12 Facts About McCarthyism

Updated on May 23, 2017
McCarthyism is named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was a leading figure in the hunt for so-called Communist subversives. The roots of the phenomenon were in place before Joseph McCarty first became involved, however.
McCarthyism is named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was a leading figure in the hunt for so-called Communist subversives. The roots of the phenomenon were in place before Joseph McCarty first became involved, however. | Source

McCarthyism was a phenomenon of the Cold War period in American history.

A growing fear of Communism spreading through China and Eastern Europe, known as the "Red Scare," was exploited by certain politicians, particularly Senator Joseph McCarthy.

McCarthy made accusations of subversion or treason against public figures without proper regard for evidence, and this style of political machination became known as "McCarthyism".

Below are 12 facts about McCarthyism.

1. McCarthyism was able to become strong because of the increasing fear of Communism in China and Eastern Europe that came to the United States. Fear of Communism had begun with the Russian Revolution, then re-emerged in the 1930's, only to be muted with the alliance with the Soviets against Hitler. Anti-Communism blossomed again after WWII ended, however, as Stalin sought to extend his influence and Mao took over in China.

Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time, and ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down — they are truly down.

— Senator Joseph McCarthy

2. The term "McCarthyism" comes from Senator Joseph McCarthy, who spearheaded the drive to defeat Communist infiltration, despite having no proof for many of his accusations. McCarthyism peaked during the "Second Red Scare" of 1950-56. McCarthy attacked not just the government and military but also private industry, entertainment and schools.

Anti-communist propaganda poster from the 1950's.  The poster is aimed at the U.S. entertainment industry.   The movie and entertainment industry were one of McCarthyism's main targets and many people would lose their jobs as a result.
Anti-communist propaganda poster from the 1950's. The poster is aimed at the U.S. entertainment industry. The movie and entertainment industry were one of McCarthyism's main targets and many people would lose their jobs as a result. | Source

3. McCarthy claimed that 200 Communists had infiltrated the United States Government. He offered no real evidence for this assertion, however.

4. In order to counter the perceived Communist threat, McCarthy set up the House Un-American Committee in 1938. Its aim was to expose Communists, and punish them. People were jailed for not naming Communists and trials were held against suspected Communists. It became a permanent committee in 1945.

When public men indulge themselves in abuse, when they deny others a fair trial, when they resort to innuendo and insinuation, to libel, scandal, and suspicion, then our democratic society is outraged, and democracy is baffled. It has no apparatus to deal with the boor, the liar, the lout, and the anti-democrat in general.

— J. William Fulbright

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

J. Edgar Hoover used the FBI to investigate the perceived Communist threat, resulting in thousands of government workers losing their jobs.  In most cases the identity of informers was kept secret, meaning that they could not be cross-examined.
J. Edgar Hoover used the FBI to investigate the perceived Communist threat, resulting in thousands of government workers losing their jobs. In most cases the identity of informers was kept secret, meaning that they could not be cross-examined. | Source

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

7. More than 2,000 government employees lost their jobs, due to McCarthyism.

The junior senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatreds and prejudices of the American people that he has started a prairie fire which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.

— J. William Fulbright

8. Many Hollywood actors, actresses, and writers were blacklisted and had their careers damaged by McCarthyism. These included: Charlie Chaplin,Dashiell Hammett, Waldo Salt, Lena Horne, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, and Lucille Ball.

The movie actor Charlie Chaplin was just one of the film stars who's career was cut short by McCarthyism.   After having his re-entry visa revoked, due to his political views, Chaplin relocated to Switzerland and lived in Europe from then on.
The movie actor Charlie Chaplin was just one of the film stars who's career was cut short by McCarthyism. After having his re-entry visa revoked, due to his political views, Chaplin relocated to Switzerland and lived in Europe from then on. | Source

9. No American was ever successfully convicted by Joseph McCarthy of being a Communist.

10. McCarthy was a bully who fought dirty. He used smear campaigns, unethical tactics and unfounded accusations against his targets, who were often left under a cloud of suspicion, often interpreted by people as guilt.

The President at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, strongly disagreed with McCarthyism, although he declined to confront him directly .  He declared on several occasions in reference to McCarthy: "I will not get in the gutter with that guy."
The President at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, strongly disagreed with McCarthyism, although he declined to confront him directly . He declared on several occasions in reference to McCarthy: "I will not get in the gutter with that guy." | Source

The junior senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatreds and prejudices of the American people that he has started a prairie fire which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.

— J. William Fulbright

11. His fall from Grace came in the spring of 1954. McCarthy had turned his attention to communist infiltration of the military. His bullying interrogation style was employed with full force on the nationally televised program, referred to as the Army-McCarthy Hearings. At one point he attempted to discredit the army lawyer Joseph Nye Welch, who was defending members of the military.

Nye exploded, chiding McCarthy: ""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 newspapers the next day were extremely critical of McCarthy. He lost his political power and public support.

After his fall from grace, McCarthy was largely ignored by the media and other senators.  He took to drinking heavily and died from cirrhosis of the liver, aged just 48 years old.
After his fall from grace, McCarthy was largely ignored by the media and other senators. He took to drinking heavily and died from cirrhosis of the liver, aged just 48 years old. | Source

12. Joseph McCarthy drank heavily after his fall from grace and died in 1957 from cirrhosis of the liver. He was just 48 years old and still serving as a senator, although largely ignored by the media and other senators.

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