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Joseph McCarthy

From dKosopedia

Joseph Raymond McCarthy (November 14 1908May 2 1957) was anAmerican politician of the Republican Party. McCarthy served as a U.S. Senator from the U.S. state of Wisconsin from 1947 to 1957. During his ten years in the Senate, McCarthy and his staff became notorious for aggressive campaigns against people in the U.S. government and others who were suspected of being Communists or Communist sympathizers.

As a result of these controversial actions the term McCarthyism was coined to specifically describe the intense anti-Communist movement that existed in America from 1948 to about 1956, a time which became popularly known as the Second Red Scare. During this period, people from all walks of life who were suspected of Communist sympathies became the subject of aggressive witch-hunts, often based on inconclusive or questionable evidence. People from the media, the motion picture industry, politics, and the military often became the targets of McCarthyism. The term has since become synonymous with any government activity which seeks to suppress unfavorable political or social views, often by limiting or suspending civil rights under the pretext of maintaining national security.


Early life and career

McCarthy was born on a farm in the town of Grand Chute, Wisconsin. Although both of his parents had also been born in Wisconsin, Joseph's paternal grandmother had been born in Germany, and his three other grandparents in Ireland. McCarthy worked his way through a law degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee from 1930 to 1935, and was admitted to the Bar association in 1935. While working in a law firm in the town of Shawano, he launched an unsuccessful campaign to become District Attorney as a Democrat in 1936. In 1939, he campaigned successfully for election as a circuit judge.

In 1942, shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, McCarthy took a commission as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, although his judicial office would have exempted him from compulsory service. He saw combat as an observer in the South Pacific, a record which McCarthy later embellished, bestowing on himself the nickname "Tailgunner Joe."

He campaigned for the Republican Senate nomination in Wisconsin while still on active duty in 1944, but was easily defeated by incumbent Alexander Wiley. After resigning his commission in April 1945 and being re-elected unopposed to his circuit court position, he began a much more systematic campaign for the 1946 Senate election, challenging the other Wisconsin incumbent, Robert M. La Follette, Jr. in the Republican Party primary. McCarthy enjoyed the support of the state party organization, and won the nomination narrowly. He easily defeated his Democratic Party opponent, Howard MacMurray, in the general election by a 2-1 margin.


As a first-term senator, McCarthy was unremarkable, and his voting record was right-wing but not entirely in line with party policy. He was hungry for popular and media attention, however, and made a large number of speeches to many different organizations, covering a wide range of topics. His most notable early campaigns were for housing legislation and against sugar rationing. His national profile rose meteorically after his Lincoln Day speech of February 9, 1950, to the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia.

McCarthy's words in the speech are a matter of some dispute, as they were not reliably recorded at the time, the media presence being minimal. It is generally agreed, however, that he produced a piece of paper which he claimed contained a list of known communists working for the State Department. One version of the speech reports his words as "I have in my hand a list of 205 cases of individuals who appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party." McCarthy himself stated that he referred to 57 "known Communists," the number 206 referring to the number of people employed by the State Department who, for various security reasons, should not be. The exact number stated later became a matter of some importance when it was used as the basis of an accusation of perjury against McCarthy.

There was indeed a State Department document which listed employees over whom there were various concerns, not merely related to loyalty but also including issues such as drunkenness and incompetence. The effect of McCarthy's speech, however, in a nation already worried by the aggressiveness of the Soviet Union in Europe and alarmed by the trial of Alger Hiss, which was in progress as McCarthy made his speech, was electric. McCarthy himself was taken aback at the massive media response to the speech, and continually revised both his charges and his figures over the following days, a characteristic feature of his method of operation. In Salt Lake City a few days later he cited a figure of 57, and in the Senate on February 20 he claimed 81. He made a marathon speech discussing all these cases in detail, but the evidence for many was tenuous or non-existent; nevertheless, the impact of the speech was considerable. The Senate convened the Tydings committee to examine the charges, which eventually found them to be groundless. Against an effective demagogue such as McCarthy, however, this was ineffective; he simply reformulated his charges slightly and continued making them both in the Senate and to the press.

McCarthy also attempted political destruction of his critics, which he achieved when he campaigned against four-term incumbent Millard Tydings in 1950, a victory that severely intimidated his would-be critics.

Anti-Communist crusade

McCarthy brandishing one of his lists.
McCarthy brandishing one of his lists.

From 1950 to 1953 McCarthy continued to press his accusations that the government was failing to deal with Communism within its ranks, while his overnight stardom gave him a powerful national following and a source of considerable income. His finances were investigated by a Senate panel in 1952; its report cited questionable behavior in his campaigns and irregularities in his finances, but found no grounds for legal action. He married Jean Kerr, a researcher in his office, on September 29, 1953.

After the Republican electoral triumph of 1952 - a triumph his exposure of Communist influences within the government aided; it is probable that the defeat of more than one Democratic candidate for national office in 1952 was due at least in part to accusations against him by McCarthy. The party leadership, recognizing his immense popularity and his value as a stick with which to beat liberal Democrats, appointed him chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. His unreliability and evasiveness, however, meant he was never completely trusted by the party (and particularly by President Dwight Eisenhower, who once stated privately that he didn't "want to get in the gutter with that guy.")</p>

McCarthy's committee, unlike the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, focused on government institutions. It first made an investigation into bureaucracy at Voice of America, then forced the withdrawal of supposedly pro-Communist literature from the State Department's overseas information library. Meanwhile, McCarthy continued to make accusations of Communist influence within the government, notwithstanding the fact that it was now a Republican government. This angered Eisenhower. He was not willing to oppose McCarthy publicly due to his continuing popularity, but he now considered McCarthy a dangerous loose cannon and began behind-the-scenes work to remove him from his position of influence.

Several noted persons resigned from the committee fairly early into McCarthy's administration of it, including Robert F. Kennedy, who literally came to blows with McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn. These resignations led to the appointment of B. Matthews as executive director. Matthews was a former member of several "Communist-front" organizations, in which he claimed to have joined more than any other American. However, when he fell out of favor with the radical groups of the 1930s, he became a fervent anti-Communist. Matthews was an ordained Methodist Minister and was therefore often referred to as a "Doctor Matthews" though he held no degree. Matthews later resigned due to his portrayal of Communist sympathies among the nation's Protestant clergy in a paper called "Reds in Our Churches" which outraged several senators. Through this critical period, however, McCarthy maintained control of the subcommittee and of whom it employed or chose not to. This course of action resulted in several more resignations.

McCarthy and Truman

McCarthy and McCarthyism was in part a matter of electoral politics. McCarthy sought to characterize President Truman and the Democratic party as soft on or even in league with the Communists. McCarthy's allegations fell flat with Truman who considered him a poor representative of the people of Wisconsin and "the best asset the Kremlin has" for his divisive effect.

McCarthy and Eisenhower

Part of McCarthy's fall was his overreaching direct attack on President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower detested McCarthy and worked behind the scenes to limit his power. At the same time, not directly confronting McCarthy may have prolonged his power by showing that even a powerful icon such as Eisenhower was afraid to directly criticize McCarthy.

Fall of McCarthy

President Truman drafted a scathing response to a telegraph McCarthy had sent him.
President Truman drafted a scathing response to a telegraph McCarthy had sent him.

In the fall of 1953, McCarthy's committee began its ill-fated inquiry into the United States Army. It attempted to uncover a spy ring in the Army Signal Corps, but failed. The committee came to focus its attention on an Army dentist, Irving Peress, who took the Fifth Amendment twenty times under sustained questioning. Peress was accused of recruiting military personnel into the Communist Party. It is known for certain that Peress refused to answer questions on Defense Department forms concerning membership in "subversive organizations", and that the Army Surgeon General had recommended his dismissal early in 1953. McCarthy expressed serious concerns that Peress had not been discharged after that recommendation, but instead had been promoted to the rank of Major.

In examining this latter question, McCarthy brought hostile media attention upon himself concerning his treatment of General Ralph W. Zwicker. Among other things, McCarthy compared Zwicker's intelligence to that of a "five-year-old child", and stated that Zwicker was "not fit to wear the uniform of a General." Early in 1954, the Army accused McCarthy and Cohn of pressuring the Army to give favorable treatment to another former aide and friend of Cohn's, G. David Schine. McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in bad faith, in retaliation for his questioning of Zwicker the previous year.

The Senate convened an investigation into the matter, which was broadcast live and on television. In one memorable interchange, McCarthy revealed that the Army's attorney general, Joseph Welch, had hired a lawyer who had previously worked for a Communist-linked group. (This revelation was explicitly in retaliation for Welch's combative questioning.) This led to Welch's famous rebuke: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" These proceedings have been recorded in the documentary film Point of Order! The Senate voted 67 to 22 on December 2, 1954 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for "conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute."

Although it is certainly true that the ultimate downfall of McCarthy was his investigations into the Army, it is worth noting that several members of the U.S. Senate opposed McCarthy well before 1953. One example is U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican (and the only woman in the Senate at the time) who delivered her "Declaration of Conscience" on June 1, 1950, condemning McCarthy's tactics without mentioning him by name (as required by the rules of the Senate). Six other Republican senators, Wayne Morse, Irving M. Ives, Charles W. Tobey, Edward Thye, George Aiken and Robert C. Hendrickson joined her in condemning McCarthy's tactics. Vermont Senator Ralph E. Flanders also condemned McCarthy on the floor of the Senate and he introduced the resolution to censure him.

One of the most prominent attacks on McCarthy's methods came in an episode of the TV documentary series See It Now, by respected journalist Edward R. Murrow, which was broadcast on March 9, 1954. The show consisted mostly of clips of McCarthy speaking, so any negative reaction would be mostly from McCarthy hanging himself, as it were. In the clips McCarthy does such things as accusing the Democratic party of "twenty years of treason" (1933-1953, in his estimation), and berating witnesses including an Army general.

The Murrow report sparked a nationwide popular opinion backlash against McCarthy, which the Senator tried to counter by appearing on the show himself. McCarthy appeared on See It Now about three weeks after the original episode, where he made a number of personal attacks and charges against Murrow. However, his method of delivery had been designed for a live audience, not a nationwide broadcast one; the result of this appearance was a further decline in his popularity.

McCarthy had always been a heavy drinker, one of the things that had helped him develop amicable relationships with many members of the press. His being censured by the Senate caused anger and depression in McCarthy which turned his heavy drinking into full-scale alcoholism. This aggravated his existing weak health, and caused serious diseases. He finally died of acute hepatitis in Bethesda Naval Hospital on May 2, 1957, and was given a state funeral attended by 70 senators, and St. Matthews Cathedral performed a Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass before over a hundred priests and 2000 others. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Appleton, Wisconsin. He was survived by his wife Jean and their adopted daughter Tierney.


In 1995, when the VENONA transcripts were declassified, further detailed information was revealed about Soviet Union espionage in the United States. VENONA specifically references at least 349 people in the United States - including citizens, immigrants, and permanent residents - who cooperated in various ways with Soviet intelligence agencies.

It is generally believed that McCarthy had no access to VENONA intelligence. VENONA does confirm that some individuals investigated by McCarthy were indeed Soviet agents. For example, Mary Jane Keeney was identified by McCarthy simply as "a Communist"; in fact she and her husband were both Soviet agents. Another individual named by McCarthy was Lauchlin Currie, a special assistant to President Roosevelt. He was confirmed by VENONA to be a Soviet Agent. McCarthy also accused Johns Hopkins University professor Owen Lattimore of being the number one Soviet spy in the United States. It was later confirmed that Lattimore too was indeed a Soviet agent [1].

However, McCarthy himself was consistently unable to provide any evidence for his allegations. On one particular occasion, he declared in a floor speech that he would happily turn over evidence of subversive activities by government employees, whereupon Senator Herbert Lehman approached him and held out his hand. McCarthy, having no evidence, ignored Lehman, as did the rest of the Senate, testifying to other Senators' fear of McCarthy's political attacks.

The Crucible

In 1953, playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, an allegory for McCarthyism. This was probably the primary cause for Miller being brought before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956.


Additional reading


External links

Defenses of McCarthy

Critics of McCarthy

Preceded by:
Robert M. La Follette, Jr.
U.S. Senators from Wisconsin Succeeded by:
William Proxmire

Retrieved from "http://localhost../../../j/o/s/Joseph_McCarthy_1e1b.html"

This page was last modified 00:20, 3 November 2007 by roger. Based on work by dKosopedia user(s) Singh, Srel89, Allamakee Democrat and Lestatdelc. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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