Joseph McCarthy

McCarthy, Joseph Raymond

Joseph Raymond McCarthy, 1908–57, U.S. senator from Wisconsin (1947–57), b. near Appleton, Wis. He practiced law in Wisconsin and became (1940) a circuit judge. He served with the U.S. marines in the Pacific in World War II, achieving the rank of captain. In 1946, McCarthy defeated Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., for the Republican senatorial nomination and then overwhelmed his Democratic opponent in the election. His career in the Senate was undistinguished and obscure until Feb., 1950, when he won national attention with a speech at Wheeling, W.Va., in which he charged that the State Dept. had been infiltrated by Communists. Although a Senate investigating committee under Millard Tydings exonerated the State Dept. and branded the charges a fraud and a hoax, McCarthy repeated his claims in a series of radio and television appearances. Challenged to produce his evidence, he refused and instead made new accusations. When the Republicans assumed control of Congress in 1953, McCarthy, who had been reelected in 1952, became chairman of the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee (Government Operations Committee), a post in which he wielded great power; he used his position to exploit the public's fear of Communism.

Through widely publicized hearings, the use of unidentified informers, and reckless accusation, McCarthy doggedly pursued those whom he classified as Communists and subversives. Careers were ruined on the flimsiest evidence, and his methods came under increasing attack by the press and his colleagues. In Apr., 1954, McCarthy accused Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens and his aides of attempting to conceal evidence of espionage activities that McCarthy and his staff had allegedly uncovered at Fort Monmouth, N.J. The army, in turn, accused McCarthy, his chief counsel, and a staff member of seeking by improper means to obtain preferential treatment for a former consultant to the subcommittee, then a private in the army. After widely publicized hearings McCarthy and his aides were cleared (Aug., 1954) of the army's charges. However, in December the Senate, acting on a motion of censure against him, voted to "condemn" McCarthy for contempt of a Senate elections subcommittee that had investigated his conduct and financial affairs in 1952, for abuse of certain senators, and for insults to the Senate itself during the censure proceedings. After this rebuke, and with the Democrats again in control of Congress after the 1954 elections, McCarthy's influence in the Senate and on the national scene steadily diminished until his death. McCarthy's indiscriminate attacks gave rise to the term "McCarthyism," which denotes similar assaults characterized by sensationalist tactics and unsubstantiated accusations.

See biographies T. C. Reeves (1982, repr. 1997) and D. Oshinsky (1983); studies by R. H. Rovere (1960, repr. 1973), M. P. Rogin (1967), A. J. Matusow (1970), R. Griffith (1970), F. J. Cook (1971), R. Feuerlicht (1972), R. Goldston (1973), D Oshinsky (1973), T. C. Reeves (1982, repr. 1989), M. Landis (1987), E. W. Schrecker (1988), and A. Herman (1999).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Nightmare Decade: The Life and Times of Senator Joe McCarthy
Fred J. Cook.
Random House, 1971
The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate
Robert Griffith.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1987 (2nd edition)
Major Speeches and Debates of Senator Joe McCarthy Delivered in the United States Senate, 1950-1951
Joseph McCarthy.
U. S. Government Printing Office, 1953
Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective
Richard M. Fried.
Oxford University Press, 1990
God, Church, and Flag: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the Catholic Church, 1950-1957
Donald F. Crosby.
University of North Carolina Press, 1978
The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History
David H. Bennett.
University of North Carolina Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: "McCarthy and McCarthyism" begins on p. 293
See It Now Confronts McCarthyism: Television Documentary and the Politics of Representation
Thomas Rosteck.
University of Alabama Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Argument and the News Documentary: 'A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy'"
Booknotes: Stories from American History
Brian Lamb.
Public Affairs, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Rise and Fall of Joseph McCarthy"
McCarthyism: The Great American Red Scare: A Documentary History
Albert Fried.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "McCarthy the Man; McCarthyism Triumphant" and Chap. 9 "McCarthy's Fall"
The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter
Michael Paul Rogin.
M.I.T. Press, 1967
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "Wisconsin: McCarthy and the Progressive Tradition"
Covering McCarthyism: How the Christian Science Monitor Handled Joseph R. McCarthy, 1950-1954
Lawrence N. Strout.
Greenwood Press, 1999
McCarthy and His Colleagues. (Worth Repeating)
.
The New American, Vol. 19, No. 12, June 16, 2003
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