Coming in from the Cold
updated 11/16/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/16/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST
It is a measure of how polarized the Hiss case has become during the last 44 years that some questioned Hiss' belated exoneration. "There are archives within archives within archives," said Richard Pipes, historian at Harvard. Former President Richard Nixon, who as an ambitious young California congressman had pressed the case against Hiss to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), declined to comment.
Hiss, a lawyer and a prominent member of Franklin Roosevelt's State Department, was brought before HUAC in 1948 when the late Whittaker Chambers, a TIME editor, claimed they had been fellow members of a Communist spy ring in the late 1930s. Though Hiss adamantly denied the accusation, as a result of Chambers's testimony he was convicted of lying to Congress and spent 44 months in a federal penitentiary.
After Hiss' release from prison in 1954, his marriage foundered. Wife Priscilla (their only son, Tony, 51, is a New Yorker writer) "was a deeply private woman," Hiss says. "She just wanted us to disappear. I could not do that. I had done nothing improper." For the past 30 years he has lived in New York with Isabel Johnson, an editor, whom he married after his first wife died in 1985.
Disbarred and blacklisted from teaching, Hiss made a modest living as a salesman for a printing company. Over the years, with little apparent rancor, he worked ceaselessly to vindicate himself until the word came from Volkogonov last month: "You can tell Mr. Alger Hiss that the heavy weight should be lifted from his heart."