
Communism is a governmental system in which a single party controls all aspects of society. In economic theory, it bans private ownership of property and businesses so that goods produced and wealth accumulated are shared equally by all.
Hoover is also considered one of the leading innovators in American governmental history for his application of science and technology to police work. The FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., is named the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
Born on Capitol Hill
John Edgar Hoover was born in Washington, D.C., on January 1, 1895. Annie Marie Scheitlin Hoover and Dickerson Naylor Hoover had four children and Edgar was the youngest. Everyone in the family, except his mother, called him J. E. The family lived at 413 Seward Square, a row house located behind the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill.
Dickerson, like his father before him, worked for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. He was chief of the printing division but was forced to resign in 1917 following a mental breakdown. Annie was the greatest influence on young Edgar. She held old-fashioned values and made sure her children did too. Edgar stuttered as a youth but overcame the problem when he read an article that said talking faster not slower would help, and it worked.
Edgar was frail and not athletic as a child, but he put his energy into areas where he knew he could excel. Working after school delivering groceries, he found the more trips he made the more tips he received. So he would work fast to make as much money as possible each day. That, along with his rapid speech, earned him the nickname "Speedy."
Edgar took up debate and by his junior year at Central High School led the debate team. Hoover found that if he could dominate a conversation he could control it, and that became his trademark. His main interest in high school was the school cadet corps where he moved quickly up through the ranks. By the start of his senior year, Edgar passed the ROTC officers' exam, was promoted to captain, and given command of Company B of the Central High School Cadet Regiment. In 1913 he led his unit in President Woodrow Wilson's (1856–1924; served 1913–21) first inaugural parade. Young Edgar was promoted to command Company A and served as valedictorian (one who graduates at the top of his or her class).
The Justice Department
Hoover worked at the Library of Congress for five years while attending night school at George Washington University. He received a law degree in 1916 and went on to earn a master's degree in law before passing the bar exam (a test to determine suitability to practice law in a state) in 1917. In July of that year, three months after the United States entered World War I (1914–18), Hoover obtained a draft-exempt position with the Alien Enemy Bureau of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ would be his only employer in a Washington career exceeding fifty-five years.
The Palmer Raids
America was affected by a series of severe social conflicts following World War I. Skyrocketing prices, nationwide strikes, revolutions throughout much of Europe and signs of a serious threat from radicals at home created a sense that the nation was under attack. Passage of both Prohibition (Eighteenth Amendment, making alcohol illegal) and Women's Suffrage (Nineteenth Amendment giving women right to vote) in 1919 reflected a change in the national character.
The fear of communism and political conspiracies ran high, in a phenomenon called the "Red Scare" from the association of Soviet communism with the color red, later a prominent color of the Soviet Union's flag. The perceived threat of a communist menace escalated in 1919 with a series of bombings against leading politicians. Public outcry reached fever pitch on the evening of June 2, 1919, when a number of bombs were detonated within an hour of each other in eight eastern cities, including Washington, D.C. One bomb partially destroyed the home of newly appointed attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936).
With President Woodrow Wilson preoccupied with the World War I peace treaty and bedridden by strokes, the nation's problems fell under the jurisdiction of the attorney general. New to his position, Palmer depended on the advice of his employees. He assembled a new General Intelligence Division (GID) at the Department of Justice with responsibility for investigating the strength of radical political organizations in the United States.
Palmer recruited J. Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and appointed him chief of the GID. By the fall of 1919 Hoover reported that radicals posed a real threat to the U.S. government. He advised drastic action be taken against a possible revolution. Under intense pressure from Congress and the public, Palmer clamped down on political dissent and agreed to deport many alien (foreign) radicals. Because the peace treaty had not yet been signed, Palmer decided that he could make use of extraordinary wartime powers under the Sedition Act of 1918 and the Espionage Act of 1917.
These acts made it a crime to interfere with military forces or promote the success of enemies of the United States. Palmer and Hoover orchestrated a series of well-publicized raids against any socialist supporter deemed capable of carrying out terrorist acts.
The "Palmer Raids" were conducted in over thirty cities nationwide with the arrests made by members of the Justice Department along with local police. The raids came without warning and focused on aliens rather than citizens whenever possible. Thousands of suspected radicals were arrested, most without proper arrest warrants and held without trial for up to four months. After investigation of each case by the Labor Department, the majority of those held were released.
In December 1919 only 248 of those arrested were actually deported. They were placed on a ship called the Buford bound for the Soviet Union. The public lost interest by the spring of 1920 as further terrorist attacks failed to materialize. By the fall when a bomb exploded on Wall Street, most American's considered the attack to be an assault by a deranged individual rather than a socialist conspiracy.
With many of America's youth at war, the DOJ was understaffed and Hoover's rise was rapid. He was placed in charge of a unit in the Enemy Alien Registration Section and by 1919 was appointed chief of the new General Intelligence Division (GID). He was special assistant to attorney general and presidential hopeful A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936). At the age of twenty-four, Hoover was given responsibility for directing a newly formed section to gather evidence on revolutionary and politically radical groups.
Earlier, while working at the Library of Congress, Hoover had mastered the Dewey decimal system (a numbering system for cataloguing library books) with its classifications and numbered subdivisions. Hoover decided to use that system as a model to create a massive card index of people with radical political views. Over time 450,000 names were indexed. Detailed biographical notes were written on the 60,000 he considered the most dangerous.
From these lists Hoover directed the arrests of suspected radical communists who were caught in the dragnet of the so-called "Palmer Raids" (raids in over thirty cities on aliens known or suspected of being political radicals resulting in thousands of arrests; see sidebar). From the court records in subsequent trials, Hoover also added to his files the names of hundreds of lawyers who had been willing to represent radicals.
His firsthand investigation of American and foreign communists, along with the intelligence files he began gathering, made him the government's first expert on domestic communism.
The Palmer Raids had the desired effect of reducing membership of the American Communist Party. Hoover was rewarded by being promoted to the post of assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) in 1921. At that time the BOI employed mostly law school graduates and accountants and had limited power in law enforcement. The agency's main function was to investigate criminal violations of federal law.
Scandal and corruption—being bought off by criminals, particularly bootleggers, to look the other way—triggered reorganization of the bureau in 1924 and Hoover, at the age of twenty-nine, was named director. He set about establishing a world-class crime fighting organization. The first order of business was to reestablish and strengthen the chain of command. At the top of the agency was the Seat of Government (SOG), which was the Washington headquarters of the BOI, headed by the director and the assistant director.
He established a standardized system for all field offices and introduced personal standards for agents in dress as well as conduct. His special agents, known as "G-Men" (from government men), were ordered to wear the official uniform. This included a white shirt, dark suit, snap-brim hat, and a handkerchief in the jacket pocket.
Hoover obtained increased funding from Congress and proceeded to modernize the bureau. He built a world-renowned fingerprint identification unit, a pioneering crime laboratory, and a system for gathering and analyzing national crime statistics. In 1934, due to public reaction to gangster activity, Congress passed a package of nine major crime bills. These bills gave the federal government a comprehensive criminal code and Hoover's BOI a greatly expanded mandate, including counterespionage duties. The newly empowered bureau was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935.
Personal changes were occurring at home for Hoover as well. His father died in 1935 and Hoover continued living with his mother until her death in 1938.
President Harry Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) pulled the FBI back into domestic intelligence investigations in 1947 when he created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to deal with foreign intelligence. Angered, Hoover withheld cooperation, beginning a long history of animosity between the two agencies.
Hoover accumulated enormous power over the years, in part from his secret files that catalogued vast amounts of personal data on influential social and political leaders. The files, titled "Official/Confidential" (OC), were rumored but not
verified until after his death when his assistants destroyed them. He was a master of publicity and used everything from "junior G-man" clubs for boys, to his "ten most wanted" list, to the television series The FBI, to promote the Bureau. His power was sustained over the years by his uncanny understanding of the values, hopes, and fears of the vast majority of ordinary Americans.
As time passed Hoover became extremely sensitive to criticism, susceptible to flattery, and was feared both in and out of the bureau. His agents knew never to publicly criticize or embarrass the FBI or its director. Within the FBI, Hoover expressed his views on reports from assistants in bright blue ink reserved solely for his use. He would write in the margins of memorandums on all four borders around a typewritten sheet. Once an assistant filled the page to the edges so Hoover barely had room for a comment. He responded, "Watch the borders." Puzzled but obedient, his aides dispatched agents to patrol the Canadian and Mexican borders for a week.
Hoover became a national hero during the 1930s with the FBI crackdown on notorious gangsters. Then during the 1940s and 1950s he was well known for his anticommunist views with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an organization that relied heavily on information provided by the FBI. But Hoover began losing political support in the 1960s with his disregard for the Civil Rights movement.
The Civil Rights movement was a wide-ranging protest in the 1950s and early 1960s by private citizens contesting discriminatory laws against black Americans and city ordinances limiting their use of public facilities. The movement's civil disobedience strategies, including sit-ins blocking the access of others, boycotts of services, and demonstrations in the streets, led to direct confrontations with law authorities. Hoover's reputation was further damaged following revelations of his personal campaign to destroy civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s (1929–1968) career.
J. Edgar Hoover was director of the FBI from May 10, 1924, until his sudden death on May 2, 1972, at the age of seventy-seven. Both houses of Congress voted permission for Hoover's body to lie in the Capitol Rotunda for viewing by the public. Amid the eulogies, the Senate voted to name the new FBI building for the late director. J. Edgar Hoover was buried alongside his parents in Congressional Cemetery, just thirteen blocks from the row house where he had been born.
A Senate report in 1976 was highly critical of Hoover, accusing him of using the Justice Department to illegally harass political nonconformists in the United States. Many believed Hoover's long career included government abuse of authority and a disregard for individual civil liberties. Congress enacted legislation requiring Senate confirmation of future FBI directors and limited their terms to ten years.
For More Information
Gentry, Curt. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.
Sullivan, William C. The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover's FBI. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979.
"Crackdown!" Smithsonian Magazine.http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues02/feb02/red_scare.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).
"J. Edgar Hoover." New York Times Obituary.http://nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0101.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).
Hoover, J. Edgar
J. Edgar Hoover
Excerpt from "How to Fight Communism"
Originally published in Newsweek, June 9, 1947
"Our best defense in the United States against the menace of Communism is our own American way of life. The American Communists cannot hope to reach their objective of destroying our form of government unless they first undermine and corrupt it, causing confusion and disrupting public confidence in the workings of democracy."
P ublished in Newsweek magazine's June 9, 1947, issue, "How to Fight Communism" by J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972) attempted to educate Americans about communists in the United States and the threat they posed. Hoover was head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Asked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) in the mid-1930s to monitor the activities of communists and other potential subversives within the United States, the focused and energetic Hoover undertook the mission. Hoover and his FBI agents became the chief domestic (within the United States) intelligence-gathering agency. They compiled information on the daily comings and goings of hundreds of individuals, always watching for those who might turn into enemies of democracy. Hoover kept lists of questionable individuals.
At the end of World War II (1939–45), the Cold War (1945–91) between the democratic United States and the communist Soviet Union began. The weapons of the Cold War immediately following the world war were chiefly words of propaganda and threats. Hoover developed close working
relationships with conservative congressmen who helped maintain a considerable budget for the FBI. In 1946, Hoover launched a major propaganda campaign against communists using media such as radio programs, television, and magazine articles.
In this excerpt from "How to Fight Communism," Hoover stated that the best way to fight communism was to strengthen the American way of life. He said that America stood between free societies and a worldwide communist takeover. Hoover described two types of communists: those "out in the open" who spoke in "high sounding phrases" and the underground "communist conspirators." He stated that the communists were trying "to bring their total membership in the United States up to 100,000" but probably had one million sympathizers. He praised the press and the HUAC as doing outstanding jobs in educating Americans of the dangers and of exposing subversives. Lastly, Hoover stressed to Americans that they must work to "uncover, expose and spotlight" communists.
Things to remember while reading "How to Fight Communism":
- The campaign against communism dominated Hoover's life.
- The American public believed Hoover's FBI was the major government fighter and protector against threats made by communists against the U.S. homeland.
- Hoover freely used various tactics of surveillance, or spying, such as wiretaps (secretly listening to telephone conversations), break-ins, and the maintenance of extensive files on citizens never charged with any crimes. In the introduction to the Newsweek article, the magazine stated that "Hoover, who however controversial his views, is the one responsible Federal official most directly concerned with communists and communism."
Excerpt from "How to Fight Communism"
Our best defense in the United States against the menace of Communism is our own American way of life. The American Communists cannot hope to reach their objective of destroying our form of government unless they first undermine and corrupt it, causing confusion and disrupting public confidence in the workings of democracy.
Ours is the strongest democracy. We have more freedom and higher standards of living than any other people on earth. Yet our government—which has stood for almost two centuries as a beacon light amid world conflicts—is a central target of attack for the Red Fascists in the United States. It stands between them and world revolution.…
Our surest weapon is truth. The Communists cannot endure the searching gaze of public observation. Their most effective work is carried on under a cloak of secrecy. Lies and deceit are their principal tools. No trick is too low for them. They are masters of the type of evasion advocated by that great god of Communism, [Vladimir] Lenin, who observed: "Revolutionaries who are unableto combine illegal forms of struggle with every form of legal struggle are very bad revolutionaries."
The first step in the fight to preserve the American way of life is the exposure of the true aims of Communism and then a contrast of them with our American way of life.
There are two levels in the Communist organization. One level is "above ground" and its espousers are out in the open. They employ high-sounding, deceitful phrases.… The Communist brigades of swindlers and confidence men extol democracy but when they do they are speaking of Communism and not the American brand of democracy. They conceal their real designs by attaching themselves to progressive causes, to the cause of labor, social security and education.
The other level—the Communist underground—is composed of the disciplined brigades of Communist conspirators who drop their dialectical double talk behind locked doors. There the dangers of Communism become real.…
The preamble of the Communist constitution also states that the party educates the working class "for its historic mission, the establishment of socialism. " This "historic mission" is a revolution intended to overthrow our democratic government and substitute a Soviet of the United States.
The fact that the Communists teach the revolution by force and violence is well illustrated by statements of Communist functionaries. One instructor advised his class: "We must as workers learn to hate the capitalist class. We cannot fight unless we hate. We … the vanguard of the working class must teach the worker … to hate. It will mean the spilling of blood. We will have streets of blood as they had in Russia, the worker must be organized so that revolution when it comes must not be a failure."
The Communists are agreed that the revolution will not come until the precipitation of a "great crisis" such as a general strike, a war which could be turned into civil strife, or a great economic depression.
Our cue is to make democracy work so that the Communists will never have their "great crisis."
The Communists have been specific in defining the meaning of party membership. The Daily Worker [Communist Party newspaper] quoted [Joseph] Stalin on the subject: "We have Lenin's thoroughlytried and tested formula defining a member of the party.… A member is one who accepts the program of the party, pays membership dues and works in one of its organizations."…
The Communists are now carrying a vigorous campaign to bring their total membership in the United States up to 100,000. This figure, however, does not reveal their actual strength. Conservatively, there are an estimated one million others who in one way or another aid the Communist party.…
We cannot hope successfully to meet the Communist menace unless there is a wide knowledge and understanding of its aims and designs. This knowledge outlaws the party in the hearts and minds of good citizens.
But where can this information be secured?
The American press and radio are alert to the threat of Red Fascism and have done a splendid job of exposing the evil. We are moving in the right direction.
I have also been encouraged to note that spokesmen generally are being circumspect in using the label of "Communist."… It is deceptive and detrimental, however, to pin the label of "Communist" on honest American liberals and progressives merely because of difference of opinion. Honesty and common decency demand that the clear-cut line of demarcation that exists between liberals and Communists be recognized. Despite the Communist technique of labeling themselves as progressives there is no more effective or determined foe of Communism than the millions of honest liberals and progressives.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and scores of well-documented books on the subject of Communism are sources of authentic information which can provide patriotic citizens with the facts.
There is renewed interest in Congress as manifested in the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives. As this committee fulfills its obligation of public disclosure of facts it is
worthy of the support of loyal, patriotic Americans. This committee has for its purpose the exposure of un-American forces and as such its files contain voluminous information which, when used with discretion, provide an excellent source of information. The FBI, unlike this committee, must of necessity keep the contents of its files confidential.
Citizens also should be alert to what is happening in their own circles. Do they have an intelligent, participating interest in the programsof organizations to which they belong and of schools which their children attend? What kind of people do they elect to public office? Are there disloyal people on the public payrolls?
It is the right and responsibility of every citizen to insist on having public servants whose first loyalty is to the American way of life. One disloyal local, county, state or Federal employee can do irreparable harm by acts of disloyalty or by indoctrinating others with a Marxian philosophy.
Labor unions have always been a Communist target.…
Communists in labor unions—like Communists everywhere—owe their first allegiance to the Communist party. They falsely claim that the ends of the party and of labor are the same.…
In one union with nearly 100,000 members, 500 party members were able to control the union. Another union with 8,500 members sought to free itself from Communist control but failed despite the fact that there were less than 200 party members in the union.…
Progressive American union members could quickly divest themselves of the Communist barnacles if they took as much interest in union affairs as the Communists do.
They should educate themselves to recognize the Communist party line so that they can identify the "fellow travelers" in their union. They should attend union meetings and take an unselfish interest in union elections. Above all, they should scrutinize the business affairs of the union to make certain that the union is using its resources for the welfare of its members and not for some "dressedup" cause the Communists may be sponsoring.
Management can do more by looking out for the welfare of employees and getting closer to labor problems.…
The party sometimes recruits members by misrepresentations. A Negro party member, for instance, pointed out at a Communist meeting that many Negroes, when recruited, thought they were joining a union instead of the Communist party. At this point the Negro was shouted down by party members.
Schools and colleges should be on the alert against Communist infiltration .… Parents should take a greater interest in school affairs and know what organizations attract their children. Communists recruit future members through the high-sounding youthauxiliary, the American Youth for Democracy, formerly known as the Young Communist League.
The churches of America also are threatened by Communism.…
The churches of America should remember that the Communists' protestation of freedom of religion is a camouflage for their true thoughts. Lenin taught: "We must combat religion—this is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently Marxism." "Down with religion!" "Long live atheism!" "The dissemination of atheist views is our chief task."…
No organization worthy of its name has been immune from Communist attempts to infiltrate. The more respected the organization, the greater should be the vigilance.
Once organizations are captured by Communists, patriotic members have one of two alternatives: resign or organize to regain control. Their members would vote for officers who stand for the Constitution of the United States and not the Communist Manifesto .
If there were to be a slogan in the fight against Communism it should convey the thought: Uncover, expose, and spotlight their activities. Once this is done, the American people will do the rest— quarantine them from effectively weakening our country.
What happened next …
In 1947, Hoover's FBI investigated the loyalty of the two to three million federal employees. Although only 212 people were fired for loyalty issues, Hoover uncovered alcoholics, homosexuals, and employees in a large amount of debt. It was believed those in debt might sell government secrets to the Soviets. Hoover was intent on exposing communists in labor unions and supplied the HUAC with incriminating information. He also developed a network of informers in Hollywood to report on activities there. Ronald Reagan (1911–), president of the Screen Actors Guild and future U.S. president, was one of Hoover's informants.
In 1950, Hoover's FBI was in charge of the investigation and arrests of the Atomic Spies, including Julius Rosenberg (1918–1953) and his wife, Ethel Rosenberg (1915–1953); Harry Gold (1910–1974); and David Greenglass (1922–). These Americans had passed secrets of the U.S. atomic bomb development program to the Soviets. In the 1960s, Hoover continued to build files. By then, the focus was on Vietnam War (1954–75) protesters and on civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968).
Did you know …
- Hoover wrote a best-selling book, Masters of Deceit, in 1958 to educate the public about the threat of communism.
- By 1960, Hoover was one of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C.
- Hoover, a media hound, helped work on several television programs and Hollywood movies. For example, he collaborated on the popular The FBI television series that aired from 1965 to 1974.
- Hoover remained the director of the FBI until his death in 1972, a total of forty-eight years.
- In 1975 and 1976, a Senate investigative committee found Hoover had violated the civil liberties of many innocent Americans in his quest for subversives.
Consider the following …
- Were the tactics used by J. Edgar Hoover justified to un-cover communists in the 1940s and 1950s?
- What two types of communist operatives did Hoover describe?
- How many communist sympathizers were in the United States in 1947, according to Hoover? Analyze the reasons why people believed Hoover when he made this claim.
- List the institutions in U.S. society that Hoover said were vulnerable to infiltration by the communists.
For More Information
Books and Magazines
Hoover, J. Edgar. "How to Fight Communism." Newsweek, June 9, 1947.
Nash, Jay R. A Critical Study of the Life and Times of J. Edgar Hoover and His FBI. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1972.
Powers, Richard Gid. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Free Press, 1987.
Theoharis, Athan G., and John S. Cox. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
John Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was appointed assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1921, and director in 1924; he was the popular (and then controversial) director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1935 until his death in 1972, at age 77.
J. Edgar Hoover was born into a Scottish Presbyterian family of civil servants in Washington, D.C. on New Year's Day, 1895; his mother called him Edgar from the day he was born. He was a leader of the student cadet corps in high school, and a champion debater. He taught Sunday school at Old First Presbyterian Church. His life-long guiding principles were formed early: he was convinced that middle-class Protestant morality was at the core of American values, and he harbored a deep distrust of alien ideas and movements that called those values into question.
Working days and attending school at nights, Hoover earned his Bachelor of Law degree with honors from George Washington University in 1916. He excelled in mock court proceedings. In 1917 he earned a Master of Law degree and got a job with the Alien Enemy Bureau in the Department of Justice, administering the regulations governing the hundreds of thousands of German and Austro-Hungarian aliens interned or supervised by the department. In response to a series of bombings in the spring of 1919, supposedly carried out by radicals, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer decided to concentrate on aliens, since they could be deported summarily and wholesale, without due process, and in 1920 he put the 24-year-old Hoover in charge of the operation. Within a short period of time, Hoover had written briefs arguing that alien members of the new American Communist and Communist Labor parties were subject to deportation under the immigration laws; planned a raid on the headquarters of the Union of Russian Workers; and put Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and 247 other "radicals" on a ship for the Soviet Union. A few days later, Hoover led a nationwide operation which arrested more than four thousand alien Communists.
While civil libertarians deplored the Justice Department's tactics and treatment of prisoners, Hoover had established his reputation as an organizational genius. In 1921, he was appointed assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation. Three years later, when the bureau had become known as "the most corrupt and incompetent agency in Washington, " Hoover was appointed Acting Director by a new Attorney General, Harlan Fiske Stone (later Associate Justice, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). Hoover took the job under the conditions that he would tolerate no political meddling and that he wanted sole control of merit promotions. Stone agreed. Almost immediately, the new director instituted new personnel policies; he fired agents he considered unqualified, abolished promotions based on seniority, introduced uniform performance appraisals, and laid out strict rules of conduct (including instructions that forbade the use of intoxicating beverages, on or off the job). He established new lines of authority (all regional officers were to report directly to Hoover) and did whatever he could to create power for his agency. At the time, for example, the Bureau had jurisdiction over little more than car-thefts. Agents were not allowed to carry firearms until 1934, and they did not have the power of arrest. Law enforcement was a state activity, not a federal one. Gradually, Hoover professionalized the organization and freed it from the taint of corruption. He was a pioneer in the areas of personnel training, the use of scientific laboratory techniques, accurate reporting, and filing large volumes of material. By 1926, state law enforcement agencies began contributing their fingerprint cards to the Bureau of Investigation. Early on, Hoover laid the foundation for a world-class crime fighting organization.
During this period, Hoover still maintained his card file of over 450, 000 names of "radicals" and worked on building the bureau "his way, " but the agency slumbered through the violence of the Roaring Twenties. It took the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932 to convince Congress that there was a need for national legislation authorizing the Federal government to act against crimes of violence on other than government reservations; companion legislation between 1932 and 1934 augmented that authority, and the FBI (so named in 1935) was in business, chasing down the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and her sons, and John Dillinger.
Hoover was famous for his successes in public relations, legend-building and image-making his Bureau into a Hollywood extravaganza, firmly entrenched as a mainstay of popular culture through films, comic strips, books, and carefully orchestrated publicity campaigns. The FBI and its director became dear to the hearts of the American people and Hoover himself became a hero of almost mythic proportions. But during most of the 1930s, Hoover was relatively obscure, merely the head of just one of several investigatory agencies. In the art of public relations, Hoover was the beneficiary of Franklin Roosevelt's Attorney General Homer Cummings, who between 1933 and 1937 developed a massive, multi-front public relations campaign to make law enforcement a national movement wholly dependant on public support for its success in dealing with the gangsters of the Depression era. When Cummings suffered political decline, Hoover now head of the nation's only national law enforcement agency adopted many of his methods, always looking for new public enemies to protect the nation against. In the coming years, these were to include Nazi spies, Communists, Black Panthers, the New Left, and Martin Luther King, Jr. As for law enforcement, Hoover mostly abandoned it altogether after 1936.
After World War II Hoover took from the growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union a mandate to prepare for domestic sabotage and subversion, and to round up Communists, siding with such anti-Communists as Richard M. Nixon and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. He pursued the investigation of Alger Hiss that discredited the domestic security policies of the Truman Administration; he uncovered the alleged atom spy conspiracy of Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (who were subsequently executed as traitors); and his Bureau provided the evidence for the Smith Act convictions of the top leadership of the American Communist Party (later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court).
During the late 1950s, Hoover developed a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) to covertly harass the remnants of the American Communist Party. In the 1960s he extended the program to harass and disrupt the Ku Klux Klan, the black militant movement and the antiwar movements, particularly targeting the Black Panthers and the Students for a Democratic Society. Now into his 70s, Hoover extended his defense of "Americanism" with public attacks on Martin Luther King, Jr., and two attorneys general Robert Kennedy and Ramsey Clark. His tactic in all cases included illegal wiretapping and microphone surveillance.
During all these years, Hoover managed to overlook organized crime. Robert Kennedy became a thorn in Hoover's side when he demonstrated otherwise as assistant counsel on the Kefauver committee's investigations into organized crime. Hoover ignored political corruption and white collar crime. Most of his work was political, in two senses of the word. First, he target individuals, groups, and movements which offended his moral sense. Second, he collected compromising information provided by his agents on all sorts of public officials. The fact that he had such information in his personal files or was merely thought to have such information was enough to sway congressional votes in favor of FBI appropriations requests and to keep presidents from removing him from office, even long after mandatory retirement age. The perception of "such information" worked both ways, however. It was long thought that Hoover denied the existence of organized crime because certain Mafia figures had photographs and other documentation of Hoover's alleged and widely-believed homosexuality. However, nothing could be proved, as after his death, Hoover's secretary obeyed instructions that all his personal files be burned.
J. Edgar Hoover died in May, 1972, still the Director of the FBI, and became the only civil servant to be honored with a state funeral. Post-Watergate investigations of the FBI's abuses of civil liberties under Hoover and recent releases of FBI files under the Freedom of Information Act (including files his secretary missed) have destroyed Hoover's reputation. Recent scholarly works have asserted that Anthony Summers book (1993), exposing Hoover's homosexuality, was based on slender and dubious evidence. Other works have also shown the FBI's ineffectiveness in pursuing organized-crime figures had little to do with Hoover's vulnerability, but rather from his lack of accountability, his use of illegal investigative techniques, and his obsessive focus on his own political agenda. J. Edgar Hoover's methods contributed substantially to a culture of lawlessness in the FBI itself. Within a few years of his death, public opinion about Hoover had shifted to the point that his name by itself conjured up the image of a government at war with the rights and liberties of its citizens.
Hoover's own writings Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How To Fight It (1958) and J. Edgar Hoover on Communism (1969) were written for him by FBI publicists. The book that purports to expose Hoover's private life, Anthony Summers' Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993), was not highly regarded even by Hoover's critics. Richard Gid Powers G-Men: Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture (1983); Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox The Boss J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition (1988); and Ronald Kessler The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency (1993) are useful works, as is the older "oral biography" by Ovid Demaris The Director: An Oral Biography of J. Edgar Hoover. Scholars will want to see three microfilm collections of documents edited by Athan Theoharis, The J. Edgar Hoover Official and Confidential File (1996); FBI Wiretaps, Bugs, and Break-Ins: The National Security Electronic Surveillance Card File and the Surreptitious Entries File (1996); and The Louis Nichols Official and Confidential File and the Clyde Tolson Personal File (1996). See also Alan Theoharis J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime: An Historical Antidote (1995); Alan Theoharis From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1993); Richard Gid Powers, Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993); Mark North, Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of President Kennedy (1992); Curt Gentry J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets (1992); Nelson Blackstock, COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom (1988); Ward Churchill and James Vander Wall's two books, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (1990); and Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret War Against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party (1990). □
Hoover, John Edgar
HOOVER, JOHN EDGAR
John Edgar Hoover served from 1924 to 1972 as the director of the federal bureau of investigation (FBI). During his long tenure, Hoover built the FBI into a formidable law enforcement organization, establishing standards for the collection and evaluation of information that made the FBI an effective crime fighting agency. However, Hoover's reputation was tarnished by his collection of damaging information on prominent politicians and public figures for his personal use, and by his aggressive investigation of civil rights leaders and left-wing radicals.
Hoover was born January 1, 1895, in Washington, D.C. Following graduation from high school, he turned down a scholarship from the University of Virginia, electing to stay home and study law at night at George Washington University. In 1916 he received a bachelor of laws degree. In 1917 he added a master of laws degree. Upon graduation from college, Hoover joined the U.S. justice department.
"We are a fact-gathering organization only. We don't clear anybody. We don't condemn anybody."
—J. Edgar Hoover
Hoover started in a minor position, but his intelligence, energy, and mastery of detail were quickly noticed by his superiors. By 1919 he had risen to the rank of special assistant attorney general. During these early years, Hoover first became involved with the suppression of political radicals, assisting Attorney General A. mitchell palmer in the arrest and deportation of left-wing aliens. In 1919 he was appointed
chief of the department's General Intelligence Division (GID), a unit designated by Palmer to hunt down radicals. Within three months Hoover collected the names of 150,000 alleged subversives. Armed with this information, federal agents conducted nationwide dragnets, arresting more than ten thousand people. Critics argued that these Palmer Raids violated civil liberties. Nevertheless, thousands of persons were deported. By 1921 the GID had nearly half a million names of persons suspected of subversive activities.
In 1924 Hoover was appointed acting director of the Bureau of Investigation (BI), the fore-runner of the FBI. The BI was a weak agency, hampered by limited investigatory powers, the inability of its agents to carry weapons, and the swelling of its rank with political appointments. After several scandals revealed the extent of the BI's problems, Attorney General harlan f. stone appointed Hoover to clean up the agency.
Though only twenty-nine, Hoover met the challenge head-on. He began a thorough reorganization of the bureau, imposing strict discipline on his employees. Hoover's goal was to establish a professional law enforcement agency of unquestioned integrity. Between 1924 and 1935, he introduced a series of innovations that changed national law enforcement. Hoover established a national fingerprint collection, the first systematic database that federal, state, and local agencies could use to match fingerprints at crime scenes with those on file at the bureau. He also created a crime laboratory, which developed scientific procedures for obtaining forensic evidence. Finally, Hoover made a point of changing the character of his agents. He established a training academy for new agents, who were selected on the basis of their qualifications, not on their political connections. Agents were required to be college educated and to maintain the highest standard of personal and professional ethics.
As the agency became more professional, its jurisdiction increased. In 1935 President franklin d. roosevelt signed crime bills giving agents the authority to carry guns and make arrests, and in the same year, the bureau officially became the FBI. During the 1930s Hoover moved from internal reorganization to external promotion of himself and his agency. The gangster era, from 1920 to 1935, ended in the arrest or killing of well-publicized hoodlums such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. Hoover and his G-men were celebrated for these exploits in newspapers, radio, newsreels, and Hollywood movies, establishing Hoover as the nation's leading crime fighter.
Hoover's focus shifted to political subversion and foreign espionage during world war ii.
Again, the FBI was celebrated in the news media and popular culture, this time for tracking down Nazi saboteurs and spies. With the end of World War II and the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union, Hoover directed his efforts at rooting out Communist subversives. Harkening back to his early work with Palmer, Hoover's zealousness for this task led him to make alliances with the House Un-American Activities Committee; anti-Communist politicians such as Representative richard m. nixon, of California, and Senator joseph r. mccarthy, of Wisconsin; and members of the news media who were eager to print Hoover's inside information.
During the 1950s Hoover concentrated on anti-Communist initiatives, ignoring calls to investigate the growth of organized crime. He published Masters of Deceit (1958), a book that articulated his views on what he perceived to be the Communist conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. He established the FBI's Counterintelligence Program (cointelpro) to disrupt the U.S. Communist party and to discredit its members through informants, disinformation, and anonymous letters and telephone calls. He also enlisted the cooperation of the internal revenue service to conduct selective tax audits of people he suspected of being Communists. Critics of Hoover argued—and continue to argue—that he went beyond law enforcement in these efforts, using so-called dirty tricks to undermine the reputation of persons he believed to be subversive.
Despite these charges Hoover remained a powerful federal official. His use of wiretaps on phones, and of other forms of electronic surveillance, provided him with a wealth of information on the private affairs of many prominent political figures. Hoover shared some of this information with his political allies, but much of it remained in his private files. Over time many politicians came to fear Hoover, who they believed might have incriminating information about them that could destroy their political careers. Armed with these files, Hoover enjoyed immense power in the 1950s and 1960s.
With the birth of the modern civil rights movement, Hoover discovered what he considered another subversive group. He became convinced that martin luther king, jr., was a pawn of the Communist conspiracy. He had agents follow King and record sexual encounters in various hotel rooms. King's southern christian leadership conference offices were wiretapped and burglarized by the FBI many times, all in the hope of finding information that would discredit King. Though Hoover's efforts proved futile, they demonstrated his ability to use the FBI as his personal tool.
During the 1960s Hoover also had the FBI investigate the ku klux klan and other white supremacist groups. The same techniques used against King and other alleged subversives were also employed against right-wing radicals who threatened physical violence. And with the growth of opposition to the vietnam war in the 1960s, Hoover targeted war protesters.
Presidents lyndon b. johnson and Richard M. Nixon allowed Hoover to serve past the mandatory retirement age. During his last years, Hoover was criticized for his authoritarian administration of the FBI. Agents who displeased him could be banished to an obscure FBI field office or discharged. Perhaps most troubling was his refusal to investigate organized crime with the same resources expended on politically subversive organizations.
Hoover died May 2, 1972, in Washington, D.C.
Gentry, Curt. 1991. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets. New York: Norton.
Powers, Richard G. 1987. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Free Press.
Wannall, Ray. 2000. The Real J. Edgar Hoover: For the Record. Paducah, Ky.: Turner Pub.
Hoover, J. Edgar
J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for over fifty years, mostly at the head of the organization as its director. Hoover built the FBI from a small organization with a poor reputation into a powerful, secretive, and controversial law enforcement bureau.
Hoover was born on January 1, 1895, in Washington, D.C. Raised in a family of Scottish Presbyterians, Hoover spent his life believing that middle-class Protestant morality was the core of American society and values. His mother, Anna Marie Scheitlin, was strict and religious. His father, Dickerson Hoover, was a civil servant who suffered from poor health.
Hoover excelled in school as a child, eventually attending Central High School, an all-white school from which he graduated at the top of his class in 1913. During his youth, he also worked to help his family, including delivering groceries for neighbors. Hoover received a full scholarship to attend the University of Virginia, but his family could not afford housing there. Hoover instead worked in the day and studied law at night at George Washington University in the District of Columbia. He received a bachelor's degree in 1916 and a master's degree in 1917.
During World War I (1914–18) Hoover got a job in the U.S. Department of Justice. He began in the mail room but soon was transferred to the Emergency War Division of the Alien Enemy section. There Hoover administered the federal regulations that applied to German and Austro-Hungarian aliens (those who held citizenship in the land of their birth but lived in the United States) being supervised by the federal government during the war.
In autumn 1918, the Bolshevik Revolution began in Russia. Strikes in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, Washington , raised fears of a similar communist revolt in either Canada or the United States. Early the next year, Hoover became a special assistant to U.S. attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936), whose home was bombed that spring. In the ensuing years, Palmer ordered and Hoover supervised a series of “red raids” for arresting and deporting aliens who were members of communist organizations. In this work, Hoover spied on lawyers representing alien suspects.
The Bureau of Investigation
When a new attorney general became head of the Justice Department in 1921, Hoover became the assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation (BI). At the time, the BI had very little law enforcement authority under federal law. It was filled with employees who got their jobs through political favoritism. It was in this environment that Hoover was elevated to director of the BI in 1924, the position he would keep until his death in 1972. Hoover accepted the job on the conditions that he have full control over hiring and that he report directly to the attorney general rather than to a lower-level official in the Department of Justice.
Hoover worked hard to convert the BI into a respected law enforcement bureau. He fired incapable employees and hired young agents with backgrounds in law and accountancy. He created a crime laboratory and organized a fingerprint division for collecting fingerprints from across the nation into a central location. He opened a national academy for training BI agents. He also created a highly organized filing system for handling the BI's public and secret files. In 1935, the bureau was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Hoover never married. Prior to joining the bureau he had romanced a woman who chose an army officer over Hoover. Hoover lived with his mother until her death and then lived alone the rest of his life. Outside of work, he enjoyed attending baseball games and horse races and collecting Asian art.
From gangsters to activists
In the 1930s, the FBI earned a reputation for fighting gangsters such as Pretty Boy Floyd (1901–1934), Machine Gun Kelly (1895–1954), and John Dillinger (1903–1934). In the 1940s, Hoover began to report directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45). At Roosevelt's direction, Hoover built the FBI's domestic surveillance system. The system was useful for investigating the domestic activities of communists, whom the federal government targeted during another “red scare” of the 1950s.
During the late 1950s, Hoover and the FBI developed a counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO. Under the program, the FBI spied on American citizens, often breaking laws against wiretapping and microphone surveillance. Hoover used COINTELRO to investigate communists, the Ku Klux Klan , black activist organizations such as the Black Panther Party , and civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). Hoover viewed civil rights activists as part of the communist threat to America.
In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) required Hoover to report to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968) rather than directly to the president. Hoover and the Kennedys did not get along well.
End of life
Hoover died on May 2, 1972. During his life, he generally had a positive reputation with Americans, though political and civil rights activists were concerned with his goals and methods. After enactment of the Freedom of Information Act , Americans were able to view FBI records that revealed some of the extent to which Hoover violated federal law to investigate Americans. These revelations tarnished Hoover's reputation in the eyes of many. Other Americans, however, believe enforcement of federal criminal laws is more important than protecting the civil rights of citizens. This debate survives today under the question of the federal government's power to fight what it calls the war on terrorism.
Hoover, J. Edgar
HOOVER, J. EDGAR
John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895–May 2, 1972) was appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1924 and served until his death forty-eight years later. Founded in 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation (the word Federal was added in 1935), the FBI blossomed under Hoover during the Great Depression and particularly during the New Deal years.
A lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Hoover worked in the Library of Congress while studying law at George Washington University. He joined the Department of Justice in 1917, working in the Alien Enemies Bureau. Appointed chief of the General Intelligence Division in 1919, Hoover helped organize the notorious Palmer Raids that rounded up aliens suspected of radicalism. Five years later, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone appointed the 29-year-old Hoover director of the Bureau of Investigation. In the wake of Teapot Dome and other Warren G. Harding administration scandals, the new director had a mandate to terminate all domestic political surveillance and confine all investigations to violations of federal law.
Having quickly purged the FBI of corrupt agents, Hoover had little to do because there were few federal criminal statutes on the books. He filled the time, in direct defiance of Stone's order, by dabbling in surveillance. This was especially true after the Great Depression commenced. The FBI opened files on such things as Communist Party involvement in the Scottsboro Boys rape case and occasionally provided political intelligence to the Herbert Hoover White House. For the Depression's first four years, however, the director's bureaucracy remained a tiny and relatively insignificant part of the federal government.
Things began to change in 1933 with the Depression era's creeping nationalization of crime control. In effect, the FBI emerged as one of the New Deal's alphabet agencies with a mission to investigate a rapidly expanding list of federal crimes. This included spectacular combat against John Dillinger and other high-profile bank robbers. For example, the New Deal's Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) provided the wherewithal for the FBI to investigate any robbery of a bank insured by the FDIC. The Roosevelt administration also helped Hoover with a massive media campaign to portray G-men as heroic defenders of public life and limb, property and virtue. A public relations genius in his own right, Hoover tilted this campaign to construct what might best be described, with only a hint of exaggeration, as a cult of personality.
Pumped up into a formidable crime fighting force as the Great Depression wound down in the late 1930s, Hoover's FBI moved on to exploit a cautious Roosevelt administration mandate to revive political surveillance under the rubric of "subversive activities." If the White House was principally concerned with native fascism as the nation reluctantly prepared for the possibility of war with Germany and Japan, Hoover was principally concerned with domestic Communist activities. In one of the Depression era's greater ironies, the director defined subversive activities on the left broadly enough to encompass the very New Deal liberals who had rescued the FBI from oblivion. Another irony is that the director did so while successfully cultivating what several cabinet officials described as a close personal relationship with the president. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, for one, claimed that Roosevelt believed that Hoover was devoted to him personally.
In the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, Hoover and his FBI went on to help shape the history of McCarthyism and the modern civil rights movement. The latter included not only extensive surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. (e.g., wiretaps), but systematic harassment pursued with a startling ferocity. The pressures of the Depression had simply reinforced the things Hoover had learned as a young man, in the aftermath of World War I, on his old Alien Enemies and General Intelligence desks. The pressures of the 1960s would do the same. By the time of his death, Hoover had, in his own way in both cases, enforced the law and spied on law abiding citizens in seven different decades.
Gentry, Curt. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. 1991.
O'Reilly, Kenneth. Hoover and the Un-Americans: The FBI, HUAC, and the Red Menace. 1983.
Powers, Richard Gid. G-Men: Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture. 1983.
Powers, Richard Gid. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. 1988.
Summers, Anthony. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. 1993.
Theoharis, Athan, and John Stuart Cox. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. 1988.
Hoover, J. Edgar
HOOVER, J. Edgar
HOOVER, J. Edgar (b. 1 January 1895; d. 2 May 1972), longtime Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
John Edgar Hoover was born to Dickerson Naylor and Annie Hoover in the District of Columbia, the youngest of four children. At sixteen, Edgar (or "Speed," as friends called him, because of his breakneck pace) took his first job as a file clerk at the Library of Congress. While completing a combined college and law degree at George
Washington University night school, on 26 July 1917 Hoover was hired as a clerk at the Department of Justice's enemy alien registration section. By January 1919 Hoover had become an assistant to A. Mitchell Palmer, who was then Attorney General. Later that spring, using a vast set of records he had compiled on radical groups, Hoover was put in charge of arresting and deporting alien radicals in what became known as the "Palmer Raids."
It was this genius at organizing information and a reputation for nonpartisanship that led to Hoover 's appointment as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on 10 May 1924. Hoover was subsequently reappointed by eight presidents, serving for forty-eight years in this capacity. No contemporary or scholar has explained this longevity, but speculation centers on Hoover's ability to provide personal intelligence that could embarrass or discredit others. A few months before his appointment, he had established the famous OBSCENE file. Here, sexual information about public figures, pornography, and evidence of what the director called "indecent" behavior discovered during an investigation could be kept separate from a case file. Simultaneously, Hoover also established a second file where he kept personal information on public figures that might prove embarrassing to them. During the Church Committee hearings in 1975, it was discovered that some of this information had been obtained through illegal and routine surveillance on liberals, homosexuals, and social justice activists, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President John F. Kennedy.
Hoover also used the resources of the bureau to control rumors that he was homosexual, labeling his detractors insane, degenerate, or malicious. Those who spread such gossip often found themselves the target of an FBI investigation and were sometimes forced to recant their claims publicly. Nevertheless, speculation persisted, fed by the fact that he never married, lived with his mother until her death in 1941, and socialized and traveled with handsome agents whose careers benefited from his attention. In 1928 new agent Clyde Tolson would become Hoover's best and perhaps only friend, and by 1936 he was also the Associate Director of the FBI. Although they lived in separate houses, the two vacationed and took their meals together, and used affectionate nicknames ("Speed" and "Eddie" for Hoover,"Junior" for Tolson). In 1993 journalist Anthony Summers published an interview with a woman who claimed to have seen Hoover having sex with boys while dressed as a woman; however, these charges have never been corroborated and no eyewitness has stepped forward to claim more than affectionate behavior between Hoover and Tolson.
These rumors are of more than casual interest. Beginning in the 1950s Hoover targeted homosexuals as national security risks, and endorsed and aided the repression of homophile organizations. Claiming that homosexuals in government could be blackmailed by communist agents, Hoover participated in creating the condition of moral panic that made blackmail possible. When, in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower made it illegal for any homosexual to hold a federal post, investigations spearheaded by the FBI succeeded in purging hundreds of suspected gays and lesbians from the civil service. But the repression of homosexuals was also part of a larger system of favors rendered and received. Sometimes, as in the case of liberal journalist Joseph Alsop or civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, damaging information about a morals charge became part of a larger campaign of discrediting a government critic. In other cases, such as the arrest of Lyndon Baines Johnson's press aid Walter Jenkins, a morals charge could be covered up as a political favor.
Hoover died in his sleep on 2 May 1972; Tolson was his sole heir. Any evidence of their intimacy that remained was probably destroyed in the hours after Hoover's death, as FBI agents swept his home, and Helen Gandy, his secretary, destroyed files in his office. Ironically, Hoover's crusade against homophile organizations and gay and lesbian activists has left a wealth of information about them in files that have been opened through the Freedom of Information Act. Many of these are available today in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIPA) reading room at the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Gentry, Curt. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.
Powers, Richard Gid. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: The Free Press, 1987.
Summers, Anthony. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Putnam, 1993.
Theoharis, Athan G. J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime: An Historical Antidote. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995.
Theoharis, Athan G., and John Stuart Cox. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
Claire Bond Potter
see alsofederal law and policy; government and military witchhunts; policing and police; political scandals.