Mccarthyism: Witch Hunt for Communists

Thesis Statement

During the early 1950s, a tragic witch hunt for communists took place. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy accused more and more communists as the decade continued. However, he eventually went too far by accusing the army of being in favor of communists. During nationally televised hearings, the army triumphed over McCarthy’s unfair court methods and prevented him from accusing any more innocent people of being communists.

Joseph McCarthy’s Early Years

Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy was born on November 14, 1908. He had eight siblings and lived in Appleton, Wisconsin. At the age of fourteen, Joseph McCarthy quit school to work as a chicken farmer and, later, a grocery store manager. Once he was twenty, McCarthy returned to high school. There, he was able to complete his unfinished years of school in one year. After high school, McCarthy was accepted into Marquette University. It was there where he received his degree in law. After, McCarthy worked as a lawyer but was not very successful. McCarthy then ran a campaign to become a circuit court judge. He ran a dirty campaign by spreading lies about his opponent that turned many against the other man.

McCarthy in the U.S. Marines

Once McCarthy was thirty-three, World War Two began and he resigned from his position of a circuit court judge to join the U.S. Marines. McCarthy was in the U.S. Marines for thirty months. McCarthy was making plans to run for Wisconsin Senator at that time, so he made sure that everybody back home knew of his “heroic” deeds. He applied constantly for the Distinguished Flying Cross award, claiming that he had flown at least thirty-two combat missions. He did end up receiving the award, along with others, even though McCarthy only had nine confirmed combat missions.

After World War Two

After the war, McCarthy ran for the Senate against Robert La Follette, having previously lost against Alexander Wiley. He won the election but didn’t do much in his first years of office. In order to be sure that he wouldn’t be defeated in the next election, McCarthy asked his advisors for advice. One of his advisors suggested moving against communists in the Democratic party.

If McCarthy was running in a campaign, he would often spread lies about his opponent. These lies sometimes had to do with his opponents' age or accusing the opponent of war profiteering. These techniques worked nevertheless.

The Beginnings of Accusing Suspected Communists

Whilst McCarthy was giving a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950, he stated that he had a list of 205 suspected communists in the State Department. However, McCarthy changed that number fifty-seven later.

Naturally, McCarthy’s speech got the public into a frenzy. Citizens had been terrified of Communist infiltration in the United States for a while. Reporters were anxious to see the list of communists. McCarthy agreed, but then always got out of having to show the reporters the list. In Nevada, McCarthy received a telegram from the Deputy Undersecretary of State, John Peurifoy. The telegram demanded that McCarthy provide the information of suspected communists in the State Department. However, instead of agreeing, McCarthy sent a telegram to President Truman, saying that he needed Truman to open the files of the fifty-seven “communists.” McCarthy threatened Truman that, if he didn’t open the files, the Democratic party would be labeled as a supporter of the Communist party.

McCarthy got much of his information from loyalty documents made in 1947 (also known as the “Lee List”). The Lee List was inaccurate, biased, and outdated, but McCarthy was able to pass it off as a credible source of information in a Senate speech. McCarthy added his own “facts” to the documents and cut out some of the evidence that had proved that some individuals were free from guilt.

The Tydings Committee

The Tydings Committee hearings began on March 8, 1950. Democrats wished to discredit McCarthy in the hearings. Instead of focusing on the 205 people allegedly listed, McCarthy focused on nine in particular. This included some who had never worked for the State Department in the first place or had stopped working there long ago. The Tydings Committee released a report on July 14, 1950. The report was written mostly by Democrats and stated that the people listed as “known communists” were not communists or in favor of communism. However, McCarthy continued to repeat his claims on radio and television.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

By 1953, McCarthy was still in office and was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations. This committee included the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The subcommittee was used by McCarthy to investigate alleged communists in the U.S. government. However, McCarthy became very agitated when witnesses cited the fifth amendment in order to not answer a question that may harm them. There was no way that McCarthy could get around this defense, so he settled for trying to lecture and guilt the witnesses into answering. Soon, McCarthy turned his attention away from the State Department and began to investigate Army employees.

During the testimony of Leo Kantrowitz, on March 10, 1954, Kantrowitz consistently cited the fifth amendment. When McCarthy asked Kantrowitz whether he resigned from his job because of accusations of communism, Kantrowitz cited the fifth amendment yet again and then the following exchange occurred:

“The CHAIRMAN. I think I will have to order you to answer that. I am not asking whether you are a Communist, I am not asking whether or not the accusations are true. I am merely asking you the facts surrounding your resignation, the reason for the resignation. I can see nothing incriminating about that. I think I will order you to answer that.

Mr. Kantrowitz. I still refuse to answer on the same ground.

The Chairman. Do you understand that you have been ordered to answer?

This exchange shows how McCarthy would order a person to answer a question even though the person in question had already cited the fifth amendment repeatedly.

The “Army-McCarthy” Hearings

The Army-McCarthy hearings began in April 1954. They began because of a soldier in the army was accused of being a communist. In response, the U.S. Army accused McCarthy and his lawyer, Roy Cohn, of misusing their power to get special treatment for Gerard Schine, a man who had once worked under McCarthy. Then, McCarthy claimed that the U.S. Army was trying to stop a Senate investigation into the matters. The hearings were the first to be nationally televised. Now, people didn’t need to guess what was happening in the courtrooms. They could see from home, and what they saw turned many against McCarthy. The televised hearings revealed McCarthy’s cruel nature and his supporters dropped from 50% to 34% by June.

The hearings lasted from April 22 to June 17, 1954. People had been fine with McCarthy accusing government employees, but they began to doubt McCarthy when he went after the army. Many of McCarthy’s former supporters ended up rooting for the army.

McCarthy’s Downfall

McCarthy composed a speech to deliver against the Senate. He never delivered it, but he did publish it in the Congressional Report. In the speech, McCarthy stated, “If I lose on the censure vote it follows, of course, that someone else wins… the Communist Party… It has made a committee of the Senate it’s unwilling handmaiden… in writing it’s report it imitated Communist methods… It did the work of the Communist party”. This speech shows how McCarthy relied so on his methods of accusing those against him of being communists that he would use the method to get out of any situation, essentially turning the pointed figure onto his protesters.

Despite McCarthy’s efforts, on December 2, 1954, the army voted in favor of censoring Joseph McCarthy on the grounds of forty-six charges, including abuse of legislative powers.

After McCarthy

After being censored, McCarthy remained in the Senate but had no power. However, the essential defeat of McCarthy did not stop McCarthyism. Those who had been accused of communism found it difficult to convince society that they were innocent. Public school teachers could not return to their jobs. The people who had named suspected communists were able to continue on with their lives normally, but those who didn’t weren’t and were cited for contempt. More than 2,000 government employees lost their jobs due to these investigations. Richard Nixon began to attack Democrats for being communists during his campaign for the 1954 midterm elections. Even now, there are some cases of suspected McCarthyism, such as “Anti-Bush Protesters Prosecuted for ‘Unauthorized Display of Sign.”.

In conclusion, McCarthyism is now defined as, “The political practice of publicizing accusations of disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence,” and, “The use of dubious methods of investigation in order to suppress opposition”. During the 1950’s Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy investigated communist infiltration in the state department and army. A majority of his victims were in fact innocent. McCarthy’s downfall was brought upon him when he went too far and accused the army of communist infiltration. However, his downfall did not make McCarthyism stop.

This topic relates to the theme, Triumph, and Tragedy because McCarthy’s investigations tragically affected the lives of many Americans for the worse. Many lost their jobs due to the trials. However, this topic also represents triumph because, due to the Army-McCarthy Hearings, McCarthy was exposed and removed from power. This time in history goes to show that it is possible for those in our country to remove a person who does not use their power correctly from their position of authority. However, it also shows that the person who abuses their power can get away with it, at least for some time. In other words, our government may not be perfect, but it is able to recognize and correct it’s mistakes most of the time.

29 April 2022
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