Information Sheet: Joseph McCarthy

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Information Sheet: Joseph McCarthy

On February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy stepped into the spotlight of national attention with a speech given at Wheeling, West Virginia. McCarthy’s first term as senator was ending and he needed a big issue to ensure he be elected again. Holding up a piece of paper, he claimed to have information proving that more than 200 employees in the State Department were members of the Communist Party. The charge—which was never proven—grabbed headlines at a time when friction with the Soviet Union and fear of communist treason were growing in the country.
Some of the experimental programs of Roosevelt's New Deal created concerns that the federal government was falling under communist control. These fears led to the creation of a series of temporary House and Senate committees to investigate threats to the government.
During World War II the United States and the Soviet Union were allies, but as soon as the war ended the two superpowers began to struggle against each other for power. It was because of this “Cold War” that Congress became worried of an outside attack and internal rebellion. After WWII many political debates were anticommunist. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), established in 1938 to monitor disloyalty to the United States government, was made a permanent committee in 1945. Postwar HUAC investigated to determine whether Communists were part of the labor movement, the movie industry, and in the federal government as spies for the Communist Party.
During the weeks before McCarthy delivered his Wheeling speech, China had fallen to the Communists and the Soviet Union had tested an atomic bomb. Other government leaders had recently lied under oath and delivered atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union. The government’s security was unsteady. Americans were especially fearful of the Soviet Union’s new ability to use atomic weapons. Citizens started to view all communists as traitors to our country.
Senator McCarthy was placed in charge of a committee to investigate government operations in 1953. The committee’s main job was to investigate waste and illegality of government operations. McCarthy, however, manipulated the committee to look into communist traitors and make accusations of communist activity in the government.
McCarthy’s downfall came when he turned his accusations towards the U.S. Army. The 8 week long hearings were televised and Americans were shocked and disgusted at McCarthy’s bullying of decorated war heroes. The Army attacked McCarthy, questioning his proof and credibility. Fed up with McCarthy, the Senate censured him and the hearings stopped. Three years later, McCarthy died.

Adapted from the Nation Archives’ Teaching With Documents: Telegram from Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman

Information Sheet: The Rosenberg Trials, 1950

Following their successful nuclear tests and scientific achievements, American began to fear the Soviet Union and citizens became suspicious of those around them, believing that some must be Soviet spies. Many Americans believed that spies were giving secret government information (like the atomic bomb) to the Soviet Union.

On July 17, 1950, Julius Rosenberg, an electrical engineer and employee for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, was arrested for allegedly passing atomic secrets to The Soviet Union. One month later, on August 11, Julius’ wife, Ethel, was also arrested and charged with assisting her husband with his forbidden activities. The Rosenbergs were former members of the American Communist Party and were implicated by two individuals who were on trial for espionage. The evidence presented against the Rosenbergs was flimsy and circumstantial; including conflicting stories and vague drawings of the secrets passed to the Soviets. Despite the lack of evidence, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death under the Espionage Act of 1917 and placed in Sing-Sing Prison in New York. Even after their conviction, the couple continued to claim they were innocent and asked for an appeal seven times (each time, they were denied).
Many Americans felt the trial was unfair and that the Rosenbergs should not be executed. They also felt sorry for the couple and their two young sons. However, both President Truman and President Eisenhower refused to pardon the couple. Because of the government’s heightened hatred towards Communists, the Rosenbergs were sentenced to be executed by the electric chair.
After further investigation, it was proven that Julius, an avid communist, had for some time been disclosing U.S. military secrets to the U.S.S.R. from his post in the U.S. Army Signal Corps although it remained unclear if his wife was involved. Federal agents gave the Rosenbergs the opportunity to cooperate and lighten their sentences. The courts made clear that if either of the Rosenbergs would admit to their spying, they could avoid execution. The couple remained loyal to their cause and continued to adamantly state their innocence until their death on the day of June 19, 1953.
Public outcry came after the execution and led to many protests over the next decade until the Red Scare ended.

Adapted from the Cold War Museum’s The Rosenberg Trial by  David Casalaspi

Information Sheet: Cold War Images

Image #1 Image #2

Image #3

Name:_________________________________ Period: _________ Date: ________________________

Cold War Information Sheets

  • After reading each information sheet, answer the following questions.

  • Use complete sentences for full credit.

  • Do NOT copy your classmates’ sheets or you will get a big fat zero.

Joseph McCarthy

  1. Based on the reading, what is one possible reason Senator McCarthy claimed to have information on Communists in the State Department?

  1. What are two reasons people took McCarthy’s claims seriously? (Think about why people would be afraid of Communism and therefore believe McCarthy.)

  1. What was the job of The House Un-American Activities Committee?

  1. Why did McCarthy’s accusations stop?

Rosenberg Trials

  1. Why did Americans suspect others of being spies?

  1. Use the internet or a dictionary to define espionage.

  1. Do you think the Rosenbergs’ trial was fair? Why/why not?

  1. Why do you think the Rosenbergs refused to cooperate and take a lighter sentence?

Cold War Images

Image #1

  1. What does the image suggest will happen if Communism takes over the United States?

Image #2

  1. What message is the author trying to tell readers?

Image #3

  1. Who is the man in this cartoon?

  1. Why he is placing flags on other countries?

  1. What does the symbol on the flags represent?

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