McCarthyism, named for Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, was a period of intense anti-communism, and is also popularly known as the second Red Scare. It took place in the United States primarily from 1948 to 1954, when the U.S. government was actively engaged in suppression of the American Communist Party, its leadership, and others suspected of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. During this period people from all walks of life became the subject of aggressive witch-hunts, often based on inconclusive or questionable evidence.

Missing image
Washington Post cartoon, March 29th, 1950, depicting Kenneth S. Wherry, Robert A. Taft, Styles Bridges and Republican National Chairman Guy Gabrielson.


In June of 1947, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee sent a confidential report to Secretary of State George Marshall, in which they stated:

"It is evident that there is a deliberate calculated program being carried out not only to protect Communist personnel in high places, but to reduce security and intelligence protection to a nullity. . . . On file in the Department is a copy of a preliminary report of the FBI on Soviet espionage activities in the United States, which involves large numbers of State Department employees. . . this report has been challenged and ignored by those charged with the responsibility of administering the department..."

In a six hour speech on the Senate floor on February 20, 1950, McCarthy raised the issue of some eighty individuals who had worked in the State Department, or wartime agencies such as the Office of War Information (OWI) and the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW). McCarthy began with a half truth, that a large foreign espionage ring existed within the government and the Truman administration was doing nothing about it; the other half truth was the Truman administration was doing nothing about it because it did not know of the existence of the Venona project. This created several ironies.

The first irony is McCarthy went on a crusade against leaks of government information when it appears his knowledge of 205 known Communists came itself from a partial leak of classified information. Another irony is that while innocent persons may have been persecuted, many of the truly guilty walked away free under the cloak of being McCarthy victims.

Origin of the term

The term originates from March 29, 1950 political cartoon by Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block. The cartoon depicted four leading Republicans trying to push an elephant (the traditional symbol of the Republican party) to stand on a teetering stack of ten tar buckets, the topmost of which was labeled "McCarthyism". The reluctant elephant was quoted in the caption as saying "You mean I'm supposed to stand on that?".

Supporters of McCarthyism have argued that McCarthy's intentions were good and that, before the worst of his anticommunist campaign, he acted in good faith against what he truly believed was a malicious communist conspiracy within the government, and an effort to cover it up. Recently declassified Soviet-era documents have, in fact, confirmed that Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. State Department in the 1930s and 1940s. [1] ( However, based on his perceptions that the administration was not investigating Communists, McCarthy began investigations himself, and as he attacked more prominent figures within the government and military, his strength faltered.

Dwight Eisenhower, a candidate for the presidency in the 1952 election, disagreed with McCarthy's tactics, but on one occasion was required to make a campaign stop with him in Wisconsin. There, he intended to make a comment denouncing McCarthy's agenda, but under the advice of a conservative colleague, cut that part from his speech. He was widely criticized during his campaign for "selling out" to pressure and giving up his personal convictions because of party pressures. After being elected president, he made it clear to those close to him that he did not approve of McCarthy or his proceedings and he worked actively to shut down his operation.

McCarthyism faltered in 1954 as his hearings were televised live for the first time on the new American Broadcasting Company. ABC needed to fill its afternoon slots, which allowed the public and press to view first-hand McCarthy's interrogation of individuals and controversial tactics. During the trials, he was famously asked "Have you no sense of decency?" The press also started to publish stories about how McCarthyism was ruining the reputations and lives of many people with accusations that often lacked credible evidence.


From the viewpoint of some conservatives and McCarthy supporters at the time, the suppression of "radical organizations" was necessary. Senator McCarthy and his followers felt there was a dangerous subversive element that posed a danger to the security of the country, thereby justifying extreme, possibly illegal measures—the embodiment of realpolitik.

For many others it was seen as class warfare and a massive violation of civil and Constitutional rights. History has supported this latter view, and McCarthyism is often seen as a blight on the nation's traditions of civil rights and liberties.

The Arthur Miller play The Crucible, written during the McCarthy era, used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the McCarthyism of the 1950s, suggesting that the process of McCarthyism-style persecution can occur at any time and place [2] (

Though McCarthy's specific charges were unsubstantiated, material unearthed in Russian archives after the fall of the Soviet Union has proven that his general charge (that Communist spies had infiltrated the federal government) was true. The American Communist Party (CPUSA) was in the pay of the Soviet Union. Communist spies included Julius Rosenberg and Theodore Hall, who gave nuclear secrets to the Soviets, Alger Hiss, who became the first Secretary General of the United Nations, and Harry Dexter White, who was the founding head of the International Monetary Fund.

Contemporary use of the term

Since the time of the red scare led by Joe McCarthy, the term McCarthyism has entered American speech as a general term for the phenomenon of mass pressure, harassment, or blacklisting used to pressure people to follow popular political beliefs. The act of making insufficiently supported accusations or engaging in unfair investigations against a person as an attempt to unfairly silence or discredit them is often referred to as McCarthyism.

The term has since become synonymous with any government activity which seeks to suppress unfavorable political or social views, often by limiting or suspending civil rights under the pretext of maintaining national security.


  1. Template:Anb On May 31, 1957 Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal the names of members of a literary circle suspected of Communist affiliation, although his conviction was reversed by the US court of appeals on August 8, 1958.

See also

External links

fr:Maccarthisme it:Maccartismo pl:Maccartyzm


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools