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What Was the Rise and Fall of McCarthyism?

What Was the Rise and Fall of McCarthyism?



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In the years after the end of World War Two, the US – inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy – was gripped with such paranoia about Soviet sympathisers and spies in the heart of government that to this day the term McCarthyism means the making of wild and boundless accusations in government.

This frenzy of anti-Russian fear, also known as The Red Scare, reached its height on the 9 February 1950, when McCarthy accused the US Department of State of being filled with secret Communists.

Given the geopolitical situation in 1950, it was hardly surprising that tensions and suspicions were running high however. The Second World War had ended with Stalin’s USSR – rather than the free Capitalist world – being the real winner, and Europe was locked in a new and silent struggle as the eastern half of it fell to the Communists.

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In China meanwhile, the openly US-backed opposition to Mao Zedong was failing, and tensions in Korea had exploded into full-scale war. Seeing how easily countries like Poland and now China and Vietnam had fallen, much of the western world was confronting the very real threat of Communism taking over everywhere – even the previously untouchable United States.

To make matters worse, a perceived Soviet scientific superiority had lead them to test their own nuclear weapons in 1949, many years earlier than US scientists had predicted.

Now nowhere in the world was safe, and if another war was to be fought between capitalism and communism, then it would be even more ruinous than the one which had defeated Fascism.

The expansion of Communism, with 1920s-30s in burgundy, 1940s-50s in red and 1960s-70s in pink.

McCarthyism in politics

Amidst this backdrop, Senator McCarthy’s 9 February outburst becomes a little more understandable. While addressing a Republican Women’s Club in West Virginia, he produced a piece of paper which he claimed contained the names of 205 known Communists who were still working in the State Department.

The hysteria that followed this speech was so great that from thereon the hitherto little-known McCarthy’s name was given to the mass anti-communist fervour across America.

Now a political celebrity, McCarthy and his mostly right-wing allies (men who had called President Roosevelt a Communist for his New Deal) engaged on a vicious campaign of public accusation against anyone who had any connection with left-of-centre politics.

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Tens of thousands lost their jobs as they came under suspicion, and some were even imprisoned, often with very little evidence to support such a move.

McCarthy’s purge was also unconfined to political opponents. Two other sections of US society were targeted, the entertainment industry and the then illegal homosexual community.

McCarthyism in Hollywood

The practice of denying employment to actors or screenwriters who had suspected ties with Communism became known as the Hollywood Blacklist, and only ended in 1960 when Kirk Douglas, the star of Spartacus, publicly acknowledged that former Communist Party member and blacklisted Dalton Trumbo had written the screenplay for the Oscar-winning classic.

Others on the list included Orson Welles, star of Citizen Kane, and Sam Wannamaker, who reacted to being blacklisted by moving to the UK and becoming the inspiration behind the rebuilding of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The “Lavender Scare”

More sinister was the purge on homosexuals, which became known as the “Lavender scare.” Gay men in particular were associated with Communism in the popular imagination after the revelation of a Soviet spy ring in the United Kingdom known as the “Cambridge five,” which included Guy Burgess, who was openly gay in 1951.

Kim Philby, one of the “Cambridge Five”, as depicted on a Soviet Union stamp.

Once this broke McCarthy’s supporters were zealous in firing large numbers of homosexuals even if they had absolutely no connection with Communism. In 1953 President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which barred any gays from working in the Federal Government. Astonishingly, this was not overturned until 1995.

McCarthy’s downfall

Eventually, however, McCarthyism ran out of steam. Though evidence has shown that the US had indeed been severely penetrated by Soviet spies, two key events in 1954 brought the Senator’s downfall.

The first was the Army-McCarthy hearings, with dealt with his conduct while investigating the spread of Communism into the army. The hearing was televised and got a huge amount of publicity, and the revelations about McCarthy’s overzealous methods contributed hugely to his fall from grace.

Anti-Communist firebrand Joseph McCarthy.

The second was the suicide of Senator Lester Hunt in June. An outspoken critic of McCarthyism, Hunt was preparing to stand for re-election when McCarthy’s supporters attempted to blackmail him out of it by threatening to arrest and publicly prosecute his son over allegations of homosexuality.

After being bullied like this for months, Hunt cracked and killed himself. Unsurprisingly, when details of this came to light, it meant the end for McCarthy. In December 1954 the Senate passed a vote to censure him for his actions, and he died of suspected alcoholism three years later.


The Rise And Fall Of McCarthyism

Late last year, celebrity lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz joined the ranks of authors opining on the sex scandals of President Clinton. In his latest book, he lambasted key anti-Clinton players as a cadre of political opportunists determined to “get” a man they had always considered unfit for high office.

Their words and deeds, Dershowitz concluded, have resembled those of the much-maligned anti-communist crusader Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in the 1950s. So he dubbed his collection of anti-impeachment essays “Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis.”

Dershowitz is by no means the first person to invoke an “ism” that — as McCarthy biographer Richard H. Rovere wrote as early as 1959 — has become synonymous with “whatever is illiberal, repressive, reactionary, obscurantist, anti-intellectual, totalitarian, or merely swinish,” nor will he be the last. But his resurrection of the classic slam against extremism begs the question of what exactly McCarthyism is and whether its alleged practitioners have demonized Clinton unfairly.

The best place to find the answers is the pages of congressional history, where the man behind the “ism” staked his claim to infamy.

Into the anti-communist storm
The spirit of McCarthyism in its original form — blanket and brutal condemnation of anything or anyone remotely communist — found its place in America long before McCarthy lent his voice to the cause. Soon after the Wisconsin Republican was elected to the Senate in 1946, however, Time magazine senior editor Whittaker Chambers fingered former Truman administration official Alger Hiss as part of a communist ring bent on infiltrating and overtaking the government.

On Jan. 21, 1950, after more than a year of charges and countercharges between Chambers and Hiss, a jury convicted Hiss of two counts of perjury related to the allegations of his communist past. Two weeks later, Republicans formally accused the Truman administration of a “soft attitude” on communism.

The GOP then unleashed its elected leaders on an anxious nation for a series of Lincoln Day speeches across the country, and McCarthy was among the rhetorical troops tasked with playing to a people haunted by Cold War fears. Appropriate to his freshman rank in the party’s hierarchy, McCarthy made his mid-February rounds to places as obscure as Huron, S.D., and Wheeling, W.Va.

But with the nation in the midst of a “red” frenzy, neither McCarthy’s freshman standing in the Senate nor the venues for his speech mattered. When he stood before the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling and said he had “here in my hand” a list of 205 communists who had infiltrated the State Department as a “spy ring,” he was sure to move into the political spotlight. And he did — despite the fact that he never had a list of names and that in later speeches he repeatedly changed the number of the alleged State Department communists.

The reaction to McCarthy’s speech catapulted him to the center of the anti-communist storm. On Feb. 20, he read a revision of his Wheeling speech into the Congressional Record. And in a six-hour floor speech that Congressional Quarterly said senators were compelled to attend, he boasted of having exposed the spies concealed behind “Truman’s iron curtain of secrecy.”

The next day, the Senate authorized a probe of State Department employees by a special Foreign Relations subcommittee. Sen. Millard E. Tydings, D-Md., chaired the panel, which held 31 days of hearings between March 8 and June 28. McCarthy charged 10 people with communistic ties by name, and he labeled John Hopkins University professor Owen J. Lattimore as “the top Russian spy.”

From investigator to investigated
The committee refuted that charge and others in its final report issued July 20, going so far as to call the charges part of “perhaps the most nefarious campaign of untruth in the history of our Republic.” But that rebuke from the Democratic majority did little to deter McCarthy. Over the next four years, he became a household name thanks to a series of investigations related to his tirades against communism.

Even the election of GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 — the same year McCarthy, in his bid for a second term, defeated Democrat Thomas Fairchild — did not serve to soften McCarthy’s dire warnings of a communist-controlled government. In fact, McCarthy gained even more notoriety because he became chairman of the Senate Government Operations’ Permanent Investigations Subcommittee.

That platform, though, proved to be both a blessing and a curse. It enabled McCarthy to initiate his own probes — against Eisenhower’s State Department, the press and the military. But his abuse of his newfound power hastened McCarthy’s ultimate downfall.

The end began with McCarthy’s investigation of the armed services in the fall of 1953, during which all three Democrats of the subcommittee resigned in protest of McCarthy’s heavy-handed control of the panel. They rejoined in January 1954, after McCarthy agreed to procedural changes. But the animosity between McCarthy and the Army officials he routinely berated — McCarthy suggested that one general lacked “the brains of a five-year-old” — made further conflict inevitable.

Then came the bombshell: McCarthy and his top aide, Roy M. Cohn, were charged with using their congressional power to intimidate the Army for favorable treatment of G. David Schine, a close friend of Cohn’s who had been drafted. McCarthy temporarily resigned his chairmanship to be investigated by his own subcommittee.

On Dec. 2, 1954, a Senate divided evenly between the two parties censured McCarthy by a vote of 67-22. All 44 Democrats and 22 Republicans agreed that McCarthy had, in reaction to the charges against him, “acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” Only the third senator to be censured by his colleagues, McCarthy died of liver disease May 2, 1957.

Everything but the ‘simple truth’
Nearly a half-century later, as lawmakers contemplate the potential censure of a president widely acknowledged as having tarnished the office he holds, the cries of McCarthyism from Clinton’s defenders seem disingenuous at best and hypocritical at worst. Their tactics, in fact, seem to have more in common with McCarthy than those of Clinton’s critics. The president’s defenders have sought to paint a broad, albeit poorly defined, group as “right-wing conspirators,” much as McCarthy did with his enemies.

The appeal to McCarthy also seems misplaced for another reason: Clinton shares a substantial character flaw with McCarthy. Both men had a penchant for lying. Clinton’s foes, in other words, have not impugned his character when they call him a liar they have accurately described it.

Before believing that Clinton is a victim of modern-day McCarthyites, think of these words of McCarthy biographer Rovere and whether they also apply to Clinton: “[H]e was the only politician of his time who would unashamedly persist in misrepresenting a simple truth even when the truth was accessible to everyone and when everyone could see what he was doing with the truth.”


First Red Scare: 1917-1920

The first Red Scare occurred in the wake of World War I. The Russian Revolution of 1917 saw the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, topple the Romanov dynasty, kicking off the rise of the communist party and inspiring international fear of Bolsheviks and anarchists.

In the United States, labor strikes were on the rise, and the press sensationalized them as being caused by immigrants bent on bringing down the American way of life. The Sedition Act of 1918 targeted people who criticized the government, monitoring radicals and labor union leaders with the threat of deportation.

The fear turned to violence with the 1919 anarchist bombings, a series of bombs targeting law enforcement and government officials. Bombs went off in a wide number of cities including Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, D.C., and New York City.

The first Red Scare climaxed in 1919 and 1920, when United States Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer ordered the Palmer raids, a series of violent law-enforcement raids targeting leftist radicals and anarchists. They kicked off a period of unrest that became known as the “Red Summer.” 


The Rise And Fall Of McCarthyism: An Explanation Of How The Media Created And Then Destroyed Joseph McCarthy.

another. McCarthy barraged his
opposition with accusations and evaded demands for tangible proof as he
developed a loyal following. With the support of many Republicans, he accused
the administrations of Roosevelt and Truman with "twenty years of
treason."(Grolier, 1996)
After his reelection in 1952, McCarthy directed similar accusations at
the Eisenhower administration from a new post as head of the Senate's Government
Operations Committee and it's permanent investigations subcommittee. Eventually
he was discredited by the lack of substance in his claims of Communist
penetration in the U.S. army, through the nationally televised Army-McCarthy
hearings in 1954. On December 2,1954 the Senate voted to condemn him for
"conduct contrary to Senatorial traditions." The final vote was 67-22. From
this point forward any influence of Joe McCarthy was known to be small and
insignificant. McCarthy was politically dead. (Ewald, 1984, p.381)
Joseph McCarthy was an insignificant figure .

denied having said what he was quoted to have said in the
speech. Apparently there was only one reporter present for the speech in
Wheeling, so it's his word against McCarthy's. The statement quoted in the
speech published in the Wheeling Intelligence in the story by Frank Desmond,
read as follows,

While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the
State Department who have been named as members of the
Communist party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my
hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of the
State as being members of the Communist party and who
nevertheless are .


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The Rise and Fall of 'Tail-Gunner Joe'

THERE ARE not many men whose very names have added to the language. And considering some of them --Nicolas Chauvin, Captain Boycott, Elbridge Gerry (of gerrymander fame)--one must admit that by and large they are a rather unsavory lot. Well, Joseph Raymond McCarthy, junior senator from Wisconsin from 1948 to 1957, has now joined this company. All that remains is for the word to be written in lower case, as it is with the rest, and then the man will have slipped into history and only "mccarthyism" will remain.

Thomas C. Reeves seems to have been aware of the inevitable fate awaiting the subject of this biography, for The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy is quite a successful effort to have the last word on the man before he becomes just an ism. But in the way of those who seek to have the last word, he seems to feel it necessary to rap the knuckles of those--Richard Rovere and Jack Anderson among them--who had words before him. This wouldn't be worth mentioning except that for all its research, and in spite of its great length and considerable detail, the book presents a portrait of its subject that does not differ essentially from the ones already presented. There was, it seems, only one Joe McCarthy, and he was just as bad as we have all been told.

In a number of ways, Thomas C. Reeves is the ideal biographer for McCarthy. His tenure as professor of history at the University of Wisconsin gave him ample time and opportunity to gather material on the politician's background in his native state, and this portion of the book (its first hundred-plus pages) is the most incisive and revealing of all. He makes it evident that, just as it was with Richard M. Nixon, the pattern of behavior for which McCarthy became notorious was well-established before he became a national figure.

To begin with, on a number of occasions Reeves goes into rather peculiar contortions in order to view his subject in the best possible light. For example, he tells us that as a boy, "Joe was . . . aggressive. Tim (his father) taught his son to box when Joe was about twelve, and neighborhood boys sometimes avoided the McCarthy farm because of Joe's strength and love of a scrap." Now, a less charitably inclined biographer might simply conclude from this that McCarthy was a bully and say as much--but not Reeves. And again, viewing "Tail- Gunner Joe's" sorry service record--the foot he broke on shipboard that he claimed ever afterward as a war wound, the strafing he gave the tail of his own dive bomber, his recommendation of himself for the Distinguished Flying Cross--Reeves tends to be forgiving: "But in fairness it must be said that he served the corps and his country ably and with distinction. He risked his life on several occasions and not entirely for the later political dividends."

Well, maybe. But it does appear from the evidence here that everything he did was for political gain from the time he ran for district judge and in a bitterly disputed election became the youngest justice in the state. Using that office as a springboard and, soaring high on that virtually fictitious war record, he dove directly into the United States Senate in 1948. Yet it was two years before he caused much of a splash. That happened after he had fought a dirty battle with a newspaper in his home state, The Madison Capital Times. The publication had been after him from the start, attacking him for his campaign practices, judicial conduct, and election- law irregularities. In 1949, he counterattacked with a vengeance, charging that the paper's city editor was "the Red mouthpiece for the Communist Party in Wisconsin." He claimed that the man had once been a member of the Party but was only able to tie him to a number of organizations that the attorney general's list had labeled "Communist-front." That, however, was all that was necessary to get him more publicity than he had ever gotten before in his home state. The lesson was not lost on him he had found his true vocation.

It was only a few months later that Joe McCarthy, out on the stump for Republican candidates, gave his famous Wheeling speech in which he stated that he had the names of 205--or was it 57? or 83?--known Communists in the State Department. And thus the personal crusade that was dubbed by The Washington Post's Herblock as "McCarthyism" got under way. The source for McCarthy's wild charge was a 1946 letter from James Byrnes, who was then secretary of state, which had been published in the Congressional Record, saying that a certain number of the department's employees were not recommended for permanent peacetime employment. The senator got the number wrong he had no idea how many (if any) of these had been retained and he simply chose to assume that they were considered undesirable because they were active members of the Communist Party.

In the beginning, he told a few reporters to pay no attention to his claim, that it was "just a political speech to a bunch of Republicans." Did he have any names? Just two, he confided. Actually, he had none at the time, but the China Lobby was soon to supply them. And of course these names became almost household words during the '50s as he dragged them through the mud-- Philip C. Jessup, Owen Lattimore, Joseph Grew, Harlow Shapley, John Stewart Service, and others. These were the men, he was assured, who had "given" China to the Reds. McCarthy, who, as his biographer makes clear, was totally ignorant of both international and domestic communism, was converted into a true believer and began his bitter campaign against the Truman administration's State Department in general and its old China desk in particular.

He kept it alive for nearly four years, during which the Korean War began, and the flames of anti-Communist hysteria were fanned by him, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and various free-lance pyromaniacs into a blazing conflagration. Whether they believed in McCarthyism or not, many Republicans were more than willing to take advantage of it. Joe became the party's hired gun, riding into states all over the country to give speeches, wave his photostats and make his calculated charges of Communist infiltration of the government (he was always careful of what he said when not protected by congressional immunity). And he was effective: many Republicans owed their election to him and their parroting of his line and he personally disposed of at least two enemies in the Senate.

Even Dwight Eisenhower overcame his distaste for the man and his methods and made limited use of the loyalty issue in his 1952 presidential campaign. Yet the Republican Party and Eisenhower made the mistake of thinking they could control McCarthy. And the senator, in turn, made a major miscalculation when he attempted to "prove" Communist infiltration of the United States Army. The hottest item he came up with was an army dentist who had declined to sign the attorney general's list on Fifth Amendment grounds. He was hauled before McCarthy and two days later discharged from the Army. The officer who had signed his honorable discharge (there were no grounds to give him any other kind), was then brought in and publicly humiliated for permitting this "spy" to escape into civilian life. This did not sit well with Eisenhower or the Army.

Joe McCarthy rose to his position of power quite simply because he was good copy. More than that, he knew how to handle the press of his day: He found that reporters and editors were far more interested in printing his accusations than they were in following up on them, and so kept right on making accusations. However, when McCarthy met the Army in the famous hearings before his committee in 1954, it was in full view of the American public, for the five weeks of the hearings were televised in their entirety.

This sort of coverage was inimical to his style: his droning voice and nervous giggle, his constant interruptions with "point of order, point of order," even his scowling, blue-jawed visage convinced viewers that he was what the liberal press had said he was all along--a bully. And if the McCarthy-Army hearings had a villain, they also had a hero. The Boston trial lawyer Joseph Welch, as special counsel to the Army, was more than a match for him. Kindly-seeming, relaxed, even fatherly, Welch fit the white-hat role as though he had been cast for it, and he played it for all he was worth. His honest personal indignation at McCarthy's attempt to smear a young lawyer in his firm is as stirring to read today as it was to hear when it was broadcast.

When the hearings ended and the smoke cleared, McCarthy's career was in a shambles. The public was revolted by his performance. The Senate decided at last to listen to his critics in its number and censure proceedings were initiated against him. McCarthy had actually gone a bit haywire. His drinking, always a problem, had gotten completely out of hand during the Army hearings and the censure proceedings. He passed the remaining two and a half years in the Senate in an alcoholic haze. He died, apparently of cirrhosis of the liver, on May 2, 1957.

Author Thomas C. Reeves says that his "life was profoundly tragic," which is certainly open to question, but he goes on to sum him up quite justly: "His native intelligence and his industry were largely squandered. He brought far more pain into the world than any man should. He was above all a reckless adventurer, an improviser, a bluffer. . . ."

That was the McCarthy style, and it was because of his style that he was finally brought down. What about the substance of his charges? No indictments resulted from them, although many people were forced out of government service, and there was one suicide. There are those who will say that laws should be passed to protect us from such as Joseph R. McCarthy, just as there were those who said that laws should be passed to protect us from the Communists. But at its best, democracy is sloppy. A system of government that is too efficient and too well-protected is no longer democratic. A Joe McCarthy, a Richard Nixon, the tolerance of a radical political minority--this is the price we pay for democracy in America. And although in human terms the expense may be great, looked at historically it seems well worth the price.


Joseph McCarthy

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Joseph McCarthy, in full Joseph Raymond McCarthy, (born November 14, 1908, near Appleton, Wisconsin, U.S.—died May 2, 1957, Bethesda, Maryland), American politician who served in the U.S. Senate (1947–57), representing Wisconsin, and who lent his name to the term McCarthyism. He dominated the U.S. political climate in the early 1950s through his sensational but unproven charges of communist subversion in high government circles. In 1954, in a rare move, McCarthy’s Senate colleagues officially censured him for unbecoming conduct.

Did Joseph McCarthy cause the Red Scare of the 1950s?

Despite being the popular face of the Red Scare that followed World War II, Joseph McCarthy did not start it. Congress and the American public widely supported anticommunist security measures in 1948 and 1950, due to contemporary anxieties after the rise of Communist China, the Korean War, and the Alger Hiss trial, among other factors. Learn more.

How did Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist rhetoric impact the LGBTQ+ community?

Joseph McCarthy framed the Cold War ideological struggle in terms of Christian morality and immoral “communistic atheism.” Throughout the early 1950s, his crusade against communist immorality was accompanied by a government-mandated purge of federal employees deemed national security threats on account of their “perverted” sexual orientation. The effects would linger long after the McCarthy era.

Why did Joseph McCarthy’s influence decline?

In 1953 Joseph McCarthy accused the U.S. Army of harbouring communist subversives. The Army then submitted a report alleging that McCarthy’s attorney had improperly pressured the Army secretary into giving preferential treatment to a McCarthy associate. McCarthy disputed the Army’s claims, and an ensuing 1954 Senate investigation exposed McCarthy’s lies and tactics on national television. Learn more.

A Wisconsin attorney, McCarthy served for three years as a circuit judge (1940–42) before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. In 1946 he won the Republican nomination for the Senate in a stunning upset primary victory over Sen. Robert M. La Follette, Jr. he was elected that autumn and again in 1952.

McCarthy was at first a quiet and undistinguished senator. He rose to prominence in February 1950 when his public charge—in a speech given in Wheeling, West Virginia—that 205 communists had infiltrated the State Department created a furor and catapulted him into headlines across the country. Upon subsequently testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, he proved unable to produce the name of a single “card-carrying communist” in any government department. Nevertheless, he gained increasing popular support for his campaign of accusations by capitalizing on the fears and frustrations of a country weary of the Korean War and appalled by communist advances in eastern Europe and China. McCarthy proceeded to instigate a nationwide militant anticommunist “crusade” he appeared to his supporters as a dedicated patriot and guardian of genuine Americanism, to his detractors as an irresponsible self-seeking witch-hunter who was undermining the country’s traditions of civil liberties.

After McCarthy’s reelection in 1952, he obtained the chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations of the Senate and of its permanent subcommittee on investigations. For the next two years he was constantly in the spotlight, investigating various government departments and questioning innumerable witnesses about their suspected communist affiliations. Although he failed to make a plausible case against anyone, his colourful and cleverly presented accusations drove some persons out of their jobs and brought popular condemnation to others. The persecution of innocent persons on the charge of being communists and the forced conformity that the practice engendered in American public life came to be known as McCarthyism. Meanwhile, other government agencies did, with less fanfare, identify and prosecute cases of communist infiltration.

McCarthy’s increasingly irresponsible attacks came to include U.S. Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower and other Republican and Democratic leaders. His influence waned in 1954 as a result of the sensational, nationally televised, 36-day hearing on his charges of subversion by U.S. Army officers and civilian officials. That detailed television exposure of his brutal and truculent interrogative tactics—which famously prompted Joseph Nye Welch, special counsel for the army, to ask McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”—discredited him and helped to turn the tide of public opinion against him.

When the Republicans lost control of the Senate in the midterm elections that November, McCarthy was replaced as chairman of the investigating committee. On December 2, 1954, the Senate felt secure enough to formally condemn him on a vote of 67 to 22 for conduct “contrary to Senate traditions,” thus ending the era of McCarthyism. McCarthy was largely ignored by his colleagues and by the media thereafter and died before he had completed his second term in office.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.


10 comments on &ldquo The rise and fall of the Knights Templar in Ireland. &rdquo

A fascinating and timely post with interest in the Templars renewed by the tragic events in Norway (albeit for all the wrong reasons).

I had always assumed that the Templars had played a part in the defence of the English colony in Ireland. The Hospitalers certainly seem to have done so since they contributed several public officials to the colony including a chancellor and chief governor. Would the Templars have been really persuaded not to attack the Irish because of vows not to shed Christian blood especially given the views held by the Norman-British colonists in the country even after a century or two of settlement?


How McCarthyism Worked

Mass hysteria has reared its ugly head for as long as humans have existed. Adolf Hitler worked enough people into a frenzy to justify the murder of millions of Jews. Jesus Christ, known by all as peaceful, if controversial, was brutally nailed to a cross because a few high-ranking officials felt threatened by him. Although one would hope that people would learn a lesson or two from the mistakes of the past, it seems that history, as the old cliché goes, is forever doomed to repeat itself.

Enter Senator Joseph McCarthy. While he may not have caused genocide or murdered a prophet, he was able to whip up hysteria in America in the early 1950s. McCarthy's issue of choice? Communism. The American Heritage Dictionary defines McCarthyism as "the political practice of publicizing accusations of disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence."

Communism, in simple terms, is an economic system designed to equally benefit everyone in the society. The idea is that everyone contributes to the society and gets an equal share of property and goods. Communist systems are generally controlled by dictators and totalitarian governments — think China, Cuba and North Korea.

By the '50s, communism wasn't exactly a new worry for the United States. In the aftermath of World War I, the country had experienced the First Red Scare ("red" is slang for communism). Russia had a new communist government as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and dictator Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) had brutally slaughtered about 9 million of his people for resisting his ideals [source: The History Guide]. All of this upheaval upset Americans, so lawmakers decided to prevent the spread of communism to the United States by enforcing the Sedition Act and the Espionage Act. The First Red Scare was characterized by the ferocity with which the U.S. government identified and attacked suspected communists.

By the time McCarthy won a Senate seat in 1946, World War II was over and the Cold War was beginning. Communist governments had gained hold in Eastern Europe and China, and Americans were increasingly concerned about it — and about rumors of high-ranking U.S. government officials who were secret communists. McCarthy took advantage of the mounting fear, but because it isn't actually illegal to be a communist, he started charging people with the act of subversion — the "systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working from within" [source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law]. Then he got to work prosecuting them for selling or giving American security secrets to communist governments.

In this article, you'll learn about the basics of communism, McCarthy's interview tactics, and recent evidence about the communist presence in the United States at the time of McCarthyism. You'll also learn about the impact of McCarthy's accusations on the lives of the accused, the country as a whole and his own family name.­


The Rise and Fall of Spittoons in the United States

Decorated Surinam porcelain spittoon. Note this type of spittoon has a spout hole on the side for emptying.

Spittoons, bowl-shaped vessels into which tobacco chewers spit, were widely used in public in the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Even though cigarettes existed in the United States during the 19th century, they were not nearly as popular as chewing tobacco. In order to accommodate the excess saliva chewers expectorated, spittoons were placed in public buildings ranging from taverns to courtrooms, railroad cars, and used in private homes.

American Spittoon Usage in the 19th Century

From the days of the early settlers in 17th century Virginia, tobacco has been grown and marketed in the United States. As a result of the growing number of people who chewed tobacco, spittoons became a common sight during the 19th century. The number of spittoons in use reached its peak from 1880 to 1918. In fact, in 1880, the Boston Fire Department owned 260 spittoons. Spittoons were so common in public that their presence was one of the topics discussed at annual conferences of the United States Public Health Service.

Spittoons were designed to sit on a flat surface, most often on the floor. They were round and had a funnel-shaped covering. In theory, men were supposed to spit tobacco juice on to the funnel covering and it would go into the hole in the center. In reality, most of the time, the general direction of the spittoon was reached but the final destination ended up being on the floor.

Regulating Spittoons in Passenger Trains

By 1913, the use of spittoons was a topic of the 11th Annual Conference of State and Territorial Health Officers with the United States Public Health Service. Rupert Blue, Surgeon General, in his letter of March 13, 1913, announcing the date and location of the conference wrote, “Among the matters to come before the conference…sanitation of public conveyances.” At the conference, held on June 16, 1913, in Minneapolis, doctors and other health officials discussed whether there should or should not be spittoons in day coaches on trains. Some locations required porters on the trains to control or monitor the use of spittoons, “so that if people traveling have to expectorate they can have a spittoon.”

At the 13th annual Public Health Service Conference, held May 13, 1915, in Washington, D.C., the discussion about spittoons ranged from regulation to how usage influenced social customs and public health. The matter was referred to a committee on sanitation of public conveyances for written rules throughout all states and territories regarding consistency of size and number of spittoons used on public transportation.

The recommendation by the special committee was that spittoons should be cleaned frequently and that every smoking compartment would have at least two spittoons. When an entire car was used for smoking and chewing tobacco, the recommendation was for one spittoon every three seats. If the railroads wanted to offer more than the recommended number, that would be their option.

Dangers of Spittoons and the Spread of Tuberculosis

After the number of spittoons for smoking compartments and day smoking cars was agreed upon, concern was expressed regarding ease of access by passengers. Since the recommendation was to have one spittoon for every three seats in a day smoking car, then for people not seated next to a spittoon, they would have to spit over the seats and passengers to reach the nearest one. The conference then suggested changing the recommendation from one spittoon for every three seats to one for every two seats.

Having a day smoking car would take the spittoons out of the first class coaches. Ladies in first class would no longer have to pick up their skirts to step over the spittoons. The committee members pointed out that some spittoons were 6 or 8 inches high. They should not be in cars where they are not used.

Another reason why the conference wanted regulations for spittoons was to prevent lawsuits from potential accidents. Without regulating the placement and storage of spittoons, then if anyone, male or female, tripped and fell over a spittoon, they could potentially claim damages from the railroad.

Concern over the spread of tuberculosis put an end to the wide-spread use of spittoons. As part of the 1915 Public Health Service Conference, doctors stated that sputum was collected in Louisiana from people of various professions whether they were tobacco chewers or not. The findings showed that out of every 1,000 samples, 26 had tuberculosis.

Spittoons in Modern Times

Spittoons, also called cuspidores, are still in use in modern times but in limited ways. They are used for wine-tasting, and are the small porcelain sink next to a dentist’s chair. The floor of the U.S. Senate has spittoons as a symbol of a bygone era.

The poor aim around spittoons is depicted in a painting in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. This mural, A Social History of Missouri by Thomas Hart Benton, is located in the House Lounge and is a series of scenes from the early settlers to the cities during the 1930s. One scene shows a courtroom trial in progress and a spittoon on the floor surrounded by saliva made brown by tobacco.


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