With the start of the Cold War, an ironic twist of fate occurred in regards to America’s freedoms. The United States, having just fought a world war in the name of democracy, was now going to impede upon the rights of its own citizens in the fight against communism.
On September 17, 1947, the American government allowed the Freedom Train to pull away onto the American railway. This train, painted red, white, and blue would serve as the vehicle—figuratively and literally—for a two-year campaign to evoke American sentiment. The Freedom Train housed ninety-eight historical documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, German and Japanese World War II surrender documents, and the Emancipation Proclamation. The purpose of the Freedom Train was to reaffirm America’s faith in liberty and freedom—“a campaign to sell Americans America;” however, behind closed doors, America’s elected representatives were working to slowly purge United States citizens of their constitutional rights.
This train would be the first organized effort in what would later birth the Crusade for Freedom (an American propaganda campaign from the 50s and 60s, which sought to generate domestic support for American Cold War policies). I wonder if the masterminds that put together the Freedom Train knew that it would only be a short time before America, in such a frightful state, would be so ready to relinquish their rights to the government?
Possibly the most unconstitutional legislation passed by Congress was the Internal Security Act of 1950. Through the Internal Security Act of 1950, Congress unleashed legislation that was detrimental to American freedoms, especially those that were communists (or suspected of being engaged in communism). This act, also known as the McCarran Internal Security Act, contained two provisions: Subversive Activities Control and Emergency Detention.
The first portion of this new legislation required that all communist organizations register with the United States Attorney General and the newly established Subversive Activities Control Board. This Act was so controversial that President Truman, who vetoed the bill, claimed it was “the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press, and assembly since the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798”
The most horrific provision of the Internal Security Act of 1950 was the power to apprehend and detain “each person as to whom there is a reasonable ground to believe that such person probably will engage in, or probably will conspire with others to engage in, acts of espionage or sabotage.” This provision, essentially, gave the American government the power to hold communists in concentration camps if need be.
With legislation like the Internal Security Act and political figures like J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy ‘fighting for democracy,’ those within the Communist Party would experience numerous violations against their rights during the remainder of the Cold War.