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McCarthy, Joseph

Joseph Mc Carthy

Born: November 14, 1908
Grand Chute, Wisconsin
Died: May 2, 1957
Bethesda, Maryland

American senator

Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, became a national figure in a highly publicized pursuit of a Communist "conspiracy." Because of him, the term McCarthyism became a synonym for a public "witch-hunt" intended to destroy the victim's political standing and public character.

Life in Wisconsin

Joseph McCarthy was born on November 14, 1908, on a farm in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. The family was part of the Irish Settlement, a small group surrounded by farmers mainly of German and Dutch descent. His parents were devoted Catholics, literate but uneducated. The fifth of nine children, Joseph seems to have grown up shy and awkward, often rejected by his peers but favored by a protective mother. At the age of fourteen, after finishing grade school, he took up chicken farming, at which he was briefly successful.

McCarthy moved to the nearby town of Manawa and managed a grocery store. When he was almost twenty he enrolled in high school, graduating in only a single year. After two years as an engineering student at Marquette University, he went to law school and was president of his class. Soon afterward, McCarthy was admitted to the bar, an association for practicing lawyers.

In 1935 McCarthy tried practicing law in several Wisconsin towns, earning a reputation as a fierce gambler along the way. He also began playing the game of politics. After an unsuccessful bid as Democratic candidate for district attorney, he shifted his focus and became the Republican candidate for circuit court judge. He won, and at the age of twenty-nine he became the state's youngest circuit court judge. This victory also hinted at his later methods: He had lied in his campaign literature about his opponent's age (adding seven years to it) and about his own (moving his birth date back). By now, his basic personality was well shapedclever and ambitious but lacking moral judgment, or the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.

World War II

During World War II (193945; a war involving many countries in the world in which the United States participated from 1941 until the end of the war), McCarthy served with the U.S. Marines as a ground officer in the Pacific. He took part in many battles and won several medals for "courageous devotion" while on duty. In 1944, while still in the Marines, his friends in Wisconsin put him on the ballot for the U.S. Senate. He lost the election but placed second and earned more than a hundred thousand votes. Soon afterward McCarthy left the Marines.

In 1945, after returning to Wisconsin, he was reelected as circuit court judge. A year later he ran for senator against Robert M. La Follette (18951953) and won. McCarthy had been a poor judge, being involved in at least one suspicious case. He had altered his war record to make it look more heroic, and he again cut moral corners in his campaigning. But he was a fitting candidate for the particular mood and cultural mix of Wisconsin at the time.

McCarthy finds an enemy

McCarthy's first years in the Senate were thoroughly average and at least slightly dishonorable. As a number of his past adventures, including some questionable tax returns, began catching up with him, he needed an issue that would distract attention from his affairs. On January 7, 1950, he asked three dinner companions to suggest an issue he could base his campaign on. They suggested communism, a political system in which property and goods are owned by the government and distributed among the people. The timing was perfect, as many in the changing nation feared the presence of communists living among them. Communism would give McCarthy a target. Now he needed to rally support.

In a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950, McCarthy claimed to have in hand a list of 205 people in the State Department known to be members of the American Communist Party. In later speeches and interviews he kept changing the figures, depending on his audience and his mood. On February 20 he held the Senate floor for six hours in a stormy session in which other senators tried to get solid facts from him.

In the 1950 elections McCarthy secured the defeat of several Democratic senators who had dared question and oppose him. He spread terror even among his peers. His fellow Republicans were torn between fear of his skill and willingness to use his attacks on President Harry Truman (18841972), Secretary of State Dean Acheson (18931971), and former Secretary of State George Marshall (18801959).

Takes on the army

In 1952 McCarthy was reelected. He then used his investigative subcommittee as his point of support. He also used the press and television as his playing field. He even tried to develop a counterintelligence unit of his own inside the administration's agencies. McCarthy finally turned his aim on the army in the Fort Monmouth hearings.

The Army-McCarthy televised hearings ran from April 22 to June 17, 1954, and turned the tables on McCarthy and his committee counsel, Roy Cohn (19271986). Evidence proved that they had sought special favors for G. David Schine (19271996), a subcommittee staff member, as an army inductee (a person who signs up for training or service in the military). It is hard to guess why McCarthy attacked the army, when he must have known that his anti-Communist views could not stand a chance against the distinguished army officers. The intense response of the army's legal representative, Joseph Welch (18901960), to McCarthy's attack on a member of Welch's firm marked the end.

In December the Senate passed a vote of censure, or an official disapproval, on McCarthy. He died three years later, on May 2, 1957, a broken man whose end had really come at the army hearing, when the nation recoiled from him and his power to inspire terror was halted.

McCarthy and society

Scholars have debated whether McCarthy's views expressed a basic appeal to the majority of Americans. He was often called a fascist, or one who seeks complete control, by liberals and the left. His support came mainly from a desperate group on the right (conservatives) who saw their world threatened by a mysterious conspiracy and were willing to see extreme methods used against it.

McCarthyism came into the nation's history at a moment when Americans were uncertain about their future in a changing world. McCarthy gave this fear the name of communism. He turned communism into a simple target for their hostility. He also came at a time when the cold war and the nuclear arms race had brought on a need for secrecy that led to a paranoid feeling of being surrounded by enemies within.

For More Information

Cook, Fred J. The Nightmare Decade: The Life and Times of Senator Joe McCarthy. New York: Random House, 1971.

Herman, Arthur. Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator. New York: Free Press, 2000.

Rovere, Richard H. Senator Joe McCarthy. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.

Sherrow, Victoria. Joseph McCarthy and the Cold War. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1998.

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Joseph Raymond McCarthy

Joseph Raymond McCarthy

Joseph Raymond McCarthy (1908-1957), U.S. senator, in a highly publicized pursuit of a Communist "conspiracy" became a national figure. The term "McCarthyism" became a synonym for reckless smear tactics intended to destroy the victim's political standing and public character.

Joseph McCarthy was born on Nov. 14, 1908, on a farm at Grand Chute, Wis. The family was part of the "Irish Settlement," an enclave surrounded by farmers mainly of German and Dutch descent. His parents were devout Catholics, literate but uneducated. The fifth of nine children, Joseph seems to have grown up shy and awkward, often rejected by his peers but favored by a protective mother. At the age of 14, after finishing grade school, he took up chicken farming; his venture prospered briefly.

McCarthy moved to the nearby town of Manawa, managed a grocery store for a while, and then—when he was almost 20—enrolled in high school, completing the course in a single year. After two years as an engineering student at Marquette University, he went to law school and was president of his class on graduation.

McCarthy tried practicing as a lawyer in several county seats, supplementing his scanty legal fees by winnings at poker but also playing at the game of politics. After an unsuccessful bid as Democratic candidate for district attorney, he shifted his field and became the Republican candidate for a circuit court judgeship. He won, and this victory foreshadowed his later methods: his campaign literature had falsified his opponent's age (adding 7 years to it) and his own (moving his birth date back). At 30, his basic personality was pretty well shaped—fluid, resourceful, ambitious, amoral.

During World War II, McCarthy served with the U.S. Marines. In 1944, while still in the Marines, he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. Two years later he ran for senator against Robert M. La Follette and won. McCarthy had been a poor judge, involved in at least one shady case; he had falsified his war record to make it look more heroic; and he had cut moral corners in his campaigning. But he was a popular candidate for the particular mood and ethnic mix of Wisconsin at the time and appealed both to patriotism and to end-of-war disillusionment.

McCarthy's first years in the Senate were thoroughly mediocre and at least slightly shady. As a number of his past adventures, including some questionable tax returns, began catching up with him, he needed an issue that would obscure all this. On Jan. 7, 1950, he asked three dinner companions to suggest an issue; they suggested Communist power and subversion.

In a speech at Wheeling, W. Va., on February 9 McCarthy claimed to have in hand a list of 205 people in the State Department known to be members of the Communist party. In subsequent speeches and interviews he kept shifting the figures, depending on his forum and his mood. On February 20 he held forth for six hours on the Senate floor, in a tumultuous session punctuated by the efforts of administration senators to pin him down factually.

In the 1950 elections McCarthy secured the defeat of several Democratic senators who had dared question and oppose him. Thus he spread terror even among his peers. His Republican colleagues were torn between fear of his prowess and willingness to use his attacks on President Harry Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and former Secretary of State George Marshall. In 1952 McCarthy was reelected. He then used his investigative subcommittee as his fulcrum and the press and television as his playing field. He even tried to develop a counterintelligence unit of his own inside the administration's agencies. He finally turned his guns against the Army in the Ft. Monmouth hearings.

The Army-McCarthy televised hearings from April 22 to June 17, 1954, turned the tables on McCarthy and his committee counsel, Roy Cohn, with evidence that they had sought special favors for G. David Schine (a subcommittee staff member) as an Army inductee. It is hard to guess why McCarthy tangled with the Army so wantonly, when he must have known that his anti-Communist rhetoric could not prevail against the array of Army medals facing him on the television screen. The impassioned response of the Army counsel, Joseph Welch, to McCarthy's attack on a member of Welch's firm marked the end. In December the Senate passed a vote of censure on McCarthy. He died three years later, on May 2, 1957, a broken man whose end had really come at the Army hearing, when the nation recoiled from him and his power to inspire terror was halted.

"McCarthyism" came into the nation's history at a moment when Americans felt an anxiety and dread about the future; McCarthy gave this apprehension the name of "communism." He used the fear of internal subversion by an external enemy, and by giving it the concrete form of conspiracy and a spy network he provided Americans with a simple target for their hostility. He also came at a time when the cold war and the nuclear arms race had brought on a need for secrecy that led to a paranoid feeling of being surrounded by enemies within.

Scholars have debated whether McCarthy expressed a basic Populist appeal, with his attacks on the eastern intellectuals and the establishment, but this Populist theory is oversubtle for a man who gave no thought to mass welfare or to the release from any oppressive bonds. He was often called a "fascist" by liberals and the left, but this was as loose an epithet as his own accusations of "Communist." His support came mainly from a desperate segment on the right who saw their world threatened by an elusive conspiracy and were willing to see extreme methods used against it.

Further Reading

McCarthy's books about his crusade are McCarthyism: The Fight for America and The Story of General George C. Marshall (both 1952). The best biography is Richard H. Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy (1959). An earlier one, written in the heat of battle, is Jack Anderson and Ronald W. May, McCarthy: The Man, the Senator, the Ism (1952). Two books that tend to offset each other are William F. Buckley and L. Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies (1954; new ed. 1961), and James Rorty and Moshe Decter, McCarthy and the Communists (1954). An important book is Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate (1970). On the issue of McCarthy's "populism" see Daniel Bell, ed., The Radical Right (1964), and for an answer to it see Michael P. Rogin, The Intellectuals and McCarthy (1967).

Other books wrestling with the meaning of McCarthyism are Edward A. Shils, The Torment of Secrecy (1956); Max Lerner, The Unfinished Country (1959), which reprints a cluster of articles entitled "McCarthy: The Life and Death of a Nightmare" John P. Roche, The Quest for the Dream (1963); and Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1965). Especially good for its historical-sociological perspective is Seymour M. Lipset and Earl Raab, Politics of Unreason, vol. 5: Rightwing Movements in America, 1790-1970 (1970). □

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McCarthy, Joseph Raymond

Joseph Raymond McCarthy, 1908–57, U.S. senator from Wisconsin (1947–57), b. near Appleton, Wis. He practiced law in Wisconsin and became (1940) a circuit judge. He served with the U.S. marines in the Pacific in World War II, achieving the rank of captain. In 1946, McCarthy defeated Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., for the Republican senatorial nomination and then overwhelmed his Democratic opponent in the election. His career in the Senate was undistinguished and obscure until Feb., 1950, when he won national attention with a speech at Wheeling, W.Va., in which he charged that the State Dept. had been infiltrated by Communists. Although a Senate investigating committee under Millard Tydings exonerated the State Dept. and branded the charges a fraud and a hoax, McCarthy repeated his claims in a series of radio and television appearances. Challenged to produce his evidence, he refused and instead made new accusations. When the Republicans assumed control of Congress in 1953, McCarthy, who had been reelected in 1952, became chairman of the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee (Government Operations Committee), a post in which he wielded great power; he used his position to exploit the public's fear of Communism.

Through widely publicized hearings, the use of unidentified informers, and reckless accusation, McCarthy doggedly pursued those whom he classified as Communists and subversives. Careers were ruined on the flimsiest evidence, and his methods came under increasing attack by the press and his colleagues. In Apr., 1954, McCarthy accused Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens and his aides of attempting to conceal evidence of espionage activities that McCarthy and his staff had allegedly uncovered at Fort Monmouth, N.J. The army, in turn, accused McCarthy, his chief counsel, and a staff member of seeking by improper means to obtain preferential treatment for a former consultant to the subcommittee, then a private in the army. After widely publicized hearings McCarthy and his aides were cleared (Aug., 1954) of the army's charges. However, in December the Senate, acting on a motion of censure against him, voted to "condemn" McCarthy for contempt of a Senate elections subcommittee that had investigated his conduct and financial affairs in 1952, for abuse of certain senators, and for insults to the Senate itself during the censure proceedings. After this rebuke, and with the Democrats again in control of Congress after the 1954 elections, McCarthy's influence in the Senate and on the national scene steadily diminished until his death. McCarthy's indiscriminate attacks gave rise to the term "McCarthyism," which denotes similar assaults characterized by sensationalist tactics and unsubstantiated accusations.

See biographies T. C. Reeves (1982, repr. 1997) and D. Oshinsky (1983); studies by R. H. Rovere (1960, repr. 1973), M. P. Rogin (1967), A. J. Matusow (1970), R. Griffith (1970), F. J. Cook (1971), R. Feuerlicht (1972), R. Goldston (1973), D Oshinsky (1973), T. C. Reeves (1982, repr. 1989), M. Landis (1987), E. W. Schrecker (1988), and A. Herman (1999).

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"McCarthy, Joseph Raymond." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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McCarthy, Joseph Raymond

McCarthy, Joseph Raymond (1908–57) US Republican senator, leader of the crusade against alleged communists in the US government. Taking advantage of anti-communist sentiment in the Cold War, he widened his attack to other sectors of public life including the film industry. During the period of ‘McCarthyism’ many of those accused of communism were blacklisted. McCarthy polarised US society; many regarded his hearings as show trials or witch-hunts, while others considered him a hero. In 1954, his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) turned its attention to the army. The hearings were televised, and McCarthy's accusations were shown to be baseless.

http://state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/60.htm; http://cjb.net

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