By: Joseph R. McCarthy, Joseph N. Welch
About the Authors: Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957) was a little-known senator from Wisconsin in 1950, when he won instant notoriety alleging a large network of communists within the U.S. government. Starting in 1953 he used his political position to go after a wide array of alleged communists. Facing growing opposition until the Army-McCarthy hearings, he finally lost credibility and was censured by Congress. He died a few years later of complications from alcoholism.
Joseph N. Welch (1890–1960) was a successful trial lawyer at Hale & Dorr, a large Boston law firm. In April 1954 he was appointed to his most famous case, serving as special counsel to the Department of the Army in the congressional inquiry with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. During the televised hearings, Welch became a familiar face to the American public. He went on to appear in television programs and movies, notably as a judge in the 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder.
By the end of World War II (1939–1945), the Soviet Union had achieved extensive power in eastern Europe, causing great concern among the Western nations. Distrust grew to extreme proportions, triggering the Cold War, which was accompanied by a renewed and heightened anticommunist fervor in the United States. While the tension among nations was very real, there were those who manipulated American fears for political and even personal purposes. The best known of these was Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy was relatively unknown until February 1950, when, in a speech, he claimed that he had in his hand a list of 205 communists who worked in the State Department. No list was ever produced, but he gained a lot of attention. For four years, McCarthy made outrageous charges and prompted numerous unnecessary investigations, always accompanied with maximum publicity and minimum evidence. His attacks were popular amid Cold War fears, though, and Republicans, with a hot campaign issue, won overwhelmingly in the 1952 elections. In 1953 McCarthy got himself appointed chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its investigative arm, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. His chief counsel on the committee was Roy Cohn, who had become known for his zealous work in the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
In 1954, McCarthy decided to take on the U.S. Army. When one of McCarthy's consultants, G. David Schine, was drafted, McCarthy let the army know he wanted Schine to get a special assignment. The army's refusal angered McCarthy, apparently to the point of his accusing the army of harboring communists. Several highly charged conflicts took place between McCarthy and army officials. Finally, an investigation into the charges and counter-charges was arranged. The hearings were televised live.
The two-month Army-McCarthy hearings destroyed Joseph McCarthy precisely because they were televised.Twenty million television viewers watched throughout April and May 1954 as McCarthy's bad temper and irrational behavior flared. His bullying tactics and even apparent drunkenness were duly noted. Then on June 9 McCarthy confronted army counsel Joseph Welch with the fact that an attorney in his law firm, Fred Fisher, had once been a member of the National Lawyer's Guild, a group with Communist Party associations. Welch had excluded Fisher from the trial because he had known that McCarthy would use the information on his past to manipulate the trial. In his famous outburst—"Have you left no sense of decency?"—Welch brought home to the American audience the devious methods used by the senator.
McCarthy was cleared of the army's charges, but by the end of the year, the Senate voted to "condemn" him for contempt of a Senate elections subcommittee that had investigated his conduct and financial affairs in 1952 and for his abusive and insulting behavior toward several Senators. The McCarthy era was over.
Primary Source: "The Army-McCarthy Hearings" [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: During the Army-McCarthy hearings, McCarthy's dramatic tactics fail him. When McCarthy accuses Joseph N. Welch, the army's highly respected counsel, of having an attorney on his staff who was once a member of the Lawyers Guild, a "communist front," Welch puts into perspective for the viewing audience what kind of upstanding people are being hurt by McCarthy's charges and how severe the repercussions of the McCarthy "witch-hunts" really are.
Secretary [of the Army] Stevens: Gentlemen of the committee, I am here today at the request of this committee. You have my assurance of the fullest cooperation.
In order that we may all be quite clear as to just why this hearing has come about, it is necessary for me to refer at the outset to Pvt. G. David Schine, a former consultant of this committee. David Schine was eligible for the draft. Efforts were made by the chairman of this committee, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and the subcommittee's chief counsel, Mr. Roy M. Cohn, to secure a commission for him. Mr. Schine was not qualified, and he was not commissioned. Selective service then drafted him. Subsequent efforts were made to seek preferential treatment for him after he was inducted. Before getting into the Schine story I want to make two general comments.
First, it is my responsibility to speak for the Army. The Army is about a million and a half men and women, in posts across this country and around the world, on active duty and in the National Guard and Organized Reserves, plus hundreds of thousands of loyal and faithful civil servants.
Senator McCarthy: Mr. Chairman, a point of order.
Senator Mundt: Senator McCarthy has a point of order.
Senator McCarthy: Mr. Stevens is not speaking for the Army. He is speaking for Mr. Stevens, for Mr. Adams, and Mr. Hensel. The committee did not make the Army a party to this controversy, and I think it is highly improper to try to make the Army a party. Mr. Stevens can only speak for himself.…
All we were investigating has been some Communists in the Army, a very small percentage, I would say much less than 1 percent. And when the Secretary says that, in effect "I am speaking for the Army," he is putting the 99.9 percent of good, honorable, loyal men in the Army into the position of trying to oppose the exposure of Communists in the Army.
I think it should be made clear at the outset, so we need not waste time on it, hour after hour, that Mr. Stevens is speaking for Mr. Stevens and those who are speaking through him; when Mr. Adams speaks, he is speaking for Mr. Adams and those who are speaking through him, and likewise Mr. Hensel.
I may say I resent very, very much this attempt to connect the great American Army with this attempt to sabotage the efforts of this committee's investigation into communism.…
Mr. Welch: Mr. Cohn, what is the exact number of Communists or subversives that are loose today in these defense plants?
Mr. Cohn: The exact number that is loose, sir?
Mr. Welch: Yes, sir.
Mr. Cohn: I don't know.
Mr. Welch: Roughly how many?
Mr. Cohn: I can only tell you, sir, what we know about it.
Mr. Welch: That is 130, is that right?
Mr. Cohn: Yes, sir.…
Mr. Welch: Will you not, before the sun goes down, give those names to the FBI and at least have those men put under surveillance.…
Senator McCarthy: Mr. Chairman, let's not be ridiculous. Mr. Welch knows, as I have told him a dozen times, that the FBI has all of this information. The defense plants have the information. The only thing we can do is to try and publicly expose these individuals and hope that they will be gotten rid of. And you know that, Mr. Welch.
Mr. Welch: I do not know that.…
Cannot the FBI put these 130 men under surveillance before sundown tomorrow? …
Mr. Welch: Mr. Cohn, tell me once more: Every time you learn of a Communist or a spy anywhere, is it your policy to get them out as fast as possible? …
Mr. Welch: May I add my small voice, sir, and say whenever you know about a subversive or a Communist spy, please hurry. Will you remember those words? …
Senator McCarthy: … In view of Mr. Welch's request that the information be given once we know of anyone who might be performing any work for the Communist Party, I think we should tell him that he has in his law firm a young man named Fisher whom he recommended, incidentally, to do work on this committee, who has been for a number of years a member of an organization which was named, oh, years and years ago, as the legal bulwark of the Communist Party, an organization which always swings to the defense of anyone who dares to expose Communists. I certainly assume that Mr. Welch did not know of this young man at the time he recommended him as the assistant counsel for this committee, but he has such terror and such a great desire to know where anyone is located who may be serving the Communist cause, Mr. Welch, that I thought we should just call to your attention the fact that your Mr. Fisher, who is still in your law firm today, whom you asked to have down here looking over the secret and classified material, is a member of an organization, not named by me but named by various committees, named by the Attorney General, as I recall, and I think I quote this verbatim, as "the legal bulwark of the Communist Party." He belonged to that for a sizable number of years, according to his own admission, and he belonged to it long after it had been exposed as the legal arm of the Communist Party.
Knowing that, Mr. Welch, I just felt that I had a duty to respond to your urgent request that before sundown, when we know of anyone serving the Communist cause, we let the agency know. We are now letting you know that your man did belong to this organization for, either 3 or 4 years, belonged to it long after he was out of law school.
I don't think you can find anyplace, anywhere, an organization which has done more to defend Communists—I am again quoting the report—to defend Communists, to defend espionage agents, and to aid the Communist cause, than the man whom you originally wanted down here at your right hand instead of Mr. St. Clair.
I have hesitated bringing that up, but I have been rather bored with your phony requests to Mr. Cohn here that he personally get every Communist out of government before sundown. Therefore, we will give you information about the young man in your own organization.
I am not asking you at this time to explain why you tried to foist him on this committee. Whether you knew he was a member of that Communist organization or not, I don't know. I assume you did not, Mr. Welch, because I get the impression that, while you are quite an actor, you play for a laugh, I don't think you have any conception of the danger of the Communist Party. I don't think you yourself would ever knowingly aid the Communist cause. I think you are unknowingly aiding it when you try to burlesque this hearing in which we are attempting to bring out the facts, however.…
Mr. Welch: Mr. Chairman, under these circumstances I must have something approaching a personal privilege.…
Mr. Welch: Senator McCarthy, I think until this moment—
Senator McCarthy: Jim, will you get the news story to the effect that this man belonged to this Communist-front organization? Will you get the citations showing that this was the legal arm of the Communist Party, and the length of time that he belonged, and the fact that he was recommended by Mr. Welch? I think that should be in the record.
Mr. Welch: You won't need anything in the record when I have finished telling you this.
Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us.
When I decided to work for this committee I asked Jim St. Clair, who sits on my right, to be my first assistant. I said to Jim, "Pick somebody in the firm who works under you that you would like." He chose Fred Fisher and they came down on an afternoon plane. That night, when he had taken a little stab at trying to see what the case was about, Fred Fisher and Jim St. Clair and I went to dinner together. I then said to these two young men, "Boys, I don't know anything about you except I have always liked you, but if there is anything funny in the life of either one of you that would hurt anybody in this case you speak up quick."
Fred Fisher said, "Mr. Welch, when I was in law school and for a period of months after, I belonged to the Lawyers Guild," as you have suggested, Senator. He went on to say, "I am secretary of the Young Republicans League in Newton with the son of Massachusetts' Governor, and I have the respect and admiration of the 25 lawyers or so in Hale & Dorr."
I said, "Fred, I just don't think I am going to ask you to work on the case. If I do, one of these days that will come out and go over national television and it will just hurt like the dickens."
So, Senator, I asked him to go back to Boston.
Little did I dream you could be so reckless and cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale & Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale & Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I will do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.…
Senator McCarthy: May I say that Mr. Welch talks about this being cruel and reckless. He was just baiting; he has been baiting Mr. Cohn here for hours, requesting that Mr. Cohn, before sundown, get out of any department of Government anyone who is serving the Communist cause.
I just give this man's record, and I want to say, Mr. Welch, that it has been labeled long before he became a member, as early as 1944—
Mr. Welch: Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild, and Mr. Cohn nods his head at me. I did you, I think, no personal injury, Mr. Cohn.
Mr. Cohn: No, sir.
Mr. Welch: I meant to do you no personal injury, and if I did, beg your pardon.
Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
Senator McCarthy: I know this hurts you, Mr. Welch. But I may say, Mr. Chairman, on a point of personal privilege, and I would like to finish it.—
Mr. Welch: Senator, I think it hurts you, too, sir.
Senator McCarthy: I would like to finish this.
Mr. Welch has been filibustering this hearing, he has been talking day after day about how he wants to get anyone tainted with communism out before sundown. I know Mr. Cohn would rather not have me go into this. I intend to, however, Mr. Welch talks about any sense of decency. If I say anything which is not the truth, then I would like to know about it.
The foremost legal bulwark of the Communist Party, its front organizations, and controlled unions, and which, since its inception, has never failed to rally to the legal defense of the Communist Party, and individual members thereof, including known espionage agents.
Now, that is not the language of Senator McCarthy. That is the language of the Un-American Activities Committee. And I can go on with many more citations. It seems that Mr. Welch is pained so deeply he thinks it is improper for me to give the record, the Communist front record, of the man whom he wanted to foist upon this committee. But it doesn't pain him at all—there is no pain in his chest about the unfounded charges against Mr. Frank Carr; there is no pain there about the attempt to destroy the reputation and take the jobs away from the young men who were working in my committee.
And, Mr. Welch, if I have said anything here which is untrue, then tell me. I have heard you and every one else talk so much about laying the truth upon the table that when I hear—and it is completely phony, Mr. Welch, I have listened to you for a long time—when you say "Now, before sundown, you must get these people out of Government," I want to have it very clear, very clear that you were not so serious about that when you tried to recommend this man for this committee.…
Senator McCarthy: Let me ask Mr. Welch. You brought him down, did you not, to act as your assistant?
Mr. Welch: Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this with you further. You have sat within 6 feet of me, and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have brought it out. If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.…
Mr. Jenkins: Senator McCarthy, how do you regard the communistic threat to our Government as compared with other threats with which it is confronted?
Senator McCarthy: Mr. Jenkins, the thing that I think we must remember is that this is a war which a brutalitarian force has won to a greater extent than any brutalitarian force has won a war in the history of the world before.
Fried, Albert. McCarthyism: The Great American Red Scare: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Garber, Marjorie B., and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, eds. Secret Agents: The Rosenberg Case, McCarthyism, and Fifties America. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Heale, M.J. McCarthy's Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935–1965. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1998.
Herman, Arthur. Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator. New York: Free Press, 2000.
Reeves, Thomas C. The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography. Lanham, Md.: Madison Books, 1997.
Rosteck, Thomas. "See It Now" Confronts McCarthyism: Television Documentary and the Politics of Representation. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1994.
Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.