Telegram from Joseph McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman
Telegram from Joseph McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman
By: Joseph McCarthy
Date: February 11, 1950
Source: The National Archives. "Teaching With Documents: Telegram from Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman." <http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/mccarthy-telegram/> (accessed May 25, 2006).
About the Author: Joseph Raymond McCarthy (1908–1957), was born in the town of Grand Chute, near Appleton, Wisconsin. He graduated with a law degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1935. In 1946, he was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate. A staunch opponent of Communism, McCarthy worked towards exposing Communist elements in the U.S. government throughout his political career. He died at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland on May 2, 1957.
In 1919, after the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (the first Communist revolution of the twentieth century), fear of the increased influence of Communists, Socialists, and anarchists gripped the United States. Known as the "Red Scare," during this period the government of President Woodrow Wilson was allegedly confronted with the prospect of Communists taking over the administration. To curb the influence of Communism on government policies, the U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, initiated the General Intelligence Division of Bureau of Investigation on August 1, 1919. The Bureau arrested and detained several suspected Communists. Although, the Red Scare dissipated by the summer of 1920, concerns about Communism continued to linger.
In the 1930s, gripped by the Great Depression, the focus of the U.S. government shifted to economic policies that could help counter the crisis. However, the administration also established several committees to control the growth of Communism in the country. Anti-Communist activities were toned down the early 1940s, when the United States and the Soviet Union were allies in the fight against Nazi Germany. World War II (1939–1945) led to the spread of Communism throughout Eastern Europe, and after the war anti-Communist sentiment in the United States rose to new heights. Many members of the U.S. Congress proposed anti-Communist measures. One of the most outspoken anti-Communist senators was Republican Joseph R. McCarthy from Wisconsin.
Owing to the mounting pressure of the Cold War, U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) established a loyalty program for federal employees to contain Communism. Several federal employees were investigated for suspected Communist ideology. Reportedly, almost 3,000 employees resigned (or were fired) as a consequence of the investigation. The U.S. Justice Department was also instructed to compile a list of organizations engaging in Communist activities.
However, on February 9, 1950, Senator McCarthy, in a speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, attacked Truman's foreign policy by accusing the U.S. State Department of harboring Communists. McCarthy claimed that he had in his possession a list bearing the names of more than 200 State Department officials who were allegedly members of the Communist Party. This list was, however, never made public. The accusation garnered national attention at a time when fear of Communism at its peak in most Western countries.
On February 11, 1950, two days after his Wheeling Speech, Senator McCarthy sent a telegram to President Truman. In this telegram, McCarthy asserted that he had names of fifty-seven State Department officials with Communist ideologies working against the interest of the United States. He further emphasized that the President should take appropriate action to deal with Communist infiltration in the State Department.
Reno, Nevada Feb 11 1139A
The White House
In a Lincoln Day speech at Wheeling Thursday night I stated that the State Department harbors a nest of communists and communist sympathizers who are helping to shape our foreign policy. I further stated that I have in my possession the names of 57 communists who are in the State Department at present. A State Department spokesman flatly denied this and claimed that there is not a single communist in the department. You can convince yourself of the falsity of the State Department claim very easily. You will recall that you personally appointed a board to screen State Department employees for the purpose of weeding out fellow travelers. Your board did a pains-taking job. And named hundreds which it listed as "dangerous to the security of the nation", because of communistic connections.
While the records are not available to me, I know that of one group of approximately 300 certified to the secretary for discharge, he actually discharged only approximately 80. I understand that this was done after lengthy consultation with Alger Hiss. I would suggest therefore, Mr. President, that you simply pick up your phone and ask Mr. Acheson how many of those whom your board had labeled as dangerous, he failed to discharge. The day the House Un-American Activities Committee exposed Alger Hiss as an important link in an inter-national communist spy ring, you signed an order forbidding the State Departments giving to the Congress any information in regard to the disloyalty or the communistic connections of anyone in that department, dispite this State Department blackout, we have been able to compile a list of 57 communists in the State Department. This list is available to you, but you can get a much longer list by ordering the Secretary Acheson to give you a list of these whom your own board listed as being disloyal, and who are still working in the State Department. I believe the following is the minimum which can be expected of you in this case.
- That you demand that Acheson give you and the proper congressional committee the names and a complete report on all of those who were placed in the department by Alger Hiss, and all of those still working in the State Department who were listed by your board as bad security risks because of the communistic connections.
- That under no circumstances could a congressional committee obtain any information or help from the Executive Department in exposing communists.
Failure on your part will label the Democratic Party of being the bed-fellow on inter-national communism. Certainly this label is not deserved by the hundreds of thousands of loyal American Democrats throughout the nation, and by the sizable number of able loyal Democrats in both the Senate and the House.
Joe McCarthy U.S.S. Wis.
McCarthy's Wheeling Speech and his subsequent telegram to President Truman came at a time when the world was witnessing the rise of Communism in China followed by the nuclear tests in the Soviet Union. In the United States, several prominent personalities, suspected of Communist ties, were arrested. These included former State Department official Alger Hiss, nuclear physicist Klaus Fuchs, who admitted to divulging critical information to the Soviet Union, and scientists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were suspected of espionage.
According to many, McCarthy's allegations appeared credible in the light of the above-mentioned arrests. President Truman, allegedly livid, vehemently opposed the accusations. In March 1950, he responded by stating, "I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy." Truman held McCarthy to be responsible for aiding Soviet interests by sabotaging the nation's bipartisan foreign policy efforts.
Nevertheless, in the following years, McCarthy's views found extensive support in the United States. Soon after Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) was elected president, McCarthy was appointed chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations. Under his chairmanship, the focus of the subcommittee shifted from exposing corrupt officials to eradicating Communist infiltration. In 1953, 117 executive sessions were held by the committee as compared to only six in 1952.
However, McCarthy's search for Communists in various U.S. institutions, and his anti-Communist policies—popularly known as 'McCarthyism'—soon attracted criticism. Severely condemned for his unsuccessful investigation of the Army Signal Corps, many found his behavior unconstitutional and condescending. McCarthy's reputation was further compromised after he accused General Ralph W. Zwicker, a high ranking U.S. Army officer, of being unworthy of his rank. Subsequently, in December 1954, McCarthy was censured by the Senate after it passed a resolution condemning him for abusing his power as a Senator.
Though, McCarthy is considered to be one of the most reviled Senators in U.S. history, the Wheeling speech and his telegram to President Truman are considered significant in containing Communism in the United States. The telegram was widely endorsed by the American public at the time.
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