Joseph McCarthy rose to fame as a product of the second great Red scare , a period of extreme fear of communism in the United States. Because of his aggressive pursuit of communists, McCarthy came to symbolize the political extremism of the era.
McCarthy was born in a log cabin in northeastern Wisconsin , on November 14, 1908. He left school and the family farm at age fourteen to set up his own chicken farm, which he operated for five years. When it failed, he managed a grocery store. At the age of twenty, McCarthy went back to high school and then worked his way through college.
First elected office
After earning a law degree in 1935, McCarthy began practicing law. A member of the Democratic Party and a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), McCarthy became an outspoken champion of the New Deal , a set of programs and policies to promote economic recovery and social reform after the economic downturn of the Great Depression (1929–41). Having caught the fever of politics, McCarthy decided to run for the office of district attorney. He lost the election, but three years later he ran in an election
for circuit judge and won. He was still serving as judge when the United States became involved in World War II (1939–45).
World War II service
In 1941, McCarthy enlisted in the Marine Corps . He was commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to an intelligence unit. He returned to the United States with a Distinguished Flying Medal and an Air Medal. He would later use his war effort in politics, campaigning as “Tail Gunner Joe” and referring to a leg injury from a shipboard fall as a “war wound.”
Back home, McCarthy changed his political affiliation to the Republican Party and ran for the U.S. Senate. He lost the 1944 election but immediately prepared for the 1946 Senate race, which he won in an unexpected victory. He took his place in the Senate in 1947.
McCarthy's first few years in the Senate were distinguished mainly by his sharp and often personal attacks on other senators. By 1949, he had the reputation of an upstart and a troublemaker and had made many enemies in the Senate.
Communists in the government
In 1949, McCarthy suddenly developed a concern about communist elements inside the United States. Communism is an economic or social system in which work and property are shared by the whole society, and the state usually controls the economy. Americans at that time associated communism with the Soviet Union and China, both of which had authoritarian governments that repressed free expression and other civil liberties Americans valued.
In later years, McCarthy claimed that in late 1949, three men came to him with a document from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) describing Soviet espionage activities in the United States. They told him that the State Department had ignored the report; they hoped McCarthy would take the report to the public.
Speech in Wheeling
On February 9, 1950, in a speech to a group of Republican women in Wheeling, West Virginia , McCarthy charged that 205 communists were working in the State Department, shaping American foreign policy. He
claimed to have documentation to prove these charges. His speech immediately became front-page news. In a speech to the Senate on February 20, McCarthy said that there were eighty-one communists employed at the State Department.
A congressional investigation found no evidence to support McCarthy's accusations. Oddly, though the hearings discredited him, they attracted widespread publicity and served to rally support for McCarthy.
In the 1950s, the Cold War was heating up. The Cold War was a period of noncombative conflict from the 1940s to the 1990s, between the communist East (mainly the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China) and the capitalist West (mainly the United States and Western Europe). In the United States, many came to view communism itself as the ultimate enemy. Fear of communist agents working in the United States grew into a Red scare, a term that borrowed from the color often used by communist nations on their flags.
McCarthy exploited these fears with his rash and unsupported allegations of communist spies in the government. In 1951, he suggested that Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971), whom he felt was soft on communism, move to the Soviet Union. He charged that celebrated general George Marshall (1880–1959) had knowingly promoted the communist takeover of Eastern Europe and China. Although widely criticized for these remarks, McCarthy remained popular with many voters and won reelection to the Senate in 1952.
The Government Operations Committee
After reelection, McCarthy was assigned to the Government Operations Committee. The committee had the authority to review government activities at all levels. Its chief counsel was Roy Cohn (1927–1986), an arrogant young lawyer who was almost universally disliked, but whose intelligence and knowledge were very important to McCarthy. With Cohn supporting him, McCarthy launched a series of investigations aimed at finding traitorous government employees and security risks everywhere. Soon he was accusing President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61) and his administration of communist links. Many of McCarthy's investigations were viewed by his colleagues in Congress and the White House as irresponsible witch-hunts. But, because a significant portion of the American public believed in him, he maintained his power in the Senate.
The Army-McCarthy hearings
In October 1953, McCarthy launched an investigation of the U.S. Army that would eventually bring him trouble. It began with a probe into the Army Signal Corps station at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey , where radar systems and guided missile controls were being developed. McCarthy claimed that a communist spy ring was in operation there. By this point, McCarthy and his crusade had aggravated senators and the president. Many were seeking a way to expose him as a sensationalist and a liar to the public.
From April to June 1954, the Senate's “Army-McCarthy hearings” were held to investigate charges against the public and countercharges against McCarthy by the government. At President Eisenhower's request, the hearings were conducted before a television audience. Twenty million viewers—two-thirds of American televisions—watched the spectacle. McCarthy spent the hearings bullying and badgering witnesses, interrupting, making vicious personal attacks, and making long, ranting speeches. At last, McCarthy's bad temper and irrational behavior were fully exposed to a disgusted nation. He promptly fell from favor.
On September 15, 1954, a Senate committee recommended that McCarthy be censured (officially reprimanded) for showing contempt to and insulting members of the Senate. Three and a half months later, the Senate approved a resolution of censure by a vote of 67–22. McCarthy continued to serve as a senator but had lost his power. In his last years, he was often absent from Senate sessions.
McCarthy was out of the spotlight, but the Cold War and the Red scare were not over. In 1954, Congress passed the Communist Control Act. The act, designed to outlaw the American Communist Party, went far beyond anything McCarthy had ever proposed. The Eisenhower administration had already begun to steal McCarthy's thunder in conducting witch-hunts of a political nature. Thousands of Americans were accused of being communists, resulting in ruined lives and careers. Civil liberties, such as free speech and freedom to assemble, that were protected under the U.S. Constitution could no longer be taken for granted. Even after McCarthy had stopped taking part in the process, the rampant anti-communist suspicions came to be called “McCarthyism.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy's health was declining. A heavy drinker, he ignored his doctor's orders to stop drinking and died of a liver infection in 1957.
Joseph Mc Carthy
Born: November 14, 1908
Grand Chute, Wisconsin
Died: May 2, 1957
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 shaped—clever and ambitious but lacking moral judgment, or the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
World War II
During World War II (1939–45; 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 (1895–1953) 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 (1884–1972), Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971), and former Secretary of State George Marshall (1880–1959).
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 (1927–1986). Evidence proved that they had sought special favors for G. David Schine (1927–1996), 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 (1890–1960), 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.
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.
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). □
McCarthy, Joseph Raymond
MCCARTHY, JOSEPH RAYMOND
Joseph Raymond McCarthy was a U.S. senator who during the early 1950s conducted a highly controversial campaign against supposed Communist infiltration of the U.S. government. His accusations and methods of interrogation of witnesses came to be called "McCarthyism," a term that remains a part of the U.S. political vocabulary. Though he was ultimately censured for his activities by the Senate, McCarthy was, between 1950 and 1954, the most powerful voice of anti-communism in the United States.
McCarthy was born November 14, 1908, in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. He graduated from Marquette University in 1935 with a bachelor of laws degree. He practiced law in Wisconsin until 1939, when he was elected a circuit court judge. During world war ii, McCarthy served in the Marine Corps as a tailgunner. He progressed to the rank of captain and was awarded several commendations for his military achievements.
McCarthy used his wartime record as "Tailgunner Joe" to help upset Republican Senator robert m. lafollette Jr., in the 1946 Wisconsin primary election. McCarthy was elected to the Senate in 1946 and reelected in 1952.
During his first three years in office, McCarthy was an undistinguished and relatively unknown senator. He catapulted to public attention, however, after giving a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in February 1950. In the speech, McCarthy charged that 205 Communists had
infiltrated the state department. He claimed that Communist subversion had led to the fall of China to the Communists in October 1949. A Senate investigating committee ordered McCarthy to produce evidence of his accusations, but he was unable to produce the names of any Communists.
"The fate of the world rests with the clash between the atheism of Moscow and the Christian spirit throughout other parts of the world."
Despite this failure to produce evidence, McCarthy escalated his anti-Communist crusade. He accused Democratic President harry s. truman's administration of harboring Communists and of failing to stop Communist aggression. His accusations struck a chord with many U.S. citizens,
who were fearful of the growth of Communism and the menace of the Soviet Union as well as angry at the U.S. government's apparent inability to prevent the spread of Communism.
In 1953 McCarthy became the chair of the Senate's Government Committee on Operations and head of its permanent subcommittee on investigations. Though dwight d. eisenhower, a Republican, became president in 1953, McCarthy used the investigations sub-committee to continue his campaign against Communist subversion in the federal government. McCarthy brought persons before his committee who he claimed were "card-carrying" Communists. He made colorful and clever accusations against these witnesses, who, as a result, often lost their jobs and were labeled as subversive. Evidence that a person had briefly joined a left-wing political group during the 1930s was used by McCarthy to suggest that the person was a Communist or a Communist sympathizer.
McCarthy attacked some of the policies of President Eisenhower, yet the president was reluctant to criticize the popular senator. In April 1954 McCarthy leveled charges against the U.S. Army, claiming the secretary of the army had concealed foreign espionage activities. Thirty-six days of televised hearings ensued, known as the "Army-McCarthy hearings." McCarthy was unable to substantiate any of his allegations. During the course of the hearings, McCarthy's aggressive and intimidating tactics backfired, turning public opinion against him.
After the Democrats regained control of the Senate in the November 1954 elections, McCarthy was replaced as chair of the investigating committee by Senator john l. mcclellan of Arkansas. McClellan, who had been critical of McCarthy's approach, helped lead an effort to censure McCarthy for his methods and for his abuse of other senators. In 1955, the Senate, on a vote of 67 to 22, moved to censure McCarthy.
The censure vote marked the decline of McCarthy's political influence. He died on May 2, 1957 in Bethesda, Maryland.
Cunningham, Jesse G., ed. 2003. The McCarthy Hearings. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press.
Herman, Arthur. 2000. Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator. New York: Free Press.
Kinsler, Joseph. 2001. "Joseph McCarthy, the Law Student." Marquette Law Review 85 (winter): 467–79.
McCarthy, Joseph Raymond