Posted On: March 26, 2011 by David Badertscher

Book Review: The Fears Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial

TITLE: The Fear Within
SUBTITLE: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial
AUTHOR: Scott Martelle
PUBLICATION DATE: May 2011
PUBLISHER: Rutgers University Press
PAGE COUNT: 320 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-8135-4938-5 (Cloth)
PRICE: $26.95 (Cloth)

The author is a freelance journalist and writer with expertise in American history. Martelle details the 1948 arrest and trial of twelve members of the Communist Party USA who were accused of espionage and conspiracy in violation of the Smith Act, which prohibited inciting acts of force and violence against the government. He carefully describes the primary defense argument, namely, that these twelve men did nothing more than teach a doctrine and therefore the government’s case amounts to political repression. The author underscores the defense argument that the Smith Act’s constitutionality is suspect because of its inherent conflict with the First Amendment, because the allegations against the men involved no acts and therefore did not constitute a clear and present danger to the government. The Smith Act was hastily crafted during the pressure of wartime, the author notes, and was not intended to be used against those exercising their First Amendment right of free speech. Nevertheless, eleven of the men were convicted, and the author concludes that the judge’s charge to the jury was the deciding factor, as guilt rode on the defendants’ intent to overthrow the government and their use of words as a rule for action. Aimed at an academic audience and well-documented, the book is replete with analysis of the legal and political issues involved, and is thus recommended for academic, law, and larger public libraries.

Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library, First Judicial District, New York, New York


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)