Mccarthyism at a Speech in Wheeling Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1533 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government


At a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy made the following announcement: "The reason we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer... While I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being member of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department" ("McCarthyism," Internet). Thus, from this portion of the speech, it is abundantly clear that Joseph McCarthy was on a so-called "Witch Hunt" within American society in search of members of the Communist Party, individuals that he considered as a dangerous threat to the national security of the United States.

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In Ordeal by Slander, author Owen Lattimore provides the first definition of "McCarthyism" by stating that it "insists constantly, emotionally and menacingly that the man who thinks independently thinks dangerously and for an evil, disloyal purpose" (224). In all respects, "McCarthyism" was aimed as an attack against Communism and its supporters, most of whom were intelligent, open-minded individuals, such as those found in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Lattimore adds that "a tide of fear has swept Washington, undermining the freedom of the nation," with the blame squarely placed on Joseph McCarthy, the "junior senator from Wisconsin, a man steeped in lying, deceit and chicanery...the personal embodiment of the Red scare..." (220), the "Red scare" being the infiltration of the U.S. government by members of the Communist party.

Term Paper on Mccarthyism at a Speech in Wheeling, West Assignment

Since the end of the Senate hearings on Anti-American activities, scholars and historians have tried to determine exactly when McCarthy decided to begin his anti-Communist crusade in the United States. In 1952, McCarthy claimed that he had been told by James Forrestal, the Secretary of the Navy, that America was internally being threatened by Communism, but in 1949, McCarthy said he had been approached by a former Army intelligence officer who then showed him an FBI report on Communist subversion in the U.S. government. Either way, "McCarthy soon became a convert; however, nothing exists to corroborate any part of these stories" (Cohn 10).

During the early years of McCarthy's anti-Communist actions, his relations with Senate colleagues and fellow Republicans were somewhat strained, but when Senator Millard Tydings refused to supply McCarthy with any resources to prove his case, many conservative colleagues in the Senate and House rallied behind McCarthy. In addition, some moderate Republican senators endorsed Margaret Chase Smith's "Declaration of Conscience" speech in 1950 which later became the cornerstone for dishing out disgust with McCarthy, asserting that "those who shout the loudest... are all too frequently those who... ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism, (being) the right to criticize (and) hold unpopular beliefs" (Smith 14-15).

These "basic principles" serve as the foundation for free speech as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. For McCarthy, the civil rights of all Americans had to be partially usurped in order to find and convict all those with links to the Communist Party within the U.S. government. A good example of this lies in McCarthy's speech as pointed out earlier in which he gave much rhetoric on the origin and nature of the "Cold War." First of all, he described how the end of World War II had left Americans with feelings of goodwill and peace for the future and how that feeling had been betrayed. According to McCarthy, America had emerged as "the most powerful nation on earth... A beacon in the desert of destruction" and how in six years, "the communistic world had expanded from 180 million to 800 million people... under the absolute domination of Soviet Russia" (Reeves 227).

Also, the main reason for this sense of betrayal, at least in the eyes of Joe McCarthy, had nothing to do with the strength of communism, for it was "the result of the traitorous actions by those... bright young men who were born with silver spoons in their mouths and who have become the secret allies of the Soviet Union" (Reeves, 227). Thus, McCarthy felt it was mandatory that the civil rights of all Americans had to be placed on the back burner so that the Communist infiltrators, mostly those linked to the U.S. government and the liberals associated with Hollywood, could be unmasked and therefore purge the government and American society of all Communist sympathizers and supporters.

In regard to the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Republican Congress, spurred on by the rantings of Joe McCarthy, began an investigation into the alleged activities of Communists within the U.S. government. The basic assumption for these investigations laid within the idea that the "executive branch under Roosevelt's New Deal had been run by a small group of men who ruthlessly used their power to advance themselves and their friends." Inevitably, the Republican probes also included a look at how Communist influence had found its way into the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. One key player in all of this, besides McCarthy, was J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, who gave testimony before the HUAC in March 0f 1947 which was "the opening salvo in an offensive against domestic communism and which soon turned Republican against Democrat in a bitter partisan struggle" (Hoover 37).

In addition, in response to the skeptics who pointed out that the Communist Party of the United States made up less than one percent of all registered American voters, Hoover explained to committee members Richard Nixon and chairman J. Parnell Thomas that the percentage of Communist members in the U.S. "was still larger... than the number of Communists that had existed in Russia in 1917 on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution." Also, Hoover made it quite clear that "it was not the size of the Communist Party that was decisive to its political success but its ability to infiltrate." "I do fear," concluded Hoover, "for the liberal and progressive who have been hoodwinked and duped into joining hands with the Communists" (Hoover 37).

By the time that Joe McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate due to finally realizing that his ravings on Communist infiltration in the U.S. government was, for the most part, unfounded, no new legislation or laws had been suggested or passed by the Senate or the House. Thus, McCarthy became a fallen hero and interest in the investigations in both the Senate and the House plummeted. However, many intellectuals and writers took McCarthy's downfall as an opportunity to express their views on Communism while not appearing pro-Soviet or too anti-American. In 1953, playwright Arthur Miller wrote the play the Crucible which essentially symbolized the moral self-righteousness of those who had taken McCarthy at his word and thus initiated the HUAC and much of the dispute within the Senate and the House.

In the Crucible, Miller equated the naming of alleged Communist supporters by the HUAC with the trial and hanging of accused witches in Salem, Massachusetts. McCarthy biographer Richard Rovere, in his essay "Arthur Miller's Conscience," noted how the "naming of names had become a cardinal sin when discussing Communist associations, both past and present." However, Rovere also made note that Miller's play "makes informing the ultimate in human wickedness" (Wickenden 236-41).

In conclusion, the end of "McCarthyism" marked the true beginning of what historians have come to term the "Cold War Consensus." Policy makers and Congressional members soon focused their attention on the containment of the Soviet Union… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Mccarthyism at a Speech in Wheeling.  (2005, March 21).  Retrieved November 29, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Mccarthyism at a Speech in Wheeling."  21 March 2005.  Web.  29 November 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Mccarthyism at a Speech in Wheeling."  March 21, 2005.  Accessed November 29, 2020.