Joseph R. Mccarthy eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

U.S. senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin points to a map titled U.S. senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin points to a map titled "Communist party organization of the U.S.A. Feb. 9, 1950," during HUAC testimony June 9, 1954, in Washington, D.C. Published by Gale Cengage Corbis Corporation
A political cartoon shows U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy hunting for communists in Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's desk. Illustration by Reg Manning. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. A political cartoon shows U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy hunting for communists in Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's desk. Published by Gale Cengage Library of Congress

Excerpt from "Speech on Communists in the U.S. State Department Made Before the Women's Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, February 1950"

Available at CNN Interactive: Cold War (Web site)

"Ladies and gentlemen, can there be anyone here tonight who is so blind as to say that the war is not on? Can there be anyone who fails to realize that the communist world has said,'The time is now'—that this is the time for the showdown between the democratic Christian world and the communist atheistic world? Unless we face this fact, we shall pay the price that must be paid by those who wait too long."

U.S. senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957) of Wisconsin influenced the Cold War (1945–91) as much as or more than any other single American. He took the extreme concerns about communism and homeland security that citizens had and created a national hysteria. His name permanently entered the U.S. vocabulary with the term "McCarthyism," which came to mean "challenging a person's individual character with lies and mean-spirited suggestions." In early 1950, McCarthy was an ineffective Republican senator from Wisconsin. Worried about his chances for reelection in 1952, he decided to grab headlines by warning of disloyalty at the highest ranks of U.S. government in the State Department.

On February 9, 1950, McCarthy addressed the Ohio County Women's Republican Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. In the Wheeling speech, McCarthy played on the Cold War and Red Scare fears (fear of a communist takeover) by asserting that the communist world, particularly the Soviet Union, was in a showdown with the democratic nations led by the United States. McCarthy dramatically held up a list that he claimed contained names of U.S. State Department

employees who supposedly were known members of or influenced by the Communist Party. McCarthy refused to reveal his sources or give all but a few names on the list. Some time later, it was discovered that the list he held up was his laundry list. Nevertheless, he had caught America's attention and became an instant celebrity.

With the speech, he had crowned himself the leading U.S. anticommunist, the exposer of communists. The American people and press listened intently. McCarthy appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines. McCarthy had hit upon a potent issue that he would pound on for the next four years. The following excerpt from "Speech on Communists in the U.S. State Department" warned Americans of a threat from within.

Things to remember while reading "Speech on Communists in the U.S. State Department":

  • Between 1947 and the end of 1949, McCarthy had developed a reputation in the U.S. Senate as a troublemaker. He had made many enemies with arrogant, rude, inconsistent behavior.
  • Nevertheless, McCarthy was a smooth energetic speaker and had a brilliant knack for grabbing news headlines at just the right time.
  • Americans were already very fearful that the communists were indeed intent on taking over the United States.

Excerpt from "Speech on Communists in the U.S. State Department"

Ladies and Gentlemen: …

Five years after a world war has been won, men's hearts should anticipate a long peace, and men's minds should be free from the heavy weight that comes with war. But this is not such a period—for this is not a period of peace. This is a time of the Cold War. This is a time when all the world is split into two vast, increasingly hostile armed camps—a time of a great armaments race. Today we can almost physically hear the mutterings and rumblings of an invigorated god of war. You can see it, feel it, and hear it all the way from the hills of Indochina, from the shores of Formosa [the island of Taiwan] right over into the very heart of Europe itself.…

Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down.…

Ladies and gentlemen, can there be anyone here tonight who is so blind as to say that the war is not on? Can there be anyone who fails to realize that the communist world has said, "The time is now"—that this is the time for the showdown between the democratic Christian world and the communist atheistic world? Unless we face this fact, we shall pay the price that must be paid by those who wait too long.

Six years ago, at the time of the first conference to map out peace—Dumbarton Oaks [site of an estate used for conferences in the Washington, D.C., area] —there was within the Soviet orbit 180 million people. Lined up on the anti-totalitarian side [against Communist Party rule] there were in the world at that time roughly1.625 billion people. Today, only six years later, there are 800 million people under the absolute domination of Soviet Russia—an increase of over 400 percent. On our side, the figure has shrunk to around 500 million. In other words, in less than six years the odds have changed from 9 to 1 in our favor to 8 to 5 against us. This indicates the swiftness of the tempo of communist victories and American defeats in the Cold War. As one of our outstanding historical figures once said, "When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be because of enemies from without but rather because of enemies from within." The truth of this statement is becoming terrifyingly clear as we see this country each day losing on every front.

U.S. senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, with his attorney Roy Cohn, at a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in 1951. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation. U.S. senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, with his attorney Roy Cohn, at a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in 1951. Published by Gale Cengage Corbis Corporation
At war's end we were physically the strongest nation on Earth and, at least potentially, the most powerful intellectually and morally. Ours could have been the honor of being a beacon in the desert of destruction, a shining, living proof that civilization was not yet ready to destroy itself. Unfortunately, we have failed miserably and tragically to arise to the opportunity.

The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful, potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this nation. It has not been the less fortunate or members of minority groups who have been selling this nation out, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer—the finest homes, the finest college education, and the finest jobs in government we can give.

This is glaringly true in the State Department. There the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones who have been worst.…

In my opinion the State Department, which is one of the most important government departments, is thoroughly infested with communists.

I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy.

One thing to remember in discussing the communists in our government is that we are not dealing with spies who get 30 pieces of silver to steal the blueprints of new weapons. We are dealing with a far more sinister type of activity because it permits the enemy to guide and shape our policy.…

I know that you are saying to yourself, "Well, why doesn't the Congress do something about it?" Actually, ladies and gentlemen, one of the important reasons for the graft, the corruption, the dis-honesty, the disloyalty, the treason in high government positions— one of the most important reasons why this continues—is a lack of moral uprising on the part of the 140 million American people. In the light of history, however, this is not hard to explain.

It is the result of an emotional hangover and a temporary moral lapse which follows every war. It is the apathy to evil which people who have been subjected to the tremendous evils of war feel. As the people of the world see mass murder, the destruction of defenseless and innocent people, and all of the crime and lack of morals which go with war, they become numb and apathetic. It has always been thus after war. However, the morals of our people have not been destroyed. They still exist. This cloak of numbness and apathy has only needed a spark to rekindle them. Happily, this spark has finally been supplied.…

[The existence of communists] has lighted the spark which is resulting in a moral uprising and will end only when the whole sorry mess of twisted warped thinkers are swept from the national scene so that we may have a new birth of national honesty and decency in government.

What happened next …

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) eagerly investigated all those persons on whom McCarthy cast suspicion. Not only did he attack lower-level government officials, but he also reached to the highest levels with his charges. He attacked Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall (1880–1959), Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971), and even Presidents Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61). Republican leadership knew the outrageousness of McCarthy's charges but also knew it was political suicide to try to stop him. The public listened to him. He was reelected as senator of Wisconsin in 1952.

When Eisenhower was inaugurated as president of the United States in 1953, he tried to reel in McCarthy by assigning him to an unimportant committee called the Government Operations Committee. Instead, McCarthy within that committee created the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and appointed himself chairman. The subcommittee became the McCarthy Committee that continued its probing and destruction of individuals, organizations, and even libraries. Finally, by 1954, the public had caught on. Criticism of McCarthyism mounted. When McCarthy began to attack the U.S. Army, he had pushed too far. President Eisenhower, working behind the scenes, and Army attorney Joseph N. Welch (1890–1960) brought McCarthy's long tirade of unjustified attacks to an end. The Senate voted to censure McCarthy, meaning they regarded his behavior from 1950 to 1954 as dishonorable.

Did you know …

  • McCarthy's strategy was to attack then avoid. He attacked by casting doubt on an individual's political loyalties. Though never producing any evidence, he nonetheless forced the individual to publicly defend his or her name.
  • By early 1951, much of the American public, mesmerized by McCarthyism, really did not care if his charges were true or not.
  • Simply being named by McCarthy as a possible subversive was often career-ending.
  • For decades, the McCarthy hearings adversely affected U.S. diplomatic efforts toward the communist countries of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China.

Consider the following …

  • Some called McCarthy a patriot; others accused him of vicious, irresponsible charges that ruined people's lives. Take a side and defend that stance.
  • For decades, Americans struggled to comprehend how a person in the high-profile position of U.S. senator could discredit and trample the constitutionally protected liberties of so many people. What conditions in America allowed this to happen?
  • In the twenty-first century, when someone accuses another of McCarthyism, of what are they accusing the person?

For More Information

Books

Herman, Arthur. Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator. New York: Free Press, 2000.

Oshinsky, David M. A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. Free Press, 1983.

Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.

Sherrow, Victoria. Joseph McCarthy and the Cold War. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1999.

Web Sites

CNN Interactive: Cold War. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/06/documents/... (accessed on September 22, 2003).

Webcorp. Senator Joe McCarthy—A Multimedia Celebration. (accessed on September 15, 2003).