In August 1948 Whittaker Chambers, a self-confessed ex-communist, accused Hiss of having been a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s and of having betrayed State Department secrets to the Soviets. Hiss strenuously denied the charges under oath. He was subsequently indicted by a grand jury for perjury, as the statute of limitations for treason had expired, and was bound over for trial, which resulted in a hung jury in July 1949. Then, in a highly publicized retrial in January 1950, Hiss was found guilty and served forty-four months in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. He continued to assert his innocence and so too did a large and influential body of supporters, which precipitated one of the most intense and enigmatic debates of the entire Cold War.
Archival revelations in the 1990s, including those from Russian sources, vindicated neither Hiss nor his defenders. Historical evidence now seems to suggest that Hiss was indeed guilty of treason. The strange case of Alger Hiss was a defining episode not only in the Cold War but also in modern American politics. It rallied conservatives, gave birth to the excesses of McCarthyism, and spotlighted Hiss's nemesis, the little-known California Congressman Richard M. Nixon, who would later go on to become a U.S. senator, vice president, and president. Hiss died on 15 November 1996 in New York City.
Weinstein, Allen. Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. New York: Knopf, 1978.; White, G. Edward. Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.