Revisiting McCarthyism

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s) 

STANDARD 3: Domestic policies after World War II. 

Standard 3A:  The student understands the political debates of the post-World War II era. 

7-12: Analyze the rise and fall of McCarthyism, its effects on civil liberties, and its repercussions. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Alien Registration Act also know as the Smith Act
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1940
    NOTES: Illegal for anyone in the United States to advocate overthrowing the government. It also required all non-citizen adult residents to register.

  2. DESCRIPTION: Senator Joseph McCarthy: A Multimedia Celebration
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: Five audio clips and four samples of film footage relating to the infamous anti-communist crusades of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Briefly annotated, the materials include a 10-minute speech by McCarthy; an oration delivered at the 1952 Republican National Convention; footage of McCarthy with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard M. Nixon; images of the senator excoriating “the deluded liberals, the eggheads”; and the notable confrontation between McCarthy and the Army’s chief counsel before a national television audience. The site, by a web design firm, offers no background materials, but these are useful sources for those interested in Cold War era witchhunts and the importance of the media during this period. Resources Available: IMAGES, AUDIO, VIDEO.
    SOURCE:
    HistoryMatters.com

  3. DESCRIPTION: "Damage": Collier’s Assesses the Army-McCarthy Hearings
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: Anticommunist crusader Senator Joseph R. McCarthy stepped into national prominence on February 9, 1950, when he mounted an attack on President Truman’s foreign policy agenda. McCarthy charged that the State Department and its Secretary, Dean Acheson, harbored “traitorous” Communists. McCarthy’s apocalyptic rhetoric—he portrayed the Cold War conflict as “a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity”—made critics hesitate before challenging him. Those accused by McCarthy faced loss of employment, damaged careers, and in many cases, broken lives. After the 1952 election, in which the Republican Party won control of both branches of Congress, McCarthy became chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations. McCarthy then extended his targets to include numerous government agencies, in addition to the broadcasting and defense industries, universities, and the United Nations. His dramatic hearings investigating purported Communist infiltration in the Army were televised live to the nation. The following editorial from the popular magazine Collier’s assessed the damage to public perception of governmental institutions. Resources Available: TEXT.
    SOURCE: HistoryMatters.com

  4. DESCRIPTION: Student Voices from World War II and the McCarthy Era
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: Presents transcriptions of oral history interviews—with selected accompanying audio files—of five students who participated during World War II in Brooklyn College’s Farm Labor Project. The students, most of whom were committed to radical politics and the children of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland, journeyed upstate during the summer to work on farms in order to support the war effort. The site organizes excerpts of the words of the five interviewees—four women and one man—into four broad sections covering their background and youth, campus life, life on the farm, and life after the project. These sections are further divided into 20 subsections, covering such topics as family life, social influences, politics, working conditions on the farm, protests against a “capitalist” farmer, interactions with locals, and later life. Individual excerpts range in length from one sentence to 750 words. Audio files are provided for 23 of the excerpts. The site also includes 12 photos from the project, a timeline, and a syllabus for an undergraduate-level course in Oral History Theory and Practice. Although the site once contained a second group of oral histories regarding the shutdown of Brooklyn College’s newspaper during the McCarthy era, links for these interviews no longer work. Neither do links for background materials of biographies, contextual essays, and primary documents. Nevertheless, in virtue of the well-structured presentation of the interviews, the site will be valuable to those studying student life, radical culture, American Jewish history, and homefront experiences during World War II. Resources Available: TEXT, IMAGES, AUDIO.
    SOURCE: HistoryMatters.com

  5. DESCRIPTION: “Have You No Sense of Decency”: The Army-McCarthy Hearings
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: Anticommunist crusader Senator Joseph R. McCarthy stepped into national prominence on February 9, 1950, when he mounted an attack on President Truman’s foreign policy agenda. McCarthy charged that the State Department and its Secretary, Dean Acheson, harbored “traitorous” Communists. McCarthy’s apocalyptic rhetoric made critics hesitate before challenging him. Those accused by McCarthy faced loss of employment, damaged careers, and in many cases, broken lives. After the 1952 election, in which the Republican Party won control of Congress, McCarthy became chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations. McCarthy then extended his targets to include numerous government agencies, in addition to the broadcasting and defense industries, universities, and the United Nations. After Secretary of the Army, Robert T. Stevens, refused to intercede to halt an overseas assignment for McCarthy’s chief consultant, G. David Schine, who had been drafted, McCarthy’s committee began a two-month investigation of the Army. Viewers saw the following dramatic encounters televised live as they occurred between McCarthy, Special Counsel for the Army Joseph N. Welch, Counselor for the Army John G. Adams, and the subcommittee’s chief counsel, Roy Cohn. Although McCarthy’s power declined sharply following the hearings and the Senate voted to condemn him a few months later, scholars disagree on whether McCarthy’s appearance before a mass television audience caused his fall. Historians do, however, credit ABC-TV’s decision to broadcast the hearings live, the only one to do so, with the network’s rise to prominence. Resources Available: TEXT.
    SOURCE: HistoryMatters.com

  6. DESCRIPTION: “Enemies from Within”: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and President Harry S. Truman Trade Accusations of Disloyalty
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: Wisconsin Republican Joseph R. McCarthy first won election to the Senate in 1946 during a campaign marked by much anticommunist Red-baiting. Partially in response to Republican Party victories, President Harry S. Truman tried to demonstrate his own concern about the threat of Communism by setting up a loyalty program for federal employees. He also asked the Justice Department to compile an official list of 78 subversive organizations. As the midterm election year got underway, former State Department official Alger Hiss, suspected of espionage, was convicted of perjury. McCarthy, in a speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, mounted an attack on Truman’s foreign policy agenda by charging that the State Department and its Secretary, Dean Acheson, harbored “traitorous” Communists. Although McCarthy displayed a list of names, he never made the list public. The President responded the following month in a news conference by charging that McCarthy’s attacks were in effect sabotaging the nation’s bipartisan foreign policy efforts and thus aiding the Soviet Union. The following texts—McCarthy’s speech, a public letter from McCarthy to Truman two days later, and a transcript of the Truman press conference—reveal the paranoid atmosphere that prevailed in the political arena and affected public discourse and policy. Resources Available: TEXT.
    SOURCE: HistoryMatters.com

  7. DESCRIPTION: “National Suicide”: Margaret Chase Smith and Six Republican Senators Speak Out Against Joseph McCarthy’s Attack on “Individual Freedom”
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: The anticommunist crusader Senator Joseph McCarthy stepped into national prominence on February 9, 1950, when he mounted an attack on President Truman’s foreign policy agenda. McCarthy charged that the State Department and its Secretary, Dean Acheson, harbored “traitorous” Communists. McCarthy’s apocalyptic rhetoric—he portrayed the Cold War conflict as “a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity”—made critics hesitate before challenging him. His purported lists of Communist conspirators multiplied in subsequent years to include employees in government agencies, the broadcasting and defense industries, universities, the United Nations, and the military. Most of those accused were helpless to defend their ruined reputations and faced loss of employment, damaged careers, and in many cases, broken lives. In protest, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith composed the following “Declaration of Conscience,” condemning the atmosphere of suspicion and blaming leaders of both parties for their “lack of effective leadership.” Although Smith convinced six additional Republican Senators to join her in the Declaration, the seven refused to support a Senate report prepared by Democrats that called McCarthy’s charges against State Department personnel fraudulent.
    Resources Available: TEXT.
    SOURCE: HistoryMatters.com

  8. DESCRIPTION: “I Am Entitled to Counsel of My Choice”: Radical Attorney Robert Treuhaft Challenges HUAC and “McCarthyism”
    NOTES: Summary from HistoryMatters: In 1940, Congress passed the Smith Act making it illegal to support the overthrow of state or national governments. In 1949, 11 Communist Party leaders were convicted under this Act. The attorneys for the accused were themselves convicted of contempt of court and half served prison terms. Subsequently, most lawyers refused to represent suspected Communists unless they themselves were members of the Communist Party. In the following testimony before a House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearing investigating Communist activities in the San Francisco area, radical attorney Robert E. Treuhaft (1912–2001) described his unsuccessful attempts to hire respected lawyers—who privately disapproved of HUAC—to represent him. Treuhaft, an Oakland-based lawyer who had represented labor unions and African-Americans deprived of civil rights, had joined the Communist Party in the 1940s. Subsequently, he became the unpaid counsel for the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a trust fund that supplied bail money for Communists arrested under the Smith Act. The Justice Department included the CRC on their official list of subversive organizations, and following his appearance before HUAC, the Committee listed Treuhaft among the 39 most dangerous subversive lawyers in their pamphlet, “Communist Legal Subversives: The Role of the Communist Lawyer.” Jessica Mitford, Treihaft’s wife, wrote in her memoir, A Fine Old Conflict, that the San Francisco HUAC hearing targeted did serious damage "in destroying livelihoods and muzzling political dissent at the grass-roots level." Resources Available: TEXT.
    SOURCE: HistoryMatters.com

  9. DESCRIPTION: S. Prt. 107-84 -- Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations (McCarthy Hearings 1953-54) 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1953-1954. Released by the U.S. Senate, January 2003
    SOURCE:  United States Congress, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
    RESPOSITORY: United States Congress

  10. DESCRIPTION: Joseph R. McCarthy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: not given
    SOURCE: Freedom of Information Act
    REPOSITORY: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Additional Media Resources

McCarthyism. From American Masters by PBS.

Secondary Resources

Dean, John W. "Hearing transcripts invaluable after charges of 'new McCarthyism'" CNN.com, May 9, 2003.

Griffith, Robert.  The Politics of Fear: Joseph McCarthy and the Senate.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

Oshinsky, David M.  A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joseph McCarthy.  New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Ritchie, Donald. Interview by Neal Conan. Talk of the Nation. National Public Radio, May 7. 2003. Donald Ritchie is the Associate Historian of the United States Senate.

Rovere, Richard H.  Senator Joe McCarthy.  New York: Harper & Row, 1959.Dean, John W. "Hearing transcripts invaluable after charges of 'new McCarthyism'" CNN.com, May 9, 2003.

Griffith, Robert.  The Politics of Fear: Joseph McCarthy and the Senate.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

Oshinsky, David M.  A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joseph McCarthy.  New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Ritchie, Donald. Interview by Neal Conan. Talk of the Nation. National Public Radio, May 7. 2003. Donald Ritchie is the Associate Historian of the United States Senate.

Rovere, Richard H.  Senator Joe McCarthy.  New York: Harper & Row, 1959.

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.

 

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