Dies, Martin (1900–1972)

By: George N. Green

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: September 9, 2020

Martin Dies, congressman, son of Olive M. (Cline) and Martin Dies, was born on November 5, 1900, in Colorado City, Texas. He attended Cluster Springs (Virginia) Academy, graduated from Beaumont (Texas) High School, and earned a law degree from National University in Washington, D.C., in 1920. Dies soon joined his father's law firm in Orange and in 1930 was elected to Congress to represent the Second Congressional District, his father's old seat; he was the youngest member of Congress. In his early years he supported much of the New Deal but turned against it in 1937.

Dies achieved fame as the first chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, established in 1938 to investigate subversion. The Dies committee welcomed testimony against any suspected communists. The Texas Senate established a similar committee that attempted to ferret out communists at the University of Texas in 1941 but could not discover any. Dies ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in 1941, finishing last in a four-way race won by Wilbert Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel. During World War II the Dies committee continued to oppose the New Deal and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, but in 1944 Dies announced his retirement after the CIO launched a vast voter-registration drive and found a candidate to oppose him.

In 1952 he won election to a new congressman-at-large seat, but he was not allowed to return to the HUAC, which believed that he had damaged the cause of anticommunism. When he ran for the Senate in the special election of 1957, state leaders such as Lyndon B. Johnson and Samuel T. (Sam) Rayburn, believing that Dies was too conservative to defeat liberal challenger Ralph Yarborough, attempted to pressure him out of the race in favor of Lt. Gov. Ben Ramsey. Their effort failed, however, and they turned to another tactic. They attempted to change the laws pertaining to special elections, which required only a plurality, and make a majority vote necessary. The Texas leaders were hoping the change would necessitate a runoff and make a win for Yarborough more difficult. This gambit failed also, and Dies finished second to Yarborough.

Dies married Myrtle M. Adams in 1920, and they had three sons. He practiced law in Lufkin between terms in Congress and after declining to run for reelection in 1958; he continued to warn that the United States was succumbing to communism. He wrote Martin Dies' Story (1963) and was the putative author of The Trojan Horse in America (1940), actually written by J. B. Matthews. From 1964 to 1967 Dies was a popular writer in American Opinion magazine. He died in Lufkin on November 14, 1972, and was buried there.

Martin Dies, Martin Dies' Story (New York: Bookmailer, 1963). Martin Dies, The Trojan Horse in America (New York: Dodd, Mead 1940; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1977). William Gellerman, Martin Dies (New York: Day, 1944; rpt., New York: De Capo, 1972). George N. Green, The Establishment in Texas Politics (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1979). Seth Shepard McKay, W. Lee O'Daniel and Texas Politics, 1938–1942 (Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1944). August Raymond Ogden, The Dies Committee (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1945; rev. ed., Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1984). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

George N. Green, “Dies, Martin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dies-martin-2.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 9, 2020