Joseph McCarthy

Wisconsin politician (1908-1957)
(Redirected from McCarthyism)

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 is known for alleging 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.


  • 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.


  • I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.
    • Attributed to a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia (9 February 1950), as printed in the Wheeling Intelligencer. At dispute is whether McCarthy claimed 205 names, as many historical accounts say, or 57 names, as McCarthy said on the Senate floor; see Congressional Record (20 February 1950). McCarthy admitted using the number 205 in speeches, but in reference to a statistic for which he had no names. Eyewitnesses to the speech remember him referring to both figures at different points. McCarthy provided a copy of his list to Sen. Millard Tydings on request; it had 81 names, some of which had handwritten annotations. He refused to disclose all of the names publicly unless given access to relevant government files, citing libel concerns. See also Blacklisted from History (2007) by M. Stanton Evans.

Quotes about McCarthyEdit

I will not get in the gutter with that guy. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
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
The hardest thing I ever did was keep my temper at that time. ~ George Marshall
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. ~ Edward R. Murrow
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? ~ Joseph N. Welch
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The hardest thing I ever did was keep my temper at that time.
    • George Marshall, in a comment to a personal friend, about McCarthy's attacks upon his loyalty (which went so far as to call him a "traitor"), as quoted by Alistair Cooke, in Letter from America : General Marshall (16 October 1959), published in Memories of the Great and the Good (1999)
  • 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.
  • In 1973, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sued Donald and my grandfather for violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to die Schwarze, as my grandfather put it. It was one of the largest federal housing discrimination suits ever brought, and the notorious attorney Roy Cohn offered to help. Donald and Cohn had crossed paths at Le Club, a swanky members-only restaurant and disco on East 55th Street that was frequented by Vanderbilts and Kennedys, an array of international celebrities, and minor royalty. Cohn was more than a decade removed from his disastrous involvement in Joseph McCarthy's failed anti-Communist crusade. He'd been forced to resign from his position as the senator's chief counsel, but not until he'd wrecked the lives and careers of dozens of men because of their alleged homosexuality and/or ties to communism.
    • Mary L. Trump, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (2020), p. 100-101
  • 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.

See alsoEdit

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