The Rise, Hubris, and Downfall of America’s most Notorious Senator
By Cooper O’Neil
Instructor: Dr. Raymond Hyser
On June 9th, 1954, well into what are known as the Army-McCarthy hearings, Army counsel Joseph Welch asked a seemingly simple question of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Welch’s inquiry ended, “….At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” These words could be used to describe the entirety of McCarthy’s hunt for Communists in the United States. He was a fairly undistinguished politician until 1950, when he made a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia claiming to have a list of known Communists inside the government. This event propelled McCarthy into the national spotlight for close to four years, a position from which he accused countless people of being, or relating to, Communists. McCarthy fueled the national fear and paranoia already brought on by the Cold War until he made the critical error of accusing members of the United States Army, culminating in the Army-McCarthy hearings. McCarthy is a man whom historians tend to paint as a villain, and justifiably so, but McCarthy was a victim of his own personality and work ethic, of his inability to back down from a fight.1 Even though the term McCarthyism came to define the zealous anti-communism of the early Cold War, the ideas did not originate with McCarthy. The United States had already experienced a so called “Red Scare” after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution took place following World War I. Following the Second World War, the anti-communist sentiment returned with a vengeance, as the Soviet Union went from one of the United States’ important allies to its greatest enemy. Communists were viewed as a grave threat to democracy and as the influence of the Soviet Union spread, this feeling intensified. During the latter half of the 1940s, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet forces had established several new communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe, in addition to the communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Further fueling western fears were the results of the Chinese Civil War2, which resulted in the communist dictatorship known as the People’s Republic of China.3
Anti-communism had become the official stance of the United States in 1947 when, amidst civil wars between communist and democratic factions in Greece and Turkey, President Harry Truman established the policy of containment, which vowed that the United States would do everything in its power to prevent the further spread of communism in the world. The House Un-American Activities Committee, which had been active since 1938 and tasked with seeking out communist and fascist sympathizers, was a powerful and terrifying force, as well as an eerie predecessor to the McCarthy trial to come. Additionally, Truman issued Executive Order 9835, establishing a federal loyalty program which allowed the government to dismiss any employee who showed signs of subversive behavior. Non-federal government institutions followed suit, and before long, fear and paranoia were widespread. A person could be fired from their job and blacklisted based on a mere anonymous tip. Making matters worse was the Soviets’ successful testing of an atomic bomb in 1949, which led to an FBI investigation that uncovered a serious Soviet spy network within the U.S.4 Though he had not yet entered the scene, the groundwork for McCarthy’s Communist witch hunts had been laid.5
Enter Joseph R. McCarthy. He was born on November 15th, 1908 in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. As a young man, McCarthy was well liked and was considered by most to be quite charming and polite. He was also relentlessly energetic and enthusiastic, and worked hard at all of his endeavors. Youthful Joseph McCarthy seemed a far cry from the man that he would become, but the traits that would gain him notoriety were already becoming apparent. He was ambitious, aggressive, and daring, loved to be the center of attention, and according to some was slightly insecure. McCarthy dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work on his parent’s farm. He attempted to start his own business as a chicken farmer, and was moderately successful for a time but due to a harsh winter in 1928, his business ended in ruin. He next worked at a grocery store where his work ethic quickly landed him a managerial position. Despite being in his early twenties, McCarthy was allowed to enroll in high school, where he worked so hard that he completed all four years of work, plus a math class from the University of Wisconsin, in only nine months. McCarthy then enrolled in Marquette University, where he studied law. He was less studious than in his year of high school, but his energy was not wasted. McCarthy worked several jobs to pay for his tuition, and additionally he boxed, joined a fraternity, and participated with the debate team. Foreshadowing his political career, McCarthy would become very angry and aggressive during debates. Demonstrating his boldness and ambition, McCarthy opened his own law office within six hours of being sworn in.6
Though McCarthy’s won practice was not very successful and he ended up working for another attorney, his ambitions were far greater. Before long he ran for judge, focusing his campaign entirely on questioning the reliability of his elderly opponent.7 McCarthy won the judgeship. Tactics such as these became of a staple of McCarthy’s political career, as was his behavior while serving as judge. McCarthy possessed a casual disregard for procedure, which truly came to light during a case in which he made a ruling, in favor of a defendant who had blatantly disobeyed government regulations, based on the fact that the statute being contested would expire a few months later, making the matter moot. The plaintiff appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and when McCarthy’s records of the case were requested, a page was found to be missing. When asked about it, McCarthy replied that he had had part of the record destroyed as “immaterial”. The Supreme Court found that McCarthy had abused his judicial power and ordered him to retry the case, but in an act of defiance he ruled in favor of the defendant yet again. 8
In 1942, less than a year after his controversial court case, McCarthy joined the United States Marine Corps as a First Lieutenant. Despite being exempt from the draft due to his judgeship, McCarthy applied for a commission. Though he joined the military for selfless purposes, McCarthy later grossly exaggerated his record. For instance, soon after becoming a Marine, a friend wrote a newspaper article describing how McCarthy had nobly enlisted in the Marines as a private and earned his position as an officer. McCarthy made this claim for the rest of his life, despite the fact that he was never an enlisted man, and was automatically eligible for his rank because he was a judge. It cannot be denied that McCarthy was a brave man for volunteering to go to war when he did not have to, but he danced precariously on the line between hero and opportunist.9
During a ceremony on a ship, McCarthy had an accident on a ladder and broke his foot, and was later burned when his cast was removed improperly. Despite these events, McCarthy claimed to have been wounded in action, and received a citation signed by Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.10 Throughout his life, McCarthy often changed his own story about the injury, generally exaggerating how it was received and its seriousness. Despite mainly working from behind a desk as an intelligence officer, McCarthy did serve as a gunner on many combat flight missions, but as usual, he greatly exaggerated the number of these missions. Several years after the War, McCarthy applied for medals that he thought himself eligible for, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which required thirty two combat missions. Although McCarthy had only flown in eleven missions, well below the requisite number, it seems that someone in the Marine Corps did not dispute McCarthy’s record and he was awarded the medal.11
Even while McCarthy was in the Pacific, he was already planning his senatorial campaign. The fact that it was illegal for a currently sitting judge to run for a non-judicial position was of little to no consequence to him. He had many pictures taken of himself standing next to and sitting in a bomber, manning the machine guns. He would later use these images in his campaign, giving himself the moniker “Tail Gunner Joe”. In July 1944 McCarthy was transferred to a base in San Diego and used his leaves returned home to Wisconsin, where he already had friends running a campaign on his behalf.12 His first Senatorial campaign was both unsuccessful and controversial.13 In December, 1944 McCarthy decided to resign his commission in the Marine Corps when he was denied a four month leave to attend to his political office.14 In 1945, he was reelected to his circuit court position without opposition, and in 1946, he was again campaigning for senator, against an incumbent of over twenty years.15
McCarthy believed that voters did not care about issues so much as personalities, and this, in addition to personal attacks on the character of his opponent, was the basis of his campaign strategy. Despite his lack of funds16, he campaigned relentlessly, travelling all around Wisconsin and personally introducing himself to as many people as possible. Working in McCarthy’s favor was the fact that incumbent Robert La Follette Jr. had joined the Progressive Party in 1943, and only reluctantly returned to the Republican Party when elections were nearing. The friction between La Follette and Wisconsin Republicans was enough to secure the nomination for McCarthy.17 La Follette, despite being a highly capable senator, barely visited his own state, and did not personally campaign there until the last week before the election.18 McCarthy became the obvious victor.19
The newly christened Senator McCarthy was only thirty-eight years old, the youngest member of the Senate. Despite his remarkable upstart and bold ambition20, McCarthy did not make much of an impression in Washington, other than further establishing his own brashness. He fought against the post-war rationing of sugar21, battled for veteran’s public housing, and even defended a group of Nazi prisoners of war who were claiming mistreatment at the hands of their captors.22 Despite the colorful reputation that McCarthy was building for himself, he was not a very remarkable senator and did not possess the power and attention that he desired. This would change very soon, with events that have secured McCarthy’s place in American history.23
On February 9th, 1950, Senator McCarthy gave a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia. McCarthy was only giving the speech because of obligatory party duties celebrating the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, and not particularly caring about its content, he simply asked his staff to prepare two speeches. One speech was to be on housing, a topic which McCarthy had much experience in, and the other was to be on anti-communism, which was currently a popular matter. He decided to deliver the speech on anti-communism. The results of this decision are what have come to define Joseph McCarthy. For the most part, the speech was not particularly original, simply denouncing communism and praising democracy. It was also rather poorly researched, as it included wildly inaccurate figures in a section that discussed the number of people in the world under Soviet influence. Things changed, however, when McCarthy reached the middle of the speech and stated,
And ladies and gentleman, while I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as active members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five; 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. (Cited from Reeves, pg. 224)
There were around three hundred people present for the speech and it was broadcast over the radio, and news of McCarthy’s supposed list spread like wildfire, and people started asking to see it almost immediately. Since the list, as McCarthy had described it24, did not actually exist, he dodged questions, made excuses, and then changed his number to fifty-seven based on different manipulated information25. The beginning of the rest of McCarthy’s life had started.26
McCarthy’s star was rising, and it was rising fast. The more he identified himself with the issue of anti-communism, the more support he received from the Republican Party. Many tried to call him out on his bluffs, and the State Department denied all of his allegations, but it was not in McCarthy’s nature to back down. He continued to claim that the government was employing what he referred to as “Card Carrying Communists”, and was bold enough to directly antagonize both the Deputy Undersecretary of State, and President Truman himself27. Despite McCarthy’s total lack of actual facts, he had an uncanny ability to dance around direct questions and would often launch a counterattack at his questioner instead of answering. When McCarthy presented his information to the senate, based on the list of fifty-seven, also called the Lee list based on its source, he rearranged the order of the list, so anyone else with a copy would have trouble following him, and badly distorted the facts on each name to make them appear guilty.28
Soon after, the senate adopted Resolution 231, which called for an investigation into disloyal State Department employees. The resulting committee, chaired by Senator Millard Tydings, grilled McCarthy thoroughly, but as usual, he was able to dodge questions and struggle his way through on bluffs, and information that had been hastily researched and unfairly distorted.29 Over the course of the trials, McCarthy named several names30, but most of them were not even State Department employees, and of the ones that were, all had been checked and cleared by the Department.31
It is notable to state that although McCarthy had initially given his anti-communism speech in Wheeling because of the attention he thought it could give him, he was truly starting to believe in it. McCarthy made headlines yet again when he claimed to have the name of the “top Russian espionage agent” in the United States. The name was that of Owen Lattimore, a college professor and scholar of Chinese history who had been a consultant for the government. Despite the evidence showing that Lattimore was completely innocent, McCarthy refused to take back what he had said, stating that the Tydings committee was either wrong or lying. The problem was, no matter how dirty his tactics became, or how dishonest he was, McCarthy continued to gain support. He had become adept at manipulating a crowd and telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, which usually resulted in thunderous applause. McCarthy had become the most sought after public speaker in the Republican Party, in addition to having the fastest growing reputation of any senator in U.S. history.32
McCarthy’s power was increasing substantially, and in the elections of 1950, he was able to prove it. Still bitter over the actions of the Tydings Committee, he actually managed to create enough anti-Tydings sentiment to cost the man his re-election33. This sort of behavior continued for the next three years, when McCarthy got what he really wanted. Dwight D. Eisenhower had just been elected President and things looked good for the G.O.P., who were glad to have one of their own in top office for the first time in twenty years. It was announced that McCarthy would chair the senate committee on Government Operations, as well as its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. This subcommittee gave McCarthy the power to investigate government employees at will. It is also what brought him together with Roy M. Cohn, who would become McCarthy’s most notorious peer34. McCarthy’s reign of terror was truly beginning. Throughout 1953 McCarthy’s subcommittee embarked on a frenzy of investigations35 with the tried and true goal of exposing communists.36
McCarthy had finally achieved the status that he desired, but it would not last long and the events of 1953 would mark the beginning of the end. During the fall of that year, McCarthy began investigating the Army Signal Corps., which was based in Fort Monmouth, NJ and tasked with the research and development of communication systems, of possible communist infiltration. During the subsequent hearings, no communists were discovered. Most of the employees grilled by McCarthy and Cohn plead the Fifth Amendment37, but to McCarthy, this was an unquestionable sign of guilt.38
The most notable of McCarthy’s Fifth Amendment pleading witnesses was a dentist by the name of Irving Peress. In late 1953, Peress had received a promotion to the rank of Major. Peress had cited the Fifth Amendment on a routine questionnaire about his political allegiances, and would repeatedly cite the Amendment while being questioned by McCarthy. To McCarthy, this was enough to condemn Peress as a communist, and he called for his immediate Court Martial, as well as an investigation into those who had approved his promotion. When Peress received an honorable discharge, McCarthy was furious, and ended up summoning Peress’s commanding officer, General Ralph Zwicker. Zwicker, a highly decorated veteran who had led infantry forces through Europe during the Second World War, stated that he had not known that Peress’s loyalty was in question when he had approved of his promotion. In a tirade against him, McCarthy said,
Then, General, you should be removed from any command. Any man who had been given the honor of being promoted to general and who says, “I will protect another general who protected Communists,” is not fit to wear the uniform, General. I think it is a tremendous disgrace to the Army to have this sort of thing given to the public. I intend to give it to them. I have a duty to do that. (Reeves, 544)
This statement, in addition to comparing the General’s intelligence to that of a five year old’s, brought considerable criticism on McCarthy. Those close to McCarthy warned him not to take on a body as powerful as the United States Army, but it was not in his nature to back down, and his attacks would have serious repercussions in the coming months.39
Even while McCarthy was attacking the legitimacy of the Army’s security, he and his staff were trying to get favors from it. In July, 1953, an aid to McCarthy’s subcommittee was drafted into the Army. His name was G. David Schine, and he was a close friend of Cohn’s40. Schine’s came from a fairly wealthy family of hotel owners and after writing an anti-communism pamphlet, he came to the attention of Cohn and was hired by the subcommittee as a “chief consultant”. After his draft notice arrived, both Cohn and McCarthy attempted to arrange a commission for him in either the Air Force or the Navy, but since Schine had never finished college, this was impossible. Cohn even attempted to get Schine into the CIA, despite the fact that McCarthy was considering an investigation into the Agency at the time. Schine himself suggested that he be made an assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Robert Stevens. Cohn suggested to Army counsel John G. Adams that Schine be given an assignment in New York, and before long was contacting Adams on a daily basis, being rebuked each time. During a luncheon between, McCarthy, Cohn, Adams, and Stevens, as well as another subcommittee member named Frank Carr, Cohn and McCarthy suggested yet again that Schine be assigned to New York. They also insisted that he be given several extra day passes in addition to being made available during weekends and evenings for committee work. For the most part, their requests were met, though they continued to request the New York assignment, being denied each time.41
Schine’s commanding officers naturally began to complain about the preferential treatment that he was receiving, and Adams went directly to McCarthy, who told him that he had no further interest in Schine, although he would deny this whenever he was around Cohn. Cohn was angered that Adams had gone straight to McCarthy instead of him, and after being informed that Schine would have to spend several months in Georgia with the possibility of an overseas assignment afterwards, Cohn was furious and threatened to “wreck the Army” and have Stevens ousted from his position as Secretary. While McCarthy remained more civil about the matter than Cohn, it was around this time that the news of Irving Peress’s honorable discharge reached him, causing him to cease contact with both Stevens and Adams. Soon after, the Army officially charged McCarthy and Cohn of abusing their powers to obtain preferred treatment for Schine. Within a day of the Army’s charges, McCarthy counter-attacked, claiming that the Army had filed their report against him and Cohn in an effort to blackmail them into ceasing their search for communists in the Army. The ground for the Army-McCarthy hearings had been laid.42
McCarthy’s counter was bold, even by his own standards. In addition to Cohn completely denying all of the Army’s charges, McCarthy and his staff decided to write a series of eleven memos, claim that they came from the senators own records, and backdate them to give the appearance that they had been written of a period of several months. The content of the fraudulent memos countered every charge that the Army had made, giving supposed records of conversations that had never taken place, and giving the overall impression that McCarthy and his staff had done nothing wrong, while painting Stevens and Adams as the villains of the situation. The Army was understandably furious, and meanwhile, Vice President Richard Nixon gave a public address on the situation in which he denounced the actions and methods of McCarthy.43 Making matters worse, Cohn made a surprise appearance on television during which he further elaborated upon some of the lies from the fabricated memos. Most notable, he claimed that Stevens had offered to give him dirt on the Air Force and Navy in exchange for the subcommittee halting their Army investigations. As a result of this appearance, all of the senators on the subcommittee except McCarthy ceased all support for Cohn. It was decided that, despite the involvement of its own members, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations would indeed conduct the inquiry into the Army-McCarthy matter, but with a temporary new chairman44 and staff. McCarthy’s confidence did not seem to be shaken though and he continued to publically attack and denounce his accusers. Unfortunately for McCarthy, his popularity was beginning to wane and the Republican Party was becoming weary of his antics. Supremely self-confident, McCarthy could never have predicted what the upcoming hearings would do to him.45
Despite what the charges were, and who was on each side, the real subject of the hearings was Joe McCarthy. After years of attacks, investigations, outbursts, lies, and bullying tactics, McCarthy himself was finally the one who was in serious trouble. On April 14th, 1954 the Army gave its formal charges to the subcommittee. It included twenty-nine charges, claiming that the defendants had tried to win special favors for Schine, and that Cohn had alluded that he may lighten the investigations against the Army if Schine was given said favors. On April 20th, McCarthy and Cohn fired back with forty-six points, denying all of the Army’s charges, accusing the Army of aiding the cause of communism, and launching a personal attack on Assistant Secretary of Defense H. Struve Hensel, accusing him of war profiteering.46
Located in the Senate caucus room, the hearings began on April 22nd and, crucially, were broadcast on television. The rules were as follows: Ray Jenkins, counsel to the subcommittee, would ask questions to both sides. Next each senator on the subcommittee would have ten minutes for questioning, starting with Chairman Mundt. Finally, each side would have their own ten minute questioning time. Unfortunately, McCarthy also had powers of cross-examination in addition to being a subject of the hearing, and he used this power constantly to disrupt, mislead, and attack witnesses, lawyers, and senators alike.47 McCarthy’s behavior during the hearings was so bad that even Cohn criticized him. He made vicious and unwarranted personal attacks on witnesses, often trying to discredit them.48
The most famous of these attacks came on June 9th in response to a difficult line of questions that Army counsel Joseph Welch had just aimed at Cohn, and was leveled against Fred Fisher, a lawyer who worked for Welch’s firm.49 McCarthy mentioned that Fisher had once belonged to a lawyers guild organization that was later revealed to have communist ties. To this, Welch responded, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness”, and described how Fisher had initially been part of his team for the case but when he mentioned his past involvement with the lawyers guild, Welch had sent him back home for fear that McCarthy would find out and attack him, which, sadly, happened anyway. When McCarthy began to resume his attack Welch cut him off and after apologizing to Cohn for any offense that he may have caused him, uttered his famous line, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” The audience burst into applause following Welch’s remarks.50
Out of all of the events of the Army-McCarthy hearings, the events of June 9th hurt McCarthy the worst, even if he did not immediately realize it. His conduct was almost universally denounced, and the phrase, “Have you no sense of decency?” began to take hold in the papers. McCarthy had, of course, utilized these tactics for the majority of his political career, but there was an important distinction at the trials. Not only were his attacks at their most savage, they were broadcast on national television. It was estimated that 80 million people tuned in for at least part of the trials. How many were watching on June 9th is not known, but the hearings in their entirety showed the American people how Joe McCarthy really operated. The rude, aggressive, and unethical nature of his conduct had been exposed on the largest scale, and McCarthy’s popularity plummeted because of it. As for the results of the hearings themselves, neither side really won in the traditional sense. It was agreed upon by the subcommittee that Cohn had exceeded his authority, McCarthy was guilty of allowing him to do so, and that Stevens and Adams had attempted to influence the investigations into the Army Signal Corps. Spelling further disaster for McCarthy, a longtime enemy of his, Senator Ralph Flanders, was calling for his censure51 from the United States Senate.52
By the time the Army-McCarthy hearings had culminated, the fate of McCarthy’s political career had more or less been sealed. The process of censuring McCarthy was actually a fairly difficult one within the Senate. Despite this, on September 27th, 1954, the committee in charge of the censure hearings, which was led by Senator Arthur Watkins, released their results. They recommended the censure of Joseph McCarthy from the United Stated Senate on two counts: His slandering of General Zwicker during the Army Signal Corps. investigation and his failure to appear before the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections in 1952, despite numerous callings, as well as his slandering of the members of said committee. In November, 1954, the senate began a debate on McCarthy’s charges, with his political career hanging in the balance. Unwisely, McCarthy did not improve his behavior and insulted several Senators both in and out of the sessions. Even when his friends pleaded with him to issue apologies, he refused. He had never admitted to being wrong before and he was not about to start. On December 2nd, McCarthy was officially censured, and though he remained in the Senate, he was ostracized by the other Senators, the press, and the Republican Party in general. Three years later, on May 2nd, 1957, Joe McCarthy died in the Bethesda Naval Hospital at the age of forty-eight, a broken alcoholic. He never uncovered a single confirmed communist in the government.53
To this day, McCarthy is an almost universally reviled figure, the wickedest of villains. While this assessment is difficult to argue with, it is important to view his life as a whole. What he achieved in his life was extraordinary, and mostly due to his own hard work and determination. He was born on a farm with almost nothing, completed four years-worth of high school in nine months, fought in World War II, and became the youngest member of the United States Senate. Unfortunately, the same ambition and iron will that allowed him to achieve these remarkable things ended up leading to his downfall. He could never back down from a fight, no matter the odds, and what he lacked in procedural knowledge, he made up for in spades with personality. McCarthy had the makings of an excellent career, but the issue that he came to define also led to his downfall. Once he decided to throw himself behind the issue of anti-communism, he never turned back, and neglected all other duties in its favor. It is clear that he legitimately thought himself to be doing good work, and helping his country. His stubbornness never allowed him to see otherwise, and that is a terrible waste. Joseph McCarthy was a remarkably intelligent, hard-working, and capable man whose own ambition got the better of him. He could have been so much more, but was doomed from the start, and it is tragic that his actions had to hurt so many people.
U.S. Congress. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations. 83rd Cong, 2nd sess., 1954.
Bailey, Edward R. Joe McCarthy and the Press. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. Examines the relationship between Joe McCarthy’s rise to prominence and his coverage by the press. The author was an active journalist in the 50s when McCarthy was prominent.
Fried, Richard M. Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Written at the end of the Cold War, attempts to offer a level overview of McCarthyism from an unbiased perspective. It is partially successful.
Griffith, Robert. The Politics of Fear. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1970. Biography of McCarthy. Better than Rovere’s book but not as good as Reeves’. Offers a very good overview while sticking to the main points and focusing primarily on McCarthy’s political career.
Reeves, Thomas C. The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy. New York: Stein and Day, 1982. A comprehensive and refreshingly unbiased biography of Joe McCarthy. Meticulously researched, it contains an almost overwhelming amount of detail, but that is mostly a good thing. Does an excellent job of viewing McCarthy objectively and covers his entire life with mostly equal focus.
Rovere, Richard H. Senator Joe McCarthy.New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1959. Biography of Joe McCarthy written by a journalist who was active during McCarthy’s prominence. It’s biased bordering on openly hostile, but still a good overview of McCarthy’s political career. Along with Griffith’s Politics of Fear, it is a good place to either start before diving into Reeve’s Life and Times, or to merely compare.
Schrecker, Ellen. “McCarthyism: Political Oppression and the Fear of Communism”, Social Research Vol 71, no. 4 (Winter 2004) Examines how the fear of Communism grew in the United States.
------. No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Examines the effects of McCarthyism on universities, including the firing of Professors for their political views and resistance to the government’s anti-communist hearings. Not really about McCarthy himself, but great for context on the effects of McCarthyism.
Schwartz, Richard. The 1950s. New York: Facts on File, 2002. Offers a great overview of the decade, covering topics such as politics, culture, and technology by year. Goes deeper into individual topics than one might suspect from a basic overview.
1 Excellent secondary sources used are Richard Schwartz, The 1950s (New York: Facts on File, 2002) Offers a great overview of the decade, covering topics such as politics, culture, and technology by year; Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (New York: Stein and Day, 1982) A comprehensive and refreshingly unbiased biography of Joe McCarthy; Richard H. Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1959) Biography of Joe McCarthy written by a journalist who was active during McCarthy’s prominence. It’s fairly biased, but still a good overview of McCarthy’s political career; Edwin R. Bailey, Joe McCarthy and the Press (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981) Examines the relationship between Joe McCarthy’s rise to prominence and his coverage by the press. Also written by a journalist who was active during McCarthyism; Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear (Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1970); Richard M. Fried, Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) Written at the end of the Cold War, attempts to offer a level overview of McCarthyism from an unbiased perspective; Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) Examines the effects of McCarthyism on universities, including the firing of Professors for their political views and resistance to the government’s anti-communist hearings; Ellen Schrecker, “McCarthyism: Political Oppression and the Fear of Communism”, Social Research Vol 71, no. 4 (Winter 2004) Examines how the fear of Communism grew in the United States; “Executive sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations” Government transcripts including Army-McCarthy Hearings
2 Joe McCarthy later became a vicious critic of General George Marshall, who had unsuccessfully attempted to proctor a diplomatic end to this war.
3 Schwartz, The 1950s; Schrecker, “McCarthyism”
4 To the dismay of the government, it was discovered that the Soviets had infiltrated the top secret Manhatten Project. Initially, a German born physicist who had worked for the British named Klaus Fuchs was discovered to be a spy. He gave up the name of a contact in New York, who in turn led American authorities to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, both of whom were communists. Julius had worked for the U.S. Army as an engineer before being fired for his political affiliations in 1945. Even so, he was responsible for the recruitment of several Soviet agents, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who had worked on the Manhatten Project. After a trial in 1951, Julius, as well as Ethel, whose level of actual involvement is disputed to this day, were sentenced to death for conspiracy to commit espionage, while Greenglass and several other conspirators received prison sentences. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/the-atom-spy-case
5 Schwarz, The 1950s; Schrecker, No Ivory Tower;
6 Griffith, The Politics of Fear; Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy; Rover, Senator Joe McCarthy
7 Perhaps to take the focus off of his own lack of qualifications
8 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
9 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
10 McCarthy was an intelligence officer and received that citation based on a recommendation that he almost certainly forged and sent in himself. McCarthy’s commanding officer, Major Glenn A. Todd, who had supposedly signed the letter of recommendation, later stated that intelligence officers were given all sorts of jobs, including the writing of these letters for their commanding officers to sign. Admiral Nimitz routinely signed thousands of them. Reeves, Life and Times, 48
11 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
12 Active duty members of the United States military are not allowed to publically voice their political opinions, but McCarthy ignored this rule by using phrases such as, “If I weren’t in uniform, I would say…”
13 McCarthy’s candidacy was contested by Wisconsin Secretary of State Fred Zimmerman, who charged that the state constitution prohibited a serving judge to run for another political office. It was eventually ruled that a state cannot decide the qualifications of United States senators. Reeves, 56-57
14 McCarthy would attribute his resignation to his “war wound”. Reeves, 60
15 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
16 McCarthy had trouble holding on to money. After he funded his first senatorial campaign with money earned from the stock market, he became obsessed with it, constantly borrowing and investing large sums of money, but never with the same level of success.
17 Many senior members of the GOP did not particularly like McCarthy, but supported him due to their disdain for La Follette. Reeves, 78
18 La Follette was a shy, moody, and sometimes depressed man, according to his friends and family. He didn’t seem to care whether or not he won the 1946 election and he barely campaigned. Reeves, 86-90
19 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
20 It only took McCarthy until his second day in the capital to call a press conference and aggressively state his views on the current coal miner’s strike.
21 McCarthy earned the nickname of “The Pepsi-Cola Kid” after being accused of being a puppet of the soft drink industry, which would benefit from the increased sugar supplies. The nickname would arise again during his reelection to the senate.
22 The Nazis in question were SS members who had executed unarmed American prisoners in what was known as the Malmedy Massacre. McCarthy defended them due to his unproven belief that they had indeed been mistreated and that the U.S. Army had used “Russian” methods to interrogate them. The trial showed off the poor conduct and bullying attitude that McCarthy was becoming known for.
23 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
24 The number that McCarthy referenced did actually come from a list of government employees. The problem was, it was taken from a letter written by then Secretary of State James F. Byrnes in 1946. The letter was a reply to an inquiry from a congressman and merely stated that a group of 3,000 federal employees had been screened, and of them 285 had questionable backgrounds or affiliations. Seventy-nine of them were let go (McCarthy’s number should have been 206, not 205), but it was never stated that any of them were communists.
25 McCarthy would continue to toss around both numbers, never clarifying on either of them
26 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
27 In a message to President Truman, McCarthy demanded that he give Congress access to the loyalty files of government employees, which had been closed off. McCarthy stated that “Failure on your part will label the Democratic Party of being the bedfellow of International Communism.” Griffith, 53-54
28 For example, where the Lee list described someone as a “Liberal”, McCarthy would call them “Communistically inclined”. Griffith, 57. Reeves, Life and Times; Griffith, Politics of Fear
29 McCarthy knew that he had a fantastic issue, but no hard information to keep it going. Not wanting to lose the public spotlight, he and his staff, friends, and contacts (including J. Edgar Hoover himself) would quickly gather as much information as they could so that McCarthy would continually have “facts” to present. Anyone who could possibly be linked to communism was a potential target. Despite his considerable charisma and talent for misdirection, he was hanging onto the spotlight by the skin of his teeth.
30 The first person to be accused by McCarthy was Dorothy Kenyon, an esteemed lawyer and a liberal. She was not among the people listed in the Lee list and had not been mentioned by McCarthy prior to this investigation, nor had she ever worked for the State Department. He claimed that she had been affiliated with twenty-eight communist front organizations. Most of these organizations were not, in fact, communist fronts, and in most cases Kenyon’s affiliation to them had been either fleeting or non-existent. This case was typical of the entire investigation. Griffith, 67-68
31 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
32 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
33 McCarthy’s ego soared as a result
34 Cohn was an ambitious young lawyer, not unlike McCarthy himself, who shared his boss’s obsessive disdain for communism. Despite being only twenty-five years old, he was very experienced and had notably been part of the prosecuting team that had convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and sentenced them to death. Robert Kennedy had been a frontrunner for the position that went to Cohn, and McCarthy later stated that he chose Cohn partly because of his Jewish faith, to disprove accusations of Anti-Semitism.
35 445 inquiries were made, leading to 157 investigations, seventeen of which reached public hearings. McCarthy himself oversaw the hearings as a sort of grand inquisitor.
36 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
37 The Fifth Amendment allows defendants to refrain from answering any question that may lead to self- incrimination, such as admitting to being or being affiliated with communists.
38 McCarthy referred to such people as “Fifth Amendment Communists”, and more blatantly, as “Reds” and “Traitors”. Reeves, 520-522. Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
39 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
40 It has been speculated that Cohn and Schine were more than just friends, though nothing has been proven. McCarthy’s own sexuality has been questioned and attacked (and a relationship between him and Schine has been speculated upon), but what is known is that Cohn was a closeted homosexual. Ironically, he helped McCarthy to expose numerous gay men working for the government and have them fired. As for Schine, he married in 1957 and had six children, but the extent of his relationship with Cohn is still debated.
41 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
42 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
43 Nixon did not specifically name McCarthy in the address, but his meaning was clear enough. Reeves, 578
44 Republican Senator Karl Mundt
45 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
46 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
47 McCarthy would state “point of order” before making a statement, something he would do hundreds of times during the hearings to the point that people in the audience would laugh upon hearing the words. Reeves, 597-598
48 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
49 Cohn, who was still on the stand when McCarthy brought up Fisher, was mortified. He had made an agreement with Welch that they would not bring up Fisher so long as Welch did not bring up the fact that Cohn had failed his physical admission test to West Point. He desperately tried to motion to McCarthy not to go through with his attack. Reeves, 628-629
50 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
51 A Censure does not remove a Senator from office, but it is a formal statement of disapproval towards them. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Expulsion_Censure.htm#censure
52 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy
53 Griffith, Politics of Fear; Reeves, Life and Times; Rovere, Joe McCarthy