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Red Scare at Rutgers


In 1945 America used the atomic bomb to end the war with Japan. This action would change the course of history forever, as it was the catalyst of an ideological battle that pitted democratic ideals against the imperatives of national security, and led two world superpowers into an arms race to achieve an acceptable balance of power. The perceived threat of a communist revolution in America and around the world led to calls for extreme measures in international and domestic policies. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a pivotal force in creating mass hysteria during a time when Americans were required to pledge their loyalty to the United States and were called upon to report communists in their neighborhoods. If an American was uncooperative, suspicions and allegations turned towards that individual.


This United States History unit addresses the "Red Scare" era of the 1950s in New Jersey by exploring documents pertaining to the dismissal of two Rutgers University professors. During their testimony before the Congressional Committee in 1952, both professors invoked the First and Fifth amendments in their defense strategies. This move ultimately led to their dismissal from their teaching positions.


Students are encouraged to work cooperatively while analyzing these documents and considering three essential questions. These questions are:


  • Does a "national crisis" constitute a sound basis for limiting one's civil liberties?
  • If you supported something unpopular, what would you do? Why?
  • Should one's beliefs be discussed in an open forum? When is it acceptable and when is it unacceptable?

In this unit, students will--

  • Evaluate the relationship of civil liberties and the concepts of freedom, security, democracy, justice and individual obligation;
  • Identify the criteria to be used in defining a 'national crisis';
  • Interpret and analyze primary documents, and formulate arguments supporting the group's perspectives on the dismissal of Finley and Heimlich.

Unless otherwise specified, all documentary and photograph sources used in this section of Electronic New Jersey were provided courtesy of the Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives, the NJ State Archives, and/or the NJ Historical Society