Joseph Raymond McCarthy (14 November 1908 - 2 May 1957) was an American politician and attorney who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in the United States in which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread communist subversion. He alleged that numerous communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers had infiltrated the United States federal government, universities, film industry, and elsewhere. Ultimately, the smear tactics that he used led him to be censured by the U.S. Senate. The term "McCarthyism", coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy's practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. Today, the term is used more broadly to mean demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.
- 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.
- As you know, very recently the secretary of state proclaimed his loyalty to a man guilty of what has always been considered as the most abominable of all crimes — of being a traitor to the people who gave him a position of great trust. The secretary of state, in attempting to justify his continued devotion to the man who sold out the Christian world to the atheistic world, referred to Christ's Sermon on the Mount as a justification and reason therefore, and the reaction of the American people to this would have made the heart of Abraham Lincoln happy. When this pompous diplomat in ugly pants, with a phony British accent, proclaimed to the American people that Christ on the Mount endorsed communism, high treason, and betrayal of a sacred trust, the blasphemy was so great that it awakened the dormant indignation of the American people.
He 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 ugly so ugly that we may have a new birth of national honesty and decency in government.
- Any man who has been given the honor of being promoted to general and who says, "I will protect another general who protects Communists," is not fit to wear that uniform, general.
- Remark to Gen. Ralph Zwicker during the Army investigations (18 February 1954), as quoted in A Conspiracy So Immense (2005) by David M. Oshinsky
- Good evening. Mr. Edward R. Murrow, Educational Director of the Columbia Broadcasting System, devoted his program to an attack on the work of the United States Senate Investigating Committee, and on me personally as its chairman, and over the past four years he has made repeated attacks upon me and those fighting Communists... Now, ordinarily--I would not take time out from the important work at hand to answer Murrow. However, in this case, I feel justified in doing so because Murrow is a symbol, a leader and the cleverest of the jackal pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual Communists and traitors.
- From Senator McCarthy's rebuttal to Edward R. Murrow's program on CBS news show See It Now best remembered as the show that criticized the Red Scare and contributed to the political downfall of McCarthy.
Quotes about McCarthy Edit
- Sorted alphabetically by author or source.
- The Western Right, on the other hand, did struggle to condemn Soviet crimes, but sometimes using methods that harmed their own cause. Surely the man who did the greatest damage to anti-communism was the American Senator Joe McCarthy. Recent documents showing that some of his accusations were correct do not change the impact of his overzealous pursuit of communists in American public life: ultimately, his public "trials" of communist sympathizers would tarnish the cause of anti-communism with the brush of chauvinism and intolerance. In the end, his actions served the cause of neutral historical inquiry no better than those of his opponents.
- When the wind is right, a faint odor of kerosene is exhaled from Senator McCarthy.
- Ray Bradbury, in Nation (2 May 1953), and quoted in "About Fahrenheit 451 : Historical Influences for Fahrenheit 451"
- Nothing would probably please him more than to get the publicity that would be generated by a public repudiation by the President.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, on declining to publicly confront McCarthy's strategies, as quoted in The Party of Fear (1988), by David Harry Bennett, p. 304
- I will not get in the gutter with that guy.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, as quoted in Eisenhower: The Inside Story (1956) by Robert J. Donovan
- The junior senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatreds and prejudices of the American people that he has started a prairie fire which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.
- J. William Fulbright (D-Arkansas), as quoted in Enough Rope (1969) by Arthur Vivian Watkins
- When public men indulge themselves in abuse, when they deny others a fair trial, when they resort to innuendo and insinuation, to libel, scandal, and suspicion, then our democratic society is outraged, and democracy is baffled. It has no apparatus to deal with the boor, the liar, the lout, and the antidemocrat in general.
- J. William Fulbright, remarks in the Senate (February 2, 1954), Congressional Record, vol. 100, p. 1105
- Radicalism or anti-radicalism should have had nothing to do with the sly, miserable methods of McCarthy, Nixon and colleagues, as they flailed at Communists, near-Communists, and nowhere-near Communists. Lives were being ruined and few hands were raised in help. Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?
- Lillian Hellman, in Scoundrel Time (1976), p. 82
- Sad is a fake word for me to be using, I am still angry that their reason for disagreeing with McCarthy was too often his crude methods. . . . Many of the anti-Communists were, of course, honest men. But none of them . . . has stepped forward to admit a mistake. It is not necessary in this country; they too know that we are a people who do not remember much.
- Lillian Hellman, in Scoundrel Time (1976), p. 150
- In fact, most of what people ordinarily mean when they talk about the 'red scare', the House Un-American Activities Committee; anti-Communist probes into Hollywood, labor unions, and America's schools and universities; the Rosenberg trial; blacklisting in the media and schoolteachers fired for disloyalty, had nothing to do with McCarthy and he had nothing to do with them (although when asked, he generally approved of them, as most other Americans did). McCarthy's own committee in the Senate, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which he chaired for less than two years, had a specific duty to investigate communism in the federal government and among government employees. It had done so before he became chairman, and it did so after he left, under Senator John McClellan and Bobby Kennedy. The men and women McCarthy targeted, rightly or wrongly, as Communists or Communist sympathizers all shared that single characteristic: they were federal employees and public servants, and therefore, McCarthy and his supporters argued, they ought be held accountable to a higher standard than other American citizens. That fact tends to get lost when historians dwell exclusively on the stories of harassment, professional disgrace, and other indignities suffered as a result of McCarthy's and other anti-Communist investigations.
- Arthur Herman, as quoted in "Joseph McCarthy: Reexaming the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator" (1999), by A. Herman, Free Press
- The hardest thing I ever did was keep my temper at that time.
- Hoover knew that Joe wasn't the best guy in the world to be doing this job. We all did ... But his attitude was, "Thank God somebody's doing it." They were fighting the same enemy, you know.
- Robert J. Morris, as quoted in A Conspiracy So Immense, (2005) by David M. Oshinsky, p. 258; this summation of Hoover's attitude by Morris has since appeared as if it were a direct quote of Hoover.
- It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind as between the internal and the external threats of communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Good night, and good luck.
- Not only in Britain but also in the USA the communists were as distant as ever from power and influence. But not every anti-communist was willing to do things on the quiet. Joe McCarthy, the rough-tongued Senator for Wisconsin, made his case inside and outside the Senate and avowed that communism was sucking the lifeblood of American public life. He dug up evidence – and sometimes invented it – that Moscow had secret collaborators everywhere. He appeared live on television brandishing his lists of communists and their supporters. Those whom he identified as subversives were required to ‘name names’ of communist friends or face professional ruin. McCarthy concentrated his fire on filmmaking and other sectors of the media. Often his accusations were ill founded but he succeeded in creating an atmosphere of suspicion which pervaded American public life. The playwright Arthur Miller refused to submit to the Senator for Wisconsin. Instead he drafted The Crucible, a play about the witch-hunt craze in seventeenth-century New England, which was an obvious allegory of hysteria and persecution. McCarthy’s own activities came under scrutiny after he was accused of seeking illegal favours for his protégés. The Senate held a debate on him and by a large majority ruled that he had abused his power. McCarthy died in ignominy in 1957. Yet his impact was enormous and permanent. No longer did the left-wing American press give gentle treatment to Marxism as had been the case before the Second World War. Words like communism and socialism – and eventually even liberalism – became widely pejorative. Mainstream political discourse in the USA underwent a drastic constriction. Sympathy for communism, where it survived outside the Communist Party of the USA, was usually confined to individual writers or students’ political groups; it impinged little on popular opinion.
- Robert Service, Comrades: A History of World Communism, (2009)
- This is the first time in my experience, and I was ten years in the Senate, that I ever heard of a Senator trying to discredit his own Government before the world. … Your telegram is not only not true and an insolent approach to a situation that should have been worked out between man and man but it shows conclusively that you are not even fit to have a hand in the operation of the Government of the United States.
- This is more than a matter of history. Trump has been poking the military in the eye in a way that is reminiscent of McCarthy, pressuring it to rout demonstrators, peaceful and otherwise, from the streets of America.
- Larry Tye, as quoted in What Donald Trump could learn from Joe McCarthy: The armed forces are too big to bully (15 June 2020)
- Trump, like McCarthy, could push back against the onslaught when it was coming from the press, protesters or political foes. But as the Wisconsin senator's downfall makes clear, the armed forces are too big to bully.
- Larry Tye, as quoted in What Donald Trump could learn from Joe McCarthy: The armed forces are too big to bully (15 June 2020)
- Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
- Joseph N. Welch, in response to McCarthy accusing Fred Fisher, one of the employees of Welch's law firm, of being a Communist. (Transcripts and audio of the exchange between Welch and McCarthy
- With preparations for war came fears of domestic subversion. The link had been made many times before in US history: the Red Scare after World War I or the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II were just recent examples. The public witch hunt against Communists and other Left-wingers in the 1940s and 1950s had equally damaging effects. Charges of disloyalty, most of which were entirely unfounded, drove many knowledgeable and gifted experts away from government service. Joseph McCarthy, the demagogic and hyperbolic Wisconsin senator who through his speeches on the Senate floor came to symbolize anti-Communist paranoia, did more damage to US interests than any of Stalin’s covert operations. In February 1950 McCarthy claimed that he had evidence of 205—later corrected to 57—Communists working in the State Department, and denounced the president as a traitor who “sold out the Christian world to the atheistic world.” The series of hearings and investigations, which accusations such as McCarthy’s gave rise to, destroyed people’s lives and careers. Even for those who were cleared, such as the famous central Asia scholar Owen Lattimore, some of the accusations stuck and made it difficult to find employment. It was, as Lattimore said in his book title from 1950, Ordeal by Slander. For many of the lesser known who were targeted— workers, actors, teachers, lawyers—it was a Kafkaesque world, where their words were twisted and used against them during public hearings by people who had no knowledge of the victims or their activities. Behind all of it was the political purpose of harming the Administration, though even some Democrats were caught up in the frenzy and the president himself straddled the issue instead of publicly confronting McCarthy. McCarthyism, as it was soon called, reduced the US standing in the world and greatly helped Soviet propaganda, especially in western Europe.
- Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (2017)