Aggressive Regionalism: Commentary

11. Mark Jenkins, All Powers Necessary and Convenient

During the late 1940s and early 1950s the state of Washington, like the rest of the country, went through an anti-communist crusade. At the national level, this phase became known as the Second Red Scare and the era of McCarthyism. By the time Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, lent his energies and name to the national movement beginning in late 1950, Washington State was far along in its own effort to purge radicals, suspected radicals, former radicals, and suspected former radicals from positions of influence. The purge began in 1946 when the Republican Party used the issue of communist influence on Washington to win control of the state legislature for the first time in sixteen years.  Once in office, both Republicans and Democrats agreed to create the Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947. This body became known simply as the Canwell Committee after its chair, Albert Canwell, a newly elected legislator from the Spokane area who had made the investigation of radicalism in Washington his career and his chief political concern. The Canwell Committee held hearings around the state in 1948, which culminated during the summer in an investigation of suspected radicals among the faculty at the University of Washington.  By the time the dust had settled, the University had fired three tenured professors and placed three more on probation.

The story of the Canwell Committee’s hearings and their effect on the University has been told in many places and in many ways. (For secondary works, see Sanders 1979; Reese n.d. For primary sources, see Countryman 1951; Rader 1969; Canwell 1997.) No account, however, resembles Mark Jenkins’s play All Powers Necessary and Convenient, which was produced for the first time in February 1998 on the University of Washington campus as part of a larger series of events staged to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the hearings. The subtitle for the work, A Play of Fact and Speculation, acknowledges that in writing the drama Jenkins combined information drawn from the historical record with material that was part fictional and part informed guesswork about the events that lay behind the Canwell Committee hearings. Within the play, Jenkins marked off the historical and the imagined sections by labeling the former the “Theatre of Record” and the latter the “Theatre of Conjecture.” The scene included here, which comes primarily from the Theatre of Conjecture, allows Jenkins to, among other things, account for some of the forces at work in society (the military, the press, and the tensions between eastern and western Washington) that abetted Canwell’s cause.

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