1953 June 14

“Don’t Join the Book Burners”: Ike Indirectly Criticizes Joe McCarthy, Then Quickly Backtracks


In a commencement speech at Dartmouth College on this day, President Dwight Eisenhower made one of his very few public criticisms of Senator Joe McCarthy (R–Wisconsin). Without mentioning his name, and as part of a discussion of courage, Ike told the graduates to not become “book burners.” His comments were prompted by a recent event in which two of McCarthy’s top aides toured American facilities in Europe, inspecting U.S. Information Agency libraries and demanding the removal of books by alleged “radicals” (see April 5, 1953). When asked about his comments at his next press conference, however, Eisenhower backtracked and denied that he meant to criticize McCarthy.

Although Eisenhower loathed McCarthy and his tactics, he consistently refused to criticize him by name. See for example the incident on October 2, 1952, when, as a candidate for president during the 1952 election campaign, he caved in to pressure from McCarthy and other Republican Party leaders and removed praise for World War II hero General George C. Marshall, whom McCarthy had viciously attacked on June 14, 1951.

Senator Joe McCarthy burst onto the political scene with a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950, in which he claimed to have a list of Communists currently employed by the U.S. government. The number of names on his purported list kept changing, and he never identified any actual current employees. With his reckless style, based on unfounded accusations and guilt-by-association, he dominated American politics from  1950 to 1954, giving to the English language the term “McCarthyism.” The Senate finally censured him for his conduct on December 2, 1954, and his influence quickly faded. “MCarthyism,” however, outlived the man by many years.

Ike: “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”

Read Ike’s entire Dartmouth speech: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=9606

Learn more about McCarthy: David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (1983)

Read the American Library Association’s Library Bill of RightsJune 19, 1939

Learn more, read original documents about Eisenhower and McCarthy at the Eisenhower Presidential Library: http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/research/online_documents/mccarthyism.html

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