Czech Republic Senator Joseph McCarthys political career was in danger when he walked into the Colony Restaurant in Washington, DC for dinner with three of his friends. The date was January 7, 1950. A month earlier, he had been voted worst U.S. Senator in a poll of Senate correspondents. In his earlier years as Senator, he had been known for taking loans and funds from businesses totaling $30,000. This included the Pepsi-Cola company, which earned him the nickname Pepsi-Cola Joe1, and the Lustron Corporation, which dealt in prefabricated houses.
About this time McCarthy was also deemed responsible for the resignation of Senate subcommittee chairman Raymond E. Baldwin, who left politics citing McCarthys abuse towards him during the Malmedy WWII hearings the last straw 2. Not only was his political career in danger, but McCarthy was also suffering from financial troubles. He had squandered all the money from his political funds into soybean investments and horse racing, which left him nearly broke3. With these things in mind, McCarthy and his three associates- William Roberts, a Washington lawyer; Charles Kraus, a political science professor at Georgetown; and Father Edmund Walsh, a dean also at George University set out to discover that fateful night what could possibly rejuvenate the political career of Joseph McCarthy before the upcoming election of 52.
The trio of Roberts, Kraus, and Walsh recommended that McCarthy should try taking up a cause, and to do so seriously and passionately. But what should it be? Ideas and issues were tossed about the group concerning old age pension to the St. Lawrence Seaway. McCarthy dismissed them all. But then Walsh suggested communism, and McCarthys ears realized that they had just struck gold.
Thats it! exclaimed an excited McCarthy. The government is full of Communists. We can hammer away at them. 4 And with that statement, Senator Joseph McCarthys witchhunt against communism had begun. 33 days later in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator Joseph McCarthy stood on a podium before the Ohio Valley Womens Republican Club.
I have in my hand, he began, a list of 205 card-carrying Communists who are now employed in the State Department and whose identities are well known to the State Department as being members of the Communist party. 5 On that night his life, as well as the lives of many other Americans, would forever change. McCarthy would begin a brief but astounding crusade against the so-called Communist infiltration of the U.S. government. During a span of about 4 years, McCarthy accused hundreds of government and former government workers of being Communist with little or no concrete evidence. Even so, McCarthy was able to win many convictions and victories without much protest and opposition.
Why did McCarthy go relatively unscathed throughout his witchhunt until he was finally censured by the Senate in 1954? According to a nationwide poll taken during the era of McCarthyism, 50% of those polled said they approved of his methods, with 21% undecided6. What allowed him to do this for so long with the approval rather than the condemnation of the people? The key to the success and tolerance of McCarthy was due to a combination of several things. First, there was the recent espionage cases of Hiss and the Rosenbergs. McCarthy also greatly benefited from the pro-McCarthy media, which took up and glamorized his cause. There was also the fact that communism was in many cases a viable scapegoat for a frightened and restless people. McCarthyism was also Americanism; it represented the duty of the patriotic American. McCarthyism became an offensive tool against the threat of the spread of communism.
At the time of McCarthys infamous Wheeling speech, the nation had just learned that the threat of Communists in high level positions in Washington was in fact real. Alger Hiss, a former State Department official and at the time President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had been convicted of perjury just one month prior to McCarthys speech7. Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist himself, had charged Hiss with supplying classified information to the Soviet Union. The guilty verdict in this case rose many eyebrows and gave many people cause for alarm. A couple of months later, McCarthys cause was helped along even more by the arrests of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg8. Julius Rosenberg, an army electrical engineer, and his wife, Ethel, were both arrested in the spring of 1950. The two had given sketch blueprints of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union back in 1945, which had accelerated Soviet development of the atomic bomb. The Soviets managed to detonate an atomic bomb by September of 19499, which created a new atmosphere of tension in America.
These two specific cases of espionage and treason were the main catalysts in the peoples fear of Communist infiltration within the government. The Alger Hiss case easily set the stage for Joe McCarthys crusade against communism. The Rosenberg case worked even better for McCarthy in gaining the favor and concern of the people. Extra concern grew out of the fact that not only had the Rosenbergs gained access to high security documents, but that they were also American-born citizens, not immigrants. The fear that possibly more spies disguised as American citizens existed was what McCarthy successfully preyed on.
The people also welcomed communism as a scapegoat to all the post WWII peace problems around the world. The Iron Curtain, Berlin Blockade, trouble in Eastern Europe, formation of NATO, Soviet possession of the atomic bomb, the crisis in Korea, and other things were able to be successfully blamed on Communism. Communism and its followers were quickly rallied against in America, much to the benefit of people such as Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was also able to take full advantage of the press and media. He became a favorite of the press, being given nicknames such as the tough new kid on the block10 and being compared to Huey Long. McCarthy became the man of the headlines.
Front page headlines would often begin with something like MCCARTHY CHARGES or NEW MCCARTHY INVESTIGATIONS BEGIN or MCCARTHY OUTLIN4ES NEW REDHUNTING PLAN11. Rarely would a newspaper refute or dispute a McCarthy charge or accusation. If it did, it would never be on the front page, however. In the early 1950s, a person often resorted to the newspaper as the first source of news and information. What they learned and thought was greatly affected by the writer of the news articles.
A great deal of people trusted the word of the paper a little too much when it came to the subject of McCarthy. McCarthy had manipulated the press into painting a portrait too worthy of himself. To many people, McCarthy was a hero. He was the good guy in the struggle between the good, democratic American and the evil Communists. McCarthyism therefore began to be take up its cause in the name of Americanism. Americanism became an attractive lure to the restless people of the early 1950s, who were seeking stability and what they thought was a way to peace.
Many people began to personally take up McCarthys cause, whether from high ranking State Department officials to the poor rural farmer. Perhaps inspired by the reckless ambition of McCarthy, many people believed that it was the duty of the American to help and promote McCarthys cause. McCarthy received donations from all over the nation, from amounts of $1 to $10,000; all from average American citizens12. In the face of the Cold War and the spread of communism, McCarthyism also became part of Americas containment policy. The fear of the spread of communism was not limited to just uneducated citizens; it went all the way up to the highest positions of government. By holding this fear, McCarthyism held the full support of the Republican party and many members of the State Department.
In the minds of the people, the threat of communism someday controlling the lives of Americans loomed too large to ignore. Those members of the government in support of McCarthyism also found it to be a matter of national security. It had already been proven that Communists and Communist spies had already infiltrated the federal government. The smuggling out of the atomic bomb blueprints had already demonstrated the severe consequences which could occur if a security breach occurs again. Even if some of the good went down with the bad, they felt it was unfortunate but necessary in the long run. Among the most brilliant of the victims of the McCarthy witchhunt was Dr.
Robert J. Oppenheimer13, also known as the father of the atomic bomb. The peak of McCarthyism was achieved in 1953, which included the famous burning of the Communist books14 in State Department libraries overseas as ordered by the State Department. McCarthy had previously enjoyed a relatively unmolested time during his years leading the witchhunt. But that suddenly changed when the Army decided to challenge McCarthy once and for all. Before a set of nationally televised hearings, McCarthys true character was revealed to the public. After witnessing more than enough of his bullying and condescending behavior, he quickly lost his followers. The final nail in the coffin came in the form of a Senate censure, which effectively ended his political career.
McCarthy would officially die of peripheral neuritis just three years later, but rumors exist that he actually died of liver cirrhosis due to his heavy drinking15. While McCarthy lived a short and pathetic life after he was censured in 1954, he is still perhaps the most famous and most intriguing Senator in U.S. history. Never before and since has one U.S. Senator commanded so much power and control at one time.
McCarthy was able to do this because his entrance into the national spotlight was timed perfectly. It was during a time of fear and restlessness, when a fear of communism had penetrated the lives of restless and impatient Americans. It was during a time of wars- the Cold War and the Korean War, which brought the threat of Communist infiltration closer than ever before. It was during a time of a national media growing in size, power, and technology, with widespread use of the television right around the corner. It was during a time where America recognized it was the largest power in the world, but with the power came a great deal of responsibility. It became of time of McCarthyism-a time of fear, a time of injustice, and a time of captivation.
All this proceeded without argument and began and ended with just one man from the town of Appleton, Wisconsin- Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bibliography Footnotes 1. Adams, John G., Without Precedent (1983) Toronto, Canada: George J. Mcleod Limited, p. 18 2.
Adams, p. 20 3. Adams, p.21 4. Rovere, Richard H. Senator Joe McCarthy (1959) Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing Company, pp.
122-123 5. McCarthy, Joseph R. McCarthyism, the Fight for America (1952) New York: Arno Press 6. Rovere, p.23 7. Matusow, Allen J. Joseph R.
McCarthy (1970) Englewoods Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., p.6 8. Matusow, p.9 9. Blum, John M. The National Experience (1993) Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, p. 800 10. Adams, p.
27 11. Adams, p. 27 12. Adams, p. 28 13.
Blum, p. 823 14. Blum, p. 823 15. Rovere, p.