Joseph Raymond “Joe” McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was an American politician 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 which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread Communist subversion. 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, his tactics and inability to substantiate his claims led him to be 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 faded. 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 caused, or at least exacerbated, by alcoholism.
Fame, notoriety, and personal life
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.
HUAC and SACB
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, although the existence of the House Un-American Activities Committee thrived in part as a result of McCarthy’s activities. HUAC was active for 29 years.
Similarly, the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB) was a five-member committee established by the McCarran Internal Security Act, which had a mandate, similar to HUAC and inspired by McCarthy, to locate and investigate so-called “subversives”, or those sympathetic to the Communists. They were accused of promoting the establishment of a “totalitarian dictatorship” in the United States. Truman vetoed the act, sending Congress a lengthy veto message in which he criticized specific provisions as “the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press, and assembly since the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798,” and called it a “mockery of the Bill of Rights” and a “long step toward totalitarianism”. His veto was overridden. SACB was active for 22 years.
- ^ For a history of this period, see, for example: Caute, David (1978). The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-22682-7. Fried, Richard M. (1990). Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504361-8. Schrecker, Ellen (1998). Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-77470-7.
- ^ The American Heritage Dictionary (2000) defines “McCarthyism” as “the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence” and “the use of unfair investigatory or accusatory methods in order to suppress opposition”. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (1961) defines it as “characterized chiefly by opposition to elements held to be subversive and by the use of tactics involving personal attacks on individuals by means of widely publicized indiscriminate allegations especially on the basis of unsubstantiated charges”.
- ^ Morgan, Ted (November/December 2003). “Judge Joe: How the Youngest Judge in Wisconsin’s History Became the Country’s Most Notorious Senator”. Legal Affairs. http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/November-December-2003/story_morgan_novdec03.msp. Retrieved August 2, 2006.
- ^ “Communists in Government Service, McCarthy Says”. United States Senate History Website. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Communists_In_Government_Service.htm. Retrieved March 9, 2007.
- ^ a b See, for example: Oshinsky, David M. (2005) . A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. Oxford University Press. pp. 503–504. ISBN 0-19-515424-X., Reeves, Thomas C. (1982). The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography. Madison Books. pp. 669–671. ISBN 1-56833-101-0., Herman, Arthur (2000). Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator. Free Press. pp. 302–303. ISBN 0-684-83625-4.
37. ^ The Official United States Congressional Daily Digest Records,. Government Publishing Office, Thomas Library, Official Repository Library, Local, Bakersfield California, CSUB. 2009 . pp. 8′, 79th Congress, 3rd Session, Date August 2, 1946, Congressional Records — House, page 10749.
38. ^ The United States Constitution. Government Publishing Office, Thomas Library, Official Repository Library, Local, Bakersfield California, CSUB. 2009 . pp. 10.
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