|Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy (November 14, 1908
– May 2, 1957) was an
American politician who served as a
U.S. Senator from the state of
from 1947 until his death in 1957. Beginning in 1950,
McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in
War tensions fueled fears of widespread
He was noted for making claims that there were large numbers
of Communists and
Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the United States
federal government and elsewhere. Ultimately, McCarthy's
tactics and his inability to substantiate his claims led him
censured by the United States 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 generally in reference to demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.
Born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, McCarthy earned a law degree at Marquette University in 1935 and was elected as a circuit judge in 1939, the youngest in state history. At age 33, McCarthy volunteered for the United States Marine Corps and served during World War II. He successfully ran for the United States Senate in 1946, defeating Robert M. La Follette, Jr. After three largely undistinguished years in the Senate, McCarthy rose suddenly to national fame in February 1950 when he asserted in a speech that he had a list of "members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring" who were employed in the State Department. McCarthy was never able to prove his sensational charge.
In succeeding years, McCarthy made additional accusations of Communist infiltration into the State Department, the administration of President Harry S. Truman, Voice of America, and the United States Army. He also used charges of communism, communist sympathies, or disloyalty to attack a number of politicians and other individuals inside and outside of government. With the highly publicized Army–McCarthy hearings of 1954, McCarthy's support and popularity began to fade. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy by a vote of 67 to 22, making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion. McCarthy died in Bethesda Naval Hospital on May 2, 1957, at the age of 48. The official cause of death was acute hepatitis; it is widely accepted that this was exacerbated by alcoholism.
Early life and career
McCarthy was born on a farm in the town of Grand Chute, Wisconsin, near Appleton, the fifth of seven children. His mother, Bridget Tierney, was from County Tipperary, Ireland. His father, Timothy McCarthy, was born in the United States, the son of an Irish father and a German mother. McCarthy dropped out of junior high school at age 14 to help his parents manage their farm. He entered Little Wolf High School, in Manawa, Wisconsin, when he was 20 and graduated in one year. McCarthy worked his way through college, from 1930 to 1935, studying first engineering, then law, and eventually earning a law degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He was admitted to the bar in 1935. While working in a law firm in Shawano, Wisconsin, he launched an unsuccessful campaign to become district attorney as a Democrat in 1936. In 1939, McCarthy had better success: he successfully vied for the elected post of the non-partisan 10th District circuit judge. During his years as an attorney, McCarthy made money on the side by gambling.
McCarthy's judicial career attracted some controversy due to the speed with which he dispatched many of his cases. He had inherited a docket with a heavy backlog and he worked constantly to clear it. At times he compensated for his lack of experience by demanding, and relying heavily upon, precise briefs from the contesting attorneys. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a relatively low percentage of the cases he heard.
In 1942, shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, McCarthy was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps, despite the fact that his judicial office exempted him from compulsory service. His education qualified him for an automatic commission as an officer, and he became a second lieutenant after completing basic training. He served as an intelligence briefing officer for a dive bomber squadron in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. McCarthy reportedly chose the Marines with the hope that being a veteran of this branch of the military would serve him best in his future political career. He would leave the Marines with the rank of captain. It is well documented that McCarthy lied about his war record. Despite his automatic commission, he claimed to have enlisted as a "buck private." He flew twelve combat missions as a gunner-observer, earning the nickname of "Tail-Gunner Joe" in the course of one of these missions. He later claimed 32 missions in order to qualify for a Distinguished Flying Cross, which he received in 1952. McCarthy publicized a letter of commendation which he claimed had been signed by his commanding officer and countersigned by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, then Chief of Naval Operations. However, it was revealed that McCarthy had written this letter himself, in his capacity as intelligence officer. A "war wound" that McCarthy made the subject of varying stories involving airplane crashes or antiaircraft fire was in fact received aboard ship during a ceremony for sailors crossing the equator for the first time.
McCarthy campaigned for the Republican Senate nomination in Wisconsin while still on active duty in 1944 but was defeated for the GOP nomination by Alexander Wiley, the incumbent. He resigned his commission in April 1945, five months before the end of the Pacific war in September 1945. He was then reelected unopposed to his circuit court position, and began a much more systematic campaign for the 1946 Republican Senate primary nomination. In this race, he was challenging three-term senator and Wisconsin Progressive Party icon Robert M. La Follette, Jr.
In his campaign, McCarthy attacked La Follette for not enlisting during the war, although La Follette had been 46 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He also claimed La Follette had made huge profits from his investments while he, McCarthy, had been away fighting for his country. In fact, McCarthy had invested in the stock market himself during the war, netting a profit of $42,000 in 1943. La Follette's investments consisted of partial interest in a radio station, which earned him a profit of $47,000 over two years. The suggestion that La Follette had been guilty of war profiteering was deeply damaging, and McCarthy won the primary nomination 207,935 votes to 202,557. It was during this campaign that McCarthy started publicizing his war-time nickname "Tail-Gunner Joe", using the slogan, "Congress needs a tail-gunner". Arnold Beichman later stated that McCarthy "was elected to his first term in the Senate with support from the Communist-controlled United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, CIO", which preferred McCarthy to the anti-communist Robert M. La Follette. In the general election against Democratic opponent Howard J. McMurray, McCarthy won 61.2% to Democrat McMurray's 37.3%, and thus joined Senator Wiley, whom he had challenged unsuccessfully two years earlier, in the Senate.
United States Senate
McCarthy's first three years in the Senate were unremarkable. McCarthy was a popular speaker, invited by many different organizations, covering a wide range of topics. His aides and many in the Washington social circle described him as charming and friendly, and he was a popular guest at cocktail parties. He was far less well-liked among fellow senators, however, who found him quick-tempered and prone to impatience and even rage. Outside of a small circle of colleagues, he was soon an isolated figure in the Senate.
He was active in labor-management issues, with a reputation as a moderate Republican. He fought against continuation of wartime price controls, especially on sugar. His advocacy in this area was associated by critics with a $20,000 personal loan McCarthy received from a Pepsi bottling executive, earning the Senator the derisive nickname "The Pepsi Cola Kid." He supported the Taft–Hartley Act over Truman's veto, angering labor unions in Wisconsin but solidifying his business base.
In an incident for which he would be widely criticized, McCarthy lobbied for the commutation of death sentences given to a group of Waffen-SS soldiers convicted of war crimes for carrying out the 1944 Malmedy massacre of American prisoners of war. McCarthy was critical of the convictions because of allegations of torture during the interrogations that led to the German soldiers' confessions. He charged that the U.S. Army was engaged in a coverup of judicial misconduct, but never presented any evidence to support the accusation. Shortly after this, a poll of the Senate press corps voted McCarthy "the worst U.S. senator" currently in office.
McCarthy experienced a meteoric rise in national profile on February 9, 1950, when he gave a Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. His words in the speech are a matter of some debate, as no audio recording was saved. However, it is generally agreed that he produced a piece of paper that he claimed contained a list of known Communists working for the State Department. McCarthy is usually quoted to have said: "The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names 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."
There is some dispute about whether or not McCarthy actually gave the number of people on the list as being "205" or "57". In a later telegram to President Truman, and when entering the speech into the Congressional Record, he used the number 57. The origin of the number 205 can be traced: In later debates on the Senate floor, McCarthy referred to a 1946 letter that then–Secretary of State James Byrnes sent to Congressman Adolph J. Sabath. In that letter, Byrnes said State Department security investigations had resulted in "recommendation against permanent employment" for 284 persons, and that 79 of these had been removed from their jobs; this left 205 still on the State Department's payroll. In fact, by the time of McCarthy's speech only about 65 of the employees mentioned in the Byrnes letter were still with the State Department, and all of these had undergone further security checks.
At the time of McCarthy's speech, communism was a growing concern in the United States. This concern was exacerbated by the actions of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, the fall of China to the communists, the Soviets' development of the atomic bomb the year before, and by the contemporary controversy surrounding Alger Hiss and the confession of Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs. With this background and due to the sensational nature of McCarthy's charge against the State Department, the Wheeling speech soon attracted a flood of press interest in McCarthy.
McCarthy himself was taken aback by the massive media response to the Wheeling speech, and he was accused of continually revising both his charges and his figures. In Salt Lake City, Utah, a few days later, he cited a figure of 57, and in the Senate on February 20, he claimed 81. During a five-hour speech, McCarthy presented a case-by-case analysis of his 81 "loyalty risks" employed at the State Department. It is widely accepted that most of McCarthy's cases were selected from the so-called "Lee list", a report that had been compiled three years earlier for the House Appropriations Committee. Led by a former FBI agent named Robert E. Lee, the House investigators had reviewed security clearance documents on State Department employees, and had determined that there were "incidents of inefficiencies" in the security reviews of 108 employees. McCarthy hid the source of his list, stating that he had penetrated the "iron curtain" of State Department secrecy with the aid of "some good, loyal Americans in the State Department." In reciting the information from the Lee list cases, McCarthy consistently exaggerated, representing the hearsay of witnesses as facts and converting phrases such as "inclined towards Communism" to "a Communist."
In response to McCarthy's charges, the Tydings Committee hearings were called. This was a subcommittee of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations set up in February 1950 to conduct "a full and complete study and investigation as to whether persons who are disloyal to the United States are, or have been, employed by the Department of State." Many Democratic Party politicians were incensed at McCarthy's attack on the State Department of a Democratic administration, and had hoped to use the hearings to discredit him. The Democratic chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Millard Tydings, was reported to have said, "Let me have him [McCarthy] for three days in public hearings, and he'll never show his face in the Senate again."
During the hearings, McCarthy moved on from his original unnamed Lee list cases and used the hearings to make charges against nine specific people: Dorothy Kenyon, Esther Brunauer, Haldore Hanson, Gustavo Duran, Owen Lattimore, Harlow Shapley, Frederick Schuman, John S. Service, and Philip Jessup. Some of them no longer worked for the State Department, or never had; all had previously been the subject of charges of varying worth and validity. Owen Lattimore became a particular focus of McCarthy's, who at one point described him as a "top Russian spy." Throughout the hearings, McCarthy employed colorful rhetoric, but produced no substantial evidence, to support his accusations.
From its beginning, the Tydings Committee was marked by partisan infighting. Its final report, written by the Democratic majority, concluded that the individuals on McCarthy's list were neither Communists nor pro-communist, and said the State Department had an effective security program. The Tydings Report labeled McCarthy's charges a "fraud and a hoax," and said that the result of McCarthy's actions was to "confuse and divide the American people [...] to a degree far beyond the hopes of the Communists themselves." Republicans responded in kind, with William E. Jenner stating that Tydings was guilty of "the most brazen whitewash of treasonable conspiracy in our history." The full Senate voted three times on whether to accept the report, and each time the voting was precisely divided along party lines.
Fame and notoriety
From 1950 onward, McCarthy continued to exploit the fear of Communism and to press his accusations that the government was failing to deal with Communism within its ranks. These accusations received wide publicity, increased his approval rating, and gained him a powerful national following.
McCarthy's methods also brought on the disapproval and opposition of many. Barely a month after McCarthy's Wheeling speech, the term "McCarthyism" was coined by Washington Post cartoonist Herbert Block. Block and others used the word as a synonym for demagoguery, baseless defamation, and mudslinging. Later, it would be embraced by McCarthy and some of his supporters. "McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled," McCarthy said in a 1952 speech, and later that year he published a book titled McCarthyism: The Fight For America.
McCarthy has been accused of attempting to discredit his critics and political opponents by accusing them of being Communists or communist sympathizers. In the 1950 Maryland Senate election, McCarthy campaigned for John Marshall Butler in his race against four-term incumbent Millard Tydings, with whom McCarthy had been in conflict during the Tydings Committee hearings. In speeches supporting Butler, McCarthy accused Tydings of "protecting Communists" and "shielding traitors." McCarthy's staff was heavily involved in the campaign, and collaborated in the production of a campaign tabloid that contained a composite photograph doctored to make it appear that Tydings was in intimate conversation with Communist leader Earl Russell Browder. A Senate subcommittee later investigated this election and referred to it as "a despicable, back-street type of campaign," as well as recommending that the use of defamatory literature in a campaign be made grounds for expulsion from the Senate.
In addition to the Tydings-Butler race, McCarthy campaigned for several other Republicans in the 1950 elections, including that of Everett Dirksen against Democratic incumbent and Senate Majority Leader Scott W. Lucas. Dirksen, and indeed all the candidates McCarthy supported, won their elections, and those he opposed lost. The elections, including many that McCarthy was not involved in, were an overall Republican sweep. Although his impact on the elections was unclear, McCarthy was credited as a key Republican campaigner. He was now regarded as one of the most powerful men in the Senate and was treated with new-found deference by his colleagues. In the 1952 Senate elections McCarthy was returned to his Senate seat with 54.2% of the vote, compared to Democrat Thomas Fairchild's 45.6%.
In 1950 McCarthy assaulted journalist Drew Pearson in the cloakroom of a Washington club, reportedly kneeing him in the groin. McCarthy, who admitted the assault, claimed he merely "slapped" Pearson. In 1952, using rumors collected by Pearson, Nevada publisher Hank Greenspun wrote that McCarthy was a homosexual. The major journalistic media refused to print the story, and no notable McCarthy biographer has accepted the rumor as probable. In 1953 McCarthy married Jean Kerr, a researcher in his office. He and his wife adopted a baby girl, whom they named Tierney Elizabeth McCarthy, in January 1957.
McCarthy and the Truman administration
McCarthy and President Truman clashed often during the years both held office. McCarthy characterized Truman and the Democratic Party as soft on, or even in league with, Communists, and spoke of the Democrats' "twenty years of treason". Truman, in turn, once referred to McCarthy as "the best asset the Kremlin has," calling McCarthy's actions an attempt to "sabotage the foreign policy of the United States" in a cold war and comparing it to shooting American soldiers in the back in a hot war. It was the Truman Administration's State Department that McCarthy accused of harboring 205 (or 57 or 81) "known Communists," and Truman's Secretary of Defense George Catlett Marshall was the target of some of McCarthy's most colorful rhetoric. Marshall was also Truman's former Secretary of State and had been Army Chief of Staff during World War II. Marshall was a highly respected statesman and general, best remembered today as the architect of the Marshall Plan for post-war reconstruction of Europe, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. McCarthy made a lengthy speech on Marshall, later published in 1951 as a book titled America's Retreat From Victory: The Story Of George Catlett Marshall. Marshall had been involved in American foreign policy with China, and McCarthy charged that Marshall was directly responsible for the loss of China to Communism. In the speech McCarthy also implied that Marshall was guilty of treason; declared that "if Marshall were merely stupid, the laws of probability would dictate that part of his decisions would serve this country's interest"; and most famously, accused him of being part of "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man."
During the Korean War, when President Truman dismissed General Douglas MacArthur, McCarthy charged that Truman and his advisors must have planned the dismissal during late-night sessions when "they've had time to get the President cheerful" on Bourbon and Benedictine. McCarthy declared, "The son of a bitch should be impeached."
Support from Catholics and Kennedy family
One of the strongest bases of anti-Communist sentiment in the United States was the Catholic community, which constituted over 20% of the national vote. McCarthy identified himself as Catholic, and although the great majority of Catholics were Democrats, as his fame as a leading anti-Communist grew, he became popular in Catholic communities across the country, with strong support from many leading Catholics, diocesan newspapers, and Catholic journals. At the same time, some Catholics did oppose McCarthy, notably the anti-Communist author Father John Francis Cronin and the influential journal Commonweal.
McCarthy established a bond with the powerful Kennedy family, which had high visibility among Catholics. McCarthy became a close friend of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., himself a fervent anti-Communist, and was a frequent guest at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. He dated two of Kennedy's daughters, Patricia and Eunice, and was godfather to Robert F. Kennedy's first child, Kathleen Kennedy. Robert was chosen by McCarthy as a counsel for his investigatory committee, but resigned after six months due to disagreements with McCarthy and Cohn. Joseph Kennedy had a national network of contacts and became a vocal supporter, building McCarthy's popularity among Catholics and making sizable contributions to McCarthy's campaigns. The Kennedy patriarch hoped that one of his sons would be president. Mindful of the anti-Catholic prejudice Al Smith faced during his 1928 campaign for that office, Joseph Kennedy supported McCarthy as a national Catholic politician who might pave the way for a younger Kennedy's presidential candidacy.
Unlike many Democrats, John F. Kennedy, who served in the Senate with McCarthy from 1953 until the latter's death in 1957, never attacked McCarthy. McCarthy had refused to campaign for Kennedy's 1952 opponent, Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., due to his friendship with the Kennedys. Asked by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. why he avoided criticism of McCarthy, Kennedy said, "Hell, half my voters in Massachusetts look on McCarthy as a hero."
McCarthy and Eisenhower
During the 1952 Presidential election, the Eisenhower campaign toured Wisconsin with McCarthy. In a speech delivered in Green Bay, Eisenhower declared that while he agreed with McCarthy's goals, he disagreed with his methods. In draft versions of his speech, Eisenhower had also included a strong defense of his mentor, George Marshall, which was a direct rebuke of McCarthy's frequent attacks. However, under the advice of conservative colleagues who were fearful that Eisenhower could lose Wisconsin if he alienated McCarthy supporters, he deleted this defense from later versions of his speech. The deletion was discovered by a reporter for The New York Times and featured on their front page the next day. Eisenhower was widely criticized for giving up his personal convictions, and the incident became the low point of his campaign.
With his victory in the 1952 presidential race, Dwight Eisenhower became the first Republican president in 20 years. The Republican party also held a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. After being elected president, Eisenhower made it clear to those close to him that he did not approve of McCarthy and he worked actively to diminish his power and influence. Still, he never directly confronted McCarthy or criticized him by name in any speech, thus perhaps prolonging McCarthy's power by giving the impression that even the President was afraid to criticize him directly. Oshinsky disputes this, stating that "Eisenhower was known as a harmonizer, a man who could get diverse factions to work toward a common goal... Leadership, he explained, meant patience and conciliation, not 'hitting people over the head.'"
McCarthy won reelection in 1952 with 54% of the vote, defeating former Wisconsin State Attorney General Thomas E. Fairchild but badly trailing a Republican ticket which swept the state of Wisconsin; all the other Republican winners, including Eisenhower himself, received at least 60% of the Wisconsin vote. Those who expected that party loyalty would cause McCarthy to tone down his accusations of Communists being harbored within the government were soon disappointed. Eisenhower had never been an admirer of McCarthy, and their relationship became more hostile once Eisenhower was in office. In a November 1953 speech that was carried on national television, McCarthy began by praising the Eisenhower Administration for removing "1,456 Truman holdovers who were [...] gotten rid of because of Communist connections and activities or perversion." He then went on to complain that John Paton Davies, Jr. was still "on the payroll after eleven months of the Eisenhower Administration," even though Davies had actually been dismissed three weeks earlier, and repeated an unsubstantiated accusation that Davies had tried to "put Communists and espionage agents in key spots in the Central Intelligence Agency." In the same speech, he criticized Eisenhower for not doing enough to secure the release of missing American pilots shot down over China during the Korean War. By the end of 1953, McCarthy had altered the "twenty years of treason" catchphrase he had coined for the preceding Democratic administrations and began referring to "twenty-one years of treason" to include Eisenhower's first year in office.
As McCarthy became increasingly combative towards the Eisenhower Administration, Eisenhower faced repeated calls that he confront McCarthy directly. Eisenhower refused, saying privately "nothing would please him [McCarthy] more than to get the publicity that would be generated by a public repudiation by the President." On several occasions Eisenhower is reported to have said of McCarthy that he did not want to "get down in the gutter with that guy."
Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
With the beginning of his second term as senator in 1953, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations. According to some reports, Republican leaders were growing wary of McCarthy's methods and gave him this relatively mundane panel rather than the Internal Security Subcommittee—the committee normally involved with investigating Communists—thus putting McCarthy "where he can't do any harm," in the words of Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft. However, the Committee on Government Operations included the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and the mandate of this subcommittee was sufficiently flexible to allow McCarthy to use it for his own investigations of Communists in the government. McCarthy appointed Roy Cohn as chief counsel and 27-year-old Robert F. Kennedy as an assistant counsel to the subcommittee.
This subcommittee would be the scene of some of McCarthy's most publicized exploits. When the records of the closed executive sessions of the subcommittee under McCarthy's chairmanship were made public in 2003–4, Senators Susan Collins and Carl Levin wrote the following in their preface to the documents:
The subcommittee first investigated allegations of Communist influence in the Voice of America (VOA), at that time administered by the State Department's United States Information Agency. Many VOA personnel were questioned in front of television cameras and a packed press gallery, with McCarthy lacing his questions with hostile innuendo and false accusations. A few VOA employees alleged Communist influence on the content of broadcasts, but none of the charges were substantiated. Morale at VOA was badly damaged, and one of its engineers committed suicide during McCarthy's investigation. Ed Kretzman, a policy advisor for the service, would later comment that it was VOA's "darkest hour when Senator McCarthy and his chief hatchet man, Roy Cohn, almost succeeded in muffling it."
The subcommittee then turned to the overseas library program of the International Information Agency. Cohn toured Europe examining the card catalogs of the State Department libraries looking for works by authors he deemed inappropriate. McCarthy then recited the list of supposedly pro-communist authors before his subcommittee and the press. The State Department bowed to McCarthy and ordered its overseas librarians to remove from their shelves "material by any controversial persons, Communists, fellow travelers, etc." Some libraries actually burned the newly forbidden books. Shortly after this, in one of his carefully oblique public criticisms of McCarthy, President Eisenhower urged Americans: "Don't join the book burners. […] Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book."
Soon after receiving the chair to the Subcommittee on Investigations, McCarthy appointed Joseph Brown Matthews (generally known as J. B. Matthews) as staff director of the subcommittee. One of the nation's foremost anti-communists, Matthews had formerly been staff director for the House Un-American Activities Committee. The appointment became controversial when it was learned that Matthews had recently written an article titled "Reds And Our Churches," which opened with the sentence, "The largest single group supporting the Communist apparatus in the United States is composed of Protestant Clergymen." A group of senators denounced this "shocking and unwarranted attack against the American clergy" and demanded that McCarthy dismiss Matthews. McCarthy at first refused to do this. But as the controversy mounted, and the majority of his own subcommittee joined the call for Matthews' ouster, McCarthy finally yielded and accepted his resignation. For some McCarthy opponents, this was a signal defeat of the senator, showing he was not as invincible as he had formerly seemed.
Investigating the Army
In autumn 1953, McCarthy's committee began its ill-fated inquiry into the United States Army. This began with McCarthy opening an investigation into the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth. McCarthy, newly married to Jean Kerr, cut short his honeymoon to open the investigation. He garnered some headlines with stories of a dangerous spy ring among the Army researchers, but after weeks of hearings, nothing came of his investigations.
Unable to expose any signs of subversion, McCarthy focused instead on the case of Irving Peress, a New York dentist who had been drafted into the Army in 1952 and promoted to major in November 1953. Shortly thereafter it came to the attention of the military bureaucracy that Peress, who was a member of the left-wing American Labor Party, had declined to answer questions about his political affiliations on a loyalty-review form. Peress' superiors were therefore ordered to discharge him from the Army within 90 days. McCarthy subpoenaed Peress to appear before his subcommittee on January 30, 1954. Peress refused to answer McCarthy's questions, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment. McCarthy responded by sending a message to Secretary of the Army, Robert Stevens, demanding that Peress be court-martialed. On that same day, Peress asked for his pending discharge from the Army to be effected immediately, and the next day Brigadier General Ralph W. Zwicker, his commanding officer at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, gave him an honorable separation from the Army. At McCarthy's encouragement, "Who promoted Peress?" became a rallying cry among many anti-communists and McCarthy supporters. In fact, and as McCarthy knew, Peress had been promoted automatically through the provisions of the Doctor Draft Law, for which McCarthy had voted.
McCarthy summoned General Zwicker to his subcommittee on February 18. Zwicker, on advice from Army counsel, refused to answer some of McCarthy's questions and reportedly changed his story three times when asked if he had known at the time he signed the discharge that Peress had refused to answer questions before the McCarthy subcommittee. McCarthy compared Zwicker's intelligence to that of a "five-year-old child," and said he was "not fit to wear that uniform."
This abuse of Zwicker, a battlefield hero of World War II, caused considerable outrage among the military, newspapers, civilian veterans, senators of both parties and, probably most dangerously for McCarthy, President Eisenhower himself. Army Secretary Stevens ordered Zwicker not to return to McCarthy's hearing for further questioning. Hoping to mend the increasingly hostile relations between McCarthy and the Army, a group of Republicans, including McCarthy, met with Secretary Stevens over a luncheon that included fried chicken and convinced him to sign a "memorandum of understanding" in which he capitulated to most of McCarthy's demands. After "The Chicken Luncheon," as it came to be called, McCarthy later told a reporter that Stevens "could not have given in more abjectly if he had got down on his knees." Reaction to this agreement was widely negative. Secretary Stevens was ridiculed by Pentagon officers, and The Times of London wrote: "Senator McCarthy achieved today what General Burgoyne and General Cornwallis never achieved—the surrender of the American Army."
A few months later, the Army, with advice and support from the Eisenhower Administration, would launch a counterattack against McCarthy. It would do this not by directly challenging and criticizing McCarthy's behavior toward Army personnel, but by bringing charges against him on an unrelated issue.
Early in 1954, the U.S. Army accused McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, of improperly pressuring the Army to give favorable treatment to G. David Schine, a former aide to McCarthy and a friend of Cohn's, who was then serving in the Army as a private. McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in bad faith, in retaliation for his questioning of Zwicker the previous year. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, usually chaired by McCarthy himself, was given the task of adjudicating these conflicting charges. Republican Senator Karl Mundt was appointed to chair the committee, and the Army–McCarthy hearings convened on April 22, 1954.
The hearings lasted for 36 days and were broadcast on live television by ABC and DuMont, with an estimated 20 million viewers. After hearing 32 witnesses and two million words of testimony, the committee concluded that McCarthy himself had not exercised any improper influence on Schine's behalf, but that Cohn had engaged in "unduly persistent or aggressive efforts". The committee also concluded that Army Secretary Robert Stevens and Army Counsel John Adams "made efforts to terminate or influence the investigation and hearings at Fort Monmouth", and that Adams "made vigorous and diligent efforts" to block subpoenas for members of the Army Loyalty and Screening Board "by means of personal appeal to certain members of the [McCarthy] committee".
Of far greater importance to McCarthy than the committee's inconclusive final report was the negative effect that the extensive exposure had on his popularity. Many in the audience saw him as bullying, reckless, and dishonest, and the daily newspaper summaries of the hearings were also frequently unfavorable. Late in the hearings, Senator Stuart Symington made an angry and prophetic remark to McCarthy: "The American people have had a look at you for six weeks," he said. "You are not fooling anyone." In Gallup polls of January 1954, 50% of those polled had a positive opinion of McCarthy. In June, that number had fallen to 34%. In the same polls, those with a negative opinion of McCarthy increased from 29% to 45%.
An increasing number of Republicans and conservatives were coming to see McCarthy as a liability to the party and to anti-communism. Congressman George H. Bender noted, "There is a growing impatience with the Republican Party. McCarthyism has become a synonym for witch-hunting, Star Chamber methods, and the denial of...civil liberties." Frederick Woltman, a reporter with a long-standing reputation as a staunch anti-communist, wrote a five-part series of articles criticizing McCarthy in the New York World-Telegram. He stated that McCarthy "has become a major liability to the cause of anti-communism", and accused him of "wild twisting of facts and near facts [that] repels authorities in the field".
The most famous incident in the hearings was an exchange between McCarthy and the army's chief legal representative, Joseph Nye Welch. On June 9, the 30th day of the hearings, Welch challenged Roy Cohn to provide U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. with McCarthy's list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants "before the sun goes down". McCarthy stepped in and said that if Welch was so concerned about persons aiding the Communist Party, he should check on a man in his Boston law office named Fred Fisher, who had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, which Brownell had called "the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party". In an impassioned defense of Fisher that some have suggested he had prepared in advance and had hoped not to have to make, Welch responded, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness[...]" When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch interrupted him: "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?" When McCarthy once again persisted, Welch cut him off and demanded the chairman "call the next witness". At that point, the gallery erupted in applause and a recess was called.
Edward R. Murrow, See It Now
One of the most prominent attacks on McCarthy's methods was an episode of the television documentary series See It Now, hosted by journalist Edward R. Murrow, which was broadcast on March 9, 1954. Titled "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy", the episode consisted largely of clips of McCarthy speaking. In these clips, McCarthy accuses the Democratic party of "twenty years of treason", describes the American Civil Liberties Union as "listed as 'a front for, and doing the work of', the Communist Party", and berates and harangues various witnesses, including General Zwicker.
In his conclusion, Murrow said of McCarthy:
The following week See It Now ran another episode critical of McCarthy, this one focusing on the case of Annie Lee Moss, an African-American army clerk who was the target of one of McCarthy's investigations. The Murrow shows, together with the televised Army–McCarthy hearings of the same year, were the major causes of a nationwide popular opinion backlash against McCarthy, in part because for the first time his statements were being publicly challenged by noteworthy figures. To counter the negative publicity, McCarthy appeared on See It Now on April 6, 1954, and made a number of charges against the popular Murrow, including the accusation that he colluded with the "Russian espionage and propaganda organization" VOKS. This response did not go over well with viewers, and the result was a further decline in McCarthy's popularity.
Censure and the Watkins Committee
Several members of the U.S. Senate had opposed McCarthy well before 1953. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Maine Republican, delivered her "Declaration of Conscience" on June 1, 1950, calling for an end to the use of smear tactics without mentioning McCarthy or anyone else by name. Six other Republican Senators — Wayne Morse, Irving Ives, Charles W. Tobey, Edward John Thye, George Aiken, and Robert C. Hendrickson — joined her in condemning McCarthy's tactics. McCarthy referred to Smith and her fellow Senators as "Snow White and the six dwarfs."
On March 9, 1954, Vermont Republican Senator Ralph E. Flanders gave a humor-laced speech on the Senate floor, questioning McCarthy's tactics in fighting communism, likening McCarthyism to "housecleaning" with "much clatter and hullabaloo." He recommended that McCarthy turn his attention to the worldwide encroachment of Communism outside North America. In a June 1 speech, Flanders compared McCarthy to Adolf Hitler, accusing him of spreading "division and confusion" and saying, "Were the Junior Senator from Wisconsin in the pay of the Communists he could not have done a better job for them." On June 11, Flanders introduced a resolution to have McCarthy removed as chair of his committees. Although there were many in the Senate who believed that some sort of disciplinary action against McCarthy was warranted, there was no clear majority supporting this resolution. Some of the resistance was due to concern about usurping the Senate's rules regarding committee chairs and seniority. Flanders next introduced a resolution to censure McCarthy. The resolution was initially written without any reference to particular actions or misdeeds on McCarthy's part. As Flanders put it, "It was not his breaches of etiquette, or of rules or sometimes even of laws which is so disturbing," but rather his overall pattern of behavior. Ultimately a "bill of particulars" listing 46 charges was added to the censure resolution. A special committee, chaired by Senator Arthur Vivian Watkins, was appointed to study and evaluate the resolution. This committee opened hearings on August 31.
After two months of hearings and deliberations, the Watkins Committee recommended that McCarthy be censured on two of the 46 counts: his contempt of the Subcommittee on Rules and Administration, which had called him to testify in 1951 and 1952, and his abuse of General Zwicker in 1954. The Zwicker count was dropped by the full Senate on the grounds that McCarthy's conduct was arguably "induced" by Zwicker's own behavior. In place of this count, a new one was drafted regarding McCarthy's statements about the Watkins Committee itself.
The two counts on which the Senate ultimately voted were:
On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to "condemn" McCarthy on both counts by a vote of 67 to 22. The Democrats present unanimously favored condemnation and the Republicans were split evenly. The only senator not on record was John F. Kennedy, who was hospitalized for back surgery; Kennedy never indicated how he would have voted. Immediately after the vote, Senator H. Styles Bridges, a McCarthy supporter, argued that the resolution was "not a censure resolution" because the word "condemn" rather than "censure" was used in the final draft. The word "censure" was then removed from the title of the resolution, though it is generally regarded and referred to as a censure of McCarthy, both by historians and in Senate documents. McCarthy himself said, "I wouldn't exactly call it a vote of confidence." He added, "I don't feel I've been lynched."
After his censure, McCarthy continued senatorial duties for another two and a half years, but his career as a major public figure had been unmistakably ruined. His colleagues in the Senate avoided him; his speeches on the Senate floor were delivered to a near-empty chamber or were received with conspicuous displays of inattention. The press that had once recorded his every public statement now ignored him, and outside speaking engagements dwindled almost to nothing. President Eisenhower, free of McCarthy's political intimidation, quipped to his Cabinet that McCarthyism was now "McCarthywasm."
Still, McCarthy continued to rail against Communism. He warned against attendance at summit conferences with "the Reds," saying that "you cannot offer friendship to tyrants and murderers...without advancing the cause of tyranny and murder." He declared that "coexistence with Communists is neither possible nor honorable nor desirable. Our long-term objective must be the eradication of Communism from the face of the earth." In one of his final acts in the Senate, McCarthy opposed President Eisenhower's nomination to the Supreme Court of William J. Brennan, after reading a speech Brennan had given shortly beforehand in which he characterized McCarthy's anti-Communist investigations as "witch hunts". McCarthy's opposition failed to gain any traction, however, and he was the only Senator to vote against Brennan's confirmation.
McCarthy's biographers agree that he was a changed man after the censure; declining both physically and emotionally, he became a "pale ghost of his former self" in the words of Fred J. Cook. It was reported that McCarthy suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and was frequently hospitalized for alcoholism. Numerous eyewitnesses, including Senate aide George Reedy and journalist Tom Wicker, have reported finding him alarmingly drunk in the Senate. Journalist Richard Rovere (1959) wrote:
There are those who observed McCarthy closely--including such harsh critics as Jack Anderson and George Reedy--who had a different version: The McCarthy they knew early on was a drink-nurser, concerned to keep his wits about him and thus gain a competitive edge over others who were imbibing. Although, he may have slid down that path after censure, there are those who knew him well at this period also who deny the image of chronic drunkard.
McCarthy died in Bethesda Naval Hospital on May 2, 1957, at the age of 48. The official cause of his death was listed as acute hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. It was hinted in the press that he died of alcoholism, an estimation that is accepted by contemporary biographers. He was given a state funeral attended by 70 senators, and a Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass was said before more than 100 priests and 2,000 others at St. Matthew's Cathedral. Thousands of people viewed the body in Washington. He was buried in St. Mary's Parish Cemetery, Appleton, Wisconsin, where more than 30,000 filed through St. Mary's Church to pay their last respects. Three senators—George W. Malone, William E. Jenner, and Herman Welker—had flown from Washington to Appleton on the plane carrying McCarthy's casket. Robert F. Kennedy quietly attended the funeral in Wisconsin. McCarthy was survived by his wife, Jean, and their adopted daughter, Tierney.
In the summer of 1957, a special election was held to fill McCarthy's seat. In the primaries, voters in both parties turned away from McCarthy's legacy. The Republican primary was won by Walter J. Kohler, Jr., who called for a clean break from McCarthy's approach; he defeated former Congressman Glenn Robert Davis, who charged that Eisenhower was soft on Communism. The Democratic winner was William Proxmire, who called McCarthy "a disgrace to Wisconsin, to the Senate and to America." On August 27, Proxmire won the election.
In the view of a few modern authors, McCarthy's place in history should be reevaluated. Ann Coulter, for example, devotes a chapter of Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism to a defense of McCarthy, and much of the book to a defense of McCarthyism. For example, she states:
Many scholars, including some generally regarded as conservative, have opposed Coulter's views, but other authors, including William Norman Grigg and Medford Stanton Evans, have published opinions similar to hers.
These authors frequently cite new evidence, in the form of Venona decrypted Soviet messages, Soviet espionage data now opened to the West, and newly released transcripts of closed hearings before McCarthy's subcommittee, asserting that these have vindicated McCarthy, showing that many of his identifications of Communists were correct. These and other authors have said that Venona and the Soviet archives have revealed that the scale of Soviet espionage activity in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s was larger than many scholars suspected, and that this too is a vindication of McCarthy.
After reviewing evidence from Venona and other sources, historian John Earl Haynes concluded that, of 159 people identified on lists used or referenced by McCarthy, evidence was substantial that nine had aided Soviet espionage efforts. He suggested that a majority of those on the lists could legitimately have been considered security risks, but that a substantial minority could not.
These viewpoints are considered revisionist by many scholars. Challenging such efforts aimed at the "rehabilitation" of McCarthy, historian John Earl Haynes argues that McCarthy's attempts to "make anti-communism a partisan weapon" actually "threatened [the post-War] anti-Communist consensus," thereby ultimately harming anti-Communist efforts more than helping.
McCarthy's hearings are often incorrectly conflated with the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). HUAC is best known for the investigation of Alger Hiss and for its investigation of the Hollywood film industry, which led to the blacklisting of hundreds of actors, writers, and directors. HUAC was a House committee, and as such had no formal connection with McCarthy, who served in the Senate.
McCarthy in popular culture
From the start of his notoriety, McCarthy was a favorite subject for political cartoonists. He was traditionally depicted in a negative light, normally pertaining to McCarthysism and his accusations. Herblock's cartoon that coined the term McCarthyism appeared less than two months after the senator's now famous February 1950 speech in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1953, the popular daily comic strip Pogo introduced the character Simple J. Malarkey, a pugnacious and conniving wildcat with an unmistakable physical resemblance to McCarthy.
As his fame grew, McCarthy increasingly became the target of ridicule and parody. He was impersonated by nightclub and radio impressionists and was satirized in Mad magazine, on The Red Skelton Show, and elsewhere. Several comedy songs lampooning the senator were released in 1954, including "Point of Order" by Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, "Senator McCarthy Blues" by Hal Block, and unionist folk singer Joe Glazer's "Joe McCarthy's Band", sung to the tune of "McNamara's Band". Also in 1954, the radio comedy team Bob and Ray parodied McCarthy with the character "Commissioner Carstairs" in their soap opera spoof "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife". That same year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio network broadcast a satire, The Investigator, whose title character was a clear imitation of McCarthy. A recording of the show became popular in the United States, and was reportedly played by President Eisenhower at cabinet meetings.
A more serious fictional portrayal of McCarthy played a central role in the 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. The character of Senator John Iselin, a demagogic anti-communist, is closely modeled on McCarthy, even to the varying numbers of Communists he asserts are employed by the federal government. In the 1962 film version, the characterization remains; in this version, a Heinz ketchup bottle inspires Iselin and his wife to settle on "57" as the number of subversives he claims are on the federal payroll.
McCarthy was portrayed by Peter Boyle in the 1977 Emmy-winning television movie Tail Gunner Joe, a dramatization of McCarthy's life. Archival footage of McCarthy himself was used in the 2005 movie Good Night, and Good Luck about Edward R. Murrow and the See It Now episode that challenged McCarthy.
References and further reading
Defenses of McCarthy:
Criticism of McCarthy: