1954 June 9

“Have You No Decency?” Joseph N. Welch Rebukes Senator Joe McCarthy


At the Army-McCarthy hearings, which began on April 22, 1954, where Senator Joe McCarthy recklessly accused the Army of employing Communists, McCarthy attacked one of the Army’s civilian attorneys for his alleged left-wing associations years earlier. Another member of the legal team, the prominent Boston attorney Joseph N. Welch, rebuked McCarthy on this day, asking rhetorically, “Have you no sense of decency, sir. At long last, have you no sense of decency?” A shamed McCarthy did not reply.

Welch’s denunciation is widely regarded as one of the most famous moments in the history of the Cold War, and it was a pivotal moment in the downfall of McCarthy.

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 in government. The number of people on the “list” kept changing, however, and he never identified a single person. McCarthy dominated American politics for five years between 1950 and 1954. The term “McCarthyism” was created by the cartoonist Herblock (for Herbert Block) in a cartoon published in the Washington Post on March 29, 1950). McCarthy’s downfall began with Edward R. Murrow’s famous television program critical of him on March 9, 1954. The program is widely regarded as one of the most famous in the history of television. The Senate finally voted to censure him on December 2, 1954.

Trivia: Joseph Welch became a minor celebrity because of his denunciation of McCarthy. He was then case in the role of the judge in the film Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

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

Read the Famous Welch-McCarthy Exchange: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/welch-mccarthy.html

Learn more about Joseph N. Welch:  http://uscivilliberties.org/biography/4699-welch-joseph-n-18901960.html

See Joseph Welch as a judge in the film Anatomy of a Murder (1959):

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