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Joseph McCarthy

Posted by karmalily on November 30, 2007

For today, a little history lesson. This was actually an assignment for my Turning Points in American History class.

Joe McCarthy was the Republican Senator from Wisconsin for ten years starting in 1947. He started out as a lawyer, but he wasn’t very successful. Originally a Democrat and a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, he switched to the Republican Party in order to run in an election to become a Circuit Court Judge. He won due to his extremely dirty campaigning, including making accusations that his opponent, Edgar Werner, was senile and had been guilty of financial corruption.

During WWII, McCarthy joined the Marines and used this as a tool in his run for Senate upon his return. He claimed that he had been in thirty-two missions for the Marines, which was a lie. His habits hadn’t changed much since his campaign for circuit court judge. This campaign was just as dirty, but resulted in something much worse. Robert La Follette was accused of war profiteering, and even though it wasn’t true, McCarthy won the election and La Follette ended up committing suicide.

Right from the start McCarthy started to show his ruthlessness. He called for the drafting of striking miners, and said that if they did not agree to go they should be court-martialed and shot. At first McCarthy wasn’t having too much success; people had started to realize he had been lying to them. He consulted a Catholic priest named Edmund Walsh about strategies to help him keep his seat in the Senate, and Walsh suggested going after “communist subversives working in the Democratic administration.”

By setting up a system of information trading with reporter Jack Anderson, McCarthy obtained a list of 205 people he claimed were communists, including some he accused of trading secrets with the Russians. He argued in the Senate that these people were “loyalty risks.”

People were terrified of being accused of communist ties by Joseph McCarthy. People stopped accusing him of lying because he had shown that he could end their careers. The American people were being swept up in his tales of communist spies within the American government. Most people were scared of a communist invasion of the United States because of the Cold War. These accusations and anti-communism became known as “McCarthyism.”

He started to almost make a career out of ruining people’s lives. After accusing Harry Truman of being soft on communism, it was easier for Dwight Eisenhower to win the presidency. When McCarthy accused Johns Hopkins University professor Owen Lattimore of being a Russian spy (which was never proved), Lattimore moved to Europe.

The best example of how harsh McCarthy could be was his treatment of reporter Drew Pearson. Pearson has long been opposed to McCarthy, and wrote an article accusing McCarthy and Louis Budenz (who had been a witness to Lattimore’s suspected communism) of lying. McCarthy decided to retaliate, and said that Pearson was “the voice of international Communism.” Pearson’s radio sponsor pulled out and twelve newspapers cancelled contracts with him, which practically ended his career.

It was inevitable that McCarthy would go too far. After accusing the Secretary of the Army, President Eisenhower became angry. The Army passed revealing information to anti-McCarthy journalists, and the public learned of his true identity. All the power he had accumulated melted away, and in 1957 he died due to an illness related to excessive alcohol consumption.


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