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Harry S Truman

McCarthyism: Harry S Truman was the 33rd American President who served in office from April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953. One of the important events during his presidency was the new Red Scare and the rise of McCarthyism.

Definition and Summary of the McCarthyism
Summary and definition:
McCarthyism can be defined as the time of anti-communist hysteria during the Red Scare in the 1950's Cold War. McCarthyism refers to the particularly vociferous campaign (1950 - 1956) led by Senator Joseph McCarthy consisting of investigations and persecution of alleged communists in America in which accusations of treason or subversion were made without proper regard for evidence.

Many of the accused, who held influential positions or were well known celebrities, were blacklisted or lost their jobs, although most did not belong to the Communist Party. Americans were afraid to challenge Joseph McCarthy for fear of becoming targets themselves. The Senate passed a vote of censure, or formal disapproval, against Joe McCarthy following his attempt to search for Soviet spies in the United States Army. McCarthyism is now commonly used to describe "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques."

What does the term McCarthyism mean? The term McCarthyism is synonymous with the fearful anti-communist 'witch hunts' of Senator Joseph McCarthy who used unfair investigative techniques to bring allegations of disloyalty against prominent and influential Americans, which severely damaged reputations and ruined careers.

Who started McCarthyism? Who was involved in McCarthyism? McCarthyism was named after Joe McCarthy but the anti-communist tactics started with the 1947 Loyalty Review Program and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that investigated suspected threats of Communist subversion or propaganda.

Who were the common victims of McCarthyism? The victims of McCarthyism were government employees, Hollywood actors and actresses, prominent writers, minority groups, union members and other people of influence in American society.

Facts about McCarthyism
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on McCarthyism.

Definition: McCarthyism is a term that is generally used to encompass the Communist Witch Hunts of the 1950's during which public accusations of disloyalty or subversion were made using unfair investigatory methods.

Before the emergence of Senator Joseph McCarthy as a powerful anti-communist other events occured that are now classed under the heading of McCarthyism. These events include the Loyalty Review Program and the investigations of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which led to high profile court cases such as those surrounding Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs.

Allied victory World War 2 (1939 - 1945) ended the threat of Fascism and Nazism but another threat to the stability of the United States was sparked by fears concerning the spread of Communism which led to the second Red Scare and the beginning of the Cold War.

The Loyalty Review Program was set up under Executive Order 9835 on March 21, 1947 and to check the loyalty of federal employees and any new applicants seeking employment in the US government.

The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) became a permanent) committee in 1945 to investigate suspicions of Communist subversion or propaganda by people of influence in American society.

The 1947 Taft-Hartley act contained an anti-Communist clause that required union leaders to take an oath stating that they were not communists.

The highly publicized case concerning the high ranking US diplomat Alger Hiss began in 1948 following accusations by writer and editor Whitaker Chambers that were investigated by the HUAC and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was not content with screening federal government employees and in 1947 he went before the HUAC to urge them to hold public hearings on celebrities and other influential people suspected of being involved in Communist infiltration and subversion.

The FBI mounted investigations into the Hollywood movie industry which led to the HUAC prosecutions of the "Hollywood Ten" that led to the establishment of the Hollywood blacklist that ruined the lives and careers of many actors, actresses and writers.

J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI obtained information on the anti-American activities of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) from access to the Venona Project data and by working closely with former members of the CPUSA, including ex-spymasters Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley.

FBI agents and FBI collaborators infiltrated the US Communist Party to monitor its activities of its members from the inside. The activities of J. Edgar Hoover and FBI agents also extended to other minority groups during the early years of the Cold War and their activities became synonymous with the term 'McCarthyism'

Taking into account the Red Scare and the anti-communist hysteria that was sweeping the nation it makes it easy to understand why a strong anti-communist politician such as Joseph McCarthy would rise to such prominence and power in the early 1950's

Joseph "Joe" McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was born in Wisconsin to a family of devout Roman Catholics. He graduated as a lawyer and then became involved in politics.

Joseph "Joe" McCarthy was a ruthless and ambitious man. He ran a 'dirty tricks' campaign against his opponent to become a circuit court judge, served in the US Marines during WW2 and then ran against Robert La Follette to become Republican candidate for the senate. During the campaign he used false claims to accuse Robert La Follette of war profiteering and being a Communist. Joseph "Joe" McCarthy won the election and became a Republican Senator in 1947.

Joseph McCarthy's career as a Republican Senator had a less than impressive start and he was accused of falsifying his war record and investigated for tax offences and for taking bribes from the Pepsi-Cola Company. Fearing he would lose his seat in the next election he looked for ways to increase his standing as a Republican Senator

He used the political climate of the Red Scare and the wave of anti-communist hysteria to begin a campaign against communist subversives working in the Democratic administration.

Joseph McCarthy was a friend of J. Edgar Hoover and this association would provide an important communication link with the information held by the FBI.

On February 9, 1950 this little-known senator gave a speech at a meeting of the Republican Women's Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. In his speech Joseph McCarthy mounted an attack on President Truman’s 'red herring' remark concerning the Alger Hiss case and charged that the State Department, and its Secretary Dean Acheson, harbored “traitorous” Communists.

Joseph McCarthy quote from February 9, 1950 speech "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..." McCarthy later reduced this figure to 57

The Associated Press distributed copies of the speech to the press. It caused a sensation. Joseph McCarthy got the publicity he wanted. His forceful, shocking speeches, and the public's fear of Communism, won him re-election as Senator in the 1952 election, which gave the Republicans control of Congress.

Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy continued with his claims that the Democratic administration had been infiltrated by communist subversives. He distributed booklets at his speeches called 'The Party of Betrayal'. He named names (particularly Dean Acheson and George C. Marshall), made unfounded accusations of disloyalty and attracted even more publicity.

His unfounded accusations aimed at tarnishing reputations in the government and accusations of Communist sympathies coincided with the time when Americans had just entered the Korean War (June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953) against the Soviet-backed communist North Korea and China.

Senator Joseph McCarthy obtained the chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations of the Senate and of its permanent subcommittee on investigations. He was in an ideal position to use his power to exploit the rising fear of Communism.

For the next two years Joseph McCarthy was constantly in the spotlight using theatrics and sensational accusations that drew the attention of the newspapers and television. He began a 'reign of terror', referred to as the "Communist Witch Hunt", investigating various government departments, badgering and questioning countless witnesses about their suspected communist affiliations.

McCarthy made the truly terrifying move of targeting 'anti-American books' in libraries. His researchers investigated the Overseas Library Program and discovered 30,000 books by "communists, pro-communists, former Communists and anti anti-communists." After the publication of this list, these books were removed from the library shelves.

Senator Joseph McCarthy's persecution of innocent persons on the charge of being communists, together with his irresponsible tactics of damaging reputations of Americans with vague and unfounded charges, became known as McCarthyism.

McCarthy was a bully and the power of Senator Joseph McCarthy was so great that people were afraid to challenge him for fear of becoming targets themselves.

His smear campaigns, dirty tactics and unfounded accusations left a cloud of suspicion over anyone who was accused, which was often interpreted as guilt.

Senator Joseph McCarthy believed himself to be invincible and in 1953 he turned his attentions to communist infiltration in the military.

The newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower was absolutely furious with McCarthy. The United States Army were alerted to McCarthy's intentions and, before he could act, mounted their own internal investigation. No evidence of spies or espionage was found.

McCarthy was enraged at the army's denial and in the spring of 1954 took his investigation to a sensational, nationally televised program, referred to as the Army-McCarthy Hearings.

Army-McCarthy Hearings lasted for 36 days in which U.S. Army officers and civilian officials were grilled on Communist subversion, defended by the army lawyer Joseph Nye Welch. The Army-McCarthy Hearings also assessed the security risk of homosexuals in the US government.

Millions of Americans watched as McCarthy used his brutal and hostile interrogative tactics. McCarthy tried to discredit Joseph Nye Welch by accusing Fred Fisher, a junior attorney at Welch's law firm, of having past associations with a Communist organization.

His tactics prompted Joseph Nye Welch to explode at McCarthy for naming the young man before a massive television audience without prior warning or previous agreement to do so. Joseph Nye Welch said "Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness...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?"

The next day the newspaper headlines shrieked "Have you no sense of decency?" Joseph Nye Welch had discredited McCarthy and helped to turn the tide of public opinion against him. Welch had attacked the bully McCarthy who was shown for the type of man he was and lost his power to arouse fear and suspicion.

The Army-McCarthy hearings brought about McCarthy's downfall from political power and lost his credibility from the American public.

On December 2, 1954, the US Senate voted 67–22 to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy for conduct "contrary to Senate traditions", effectively wiping out his realm of influence, although not expelling him from office.

Senator Joseph McCarthy continued to chair the Subcommittee on Investigations until January 3, 1955, the day the 84the United States Congress was inaugurated, and was replaced as chairman by Senator John L. McClellan.

After this time Senator Joseph McCarthy was mostly ignored by his colleagues and by the media. He turned to alcohol and died at the age of 48 years old before he had completed his second term in office. He will be forever remembered in US history for McCarthyism.

Similarities between McCarthyism and the Crucible
Although Joe McCarthy lost his power, McCarthyism continued in the United States for some years. McCarthyism is closely associated with the playwright Arthur Miller was required to testify before the HUAC about his political leanings in 1956. Suspicions were aroused due to Arthur Miller's play 'The Crucible' which was about the witch hunts that took place in Salem, Massachusetts during the 1700's but could also be compared to the 'communist witch hunts' and McCarthyism in America in the 1950s. Comparisons between the McCarthyism and the Crucible were inevitable due to the similarities of various events. 

  • The Salem Witch Trials with the whirlwind of unfounded accusations and terrifying trials were immediately connected with the "Communist Witch Trials" and McCarthyism

  • In the Crucible the unsubstantiated claims of the girls ruined lives and led to increased suspicion and hostility

  • In the Crucible those who were accused were assumed guilty, were put on trial and expected to name and accuse others of being witches

  • In the Crucible people were frightened to defend the accused for fear of being implicated themselves

The similarities between McCarthyism and the Crucible were obvious.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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