The Crucible A Tale of Two Trials



A political cartoon shows a massive stone wall surrounding tall office buildings which bear labels of "Department of Energy," "Defense Department," "National Security Agency," "CIA," and "FBI." Outside the wall, which is tagged "Government Secrecy," a couple huddles in a roofless hut called "Personal Non-Privacy." At the top of the cartoon is printed "Somehow I feel this is not the way the founders planned it." Indeed, America\'s founding fathers most likely did not plan for the United States to be governed in such a manner that the people of its democracy would feel debunked. How, then, did the United States since its founding in 1776 come to this feeling of exposure?
Such an expansive question does not possess only one answer, of course. Multiple factors have caused United States citizens to feel the "personal non-privacy" Washington Post cartoonist Herblock depicts. Throughout American history the government has taken advantage of its ability to control; and, often led by an incendiary, people have been brought forth and laid bare in front of turbulent crowds. One of the first instances of this public inquest occurred in 1692 during the Salem witch trials, and then the probing happened again in the 1950s during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) trials.
Hysteria gripped the small colony of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as adolescent girls cried out that they saw Satan talking to some of the colonists. These accused were then put on trial and made to either confess and name others who were associating with the Devil, or the accused who did not confess to working with the Devil were convicted, imprisoned and, not infrequently, killed. Ultimately, the governor of Massachusetts intervened and put an end to the witch trials, but not before fourteen women and five men hung as witches in Salem ("Witch Hunt Hysteria").
A similar excitement occurred again in the 1950s. Throughout the decade the United States faced the Red Scare, which included a hunt for Communists led by Republican Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The long, bloody battles of World War II were finally in the past, but a new war had begun (Chun).
The Cold War between the United States and the United Soviet Social Republic commenced because of land rivalry, then continued with the United States claiming that the U.S.S. R. had communist groups working in other countries with an plan for world control (Chun). President Truman released his doctrine stating the United States\' intentions of battling communism throughout the world, and in 1947 he authorized a program to investigate the loyalty of federal employees. Senator McCarthy then decided to lead his own anti-communist group to ensure privacy in the State Department and other offices. What began as moderate concern developed into frenzied excitement as Congress restricted the civil rights of communists, and many suspected communists were questioned and later blacklisted. During the Red Scare, Constitutional rights were often compromised, and the government turned secretive. Journalist Athan G. Theoharis said of the increasing governmental concealment and censorship, "Recently released FBI files revealed a more serious threat to political liberties-the freedom of authors to publish \'dangerous\' thoughts-stemmed from the often covert, behind-the-scenes efforts of conservative academics, members of Congress, and FBI and Justice Department officials."
The maintenance of personal privacy and public government began fracturing before the United States government was even ratified, and continues even today to cause debate and dissent. While there have been numerous episodes of governmental concealment and public exposure, the Salem witch trials and the HUAC trials are two of the more predominant.
In the heat of the Red Scare and rampant McCarthyism of 1953, playwright Arthur Miller-who in 1956 appeared before the HUAC and was later held in contempt of Congress-published his play The Crucible. A work centering on the effects of the Salem witch trials in 1692, the play is often associated with the HUAC trials of the 1950s. While Miller somewhat denies these correlations, he speaks of the lack of "plays that reflect the soul-racking, deeply unseating questions that are being inwardly asked on the street, in the living room, and on the subways" in a New York Times article published just months before The Crucible appeared. In the same article Miller says, "Is the knuckleheadedness of McCarthyism behind it all? The