1950 February 9

“McCarthyism” is Born

 

Senator Joe McCarthy (R–Wisconsin) delivered a speech on this day to a Republican Party group in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he said: “I have in my hand a list of 205 . . .  a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department. . . .”  The speech catapulted Sen. McCarthy from obscurity to national prominence, and gave the English language a new word, “McCarthyism,” to characterize his reckless attacks on people and organizations for allegedly having Communist sympathies.

McCarthy dominated American politics for four years. His demise began with the famous Edward R. Murrow television program exposing his reckless tactics on March 9, 1954. The U.S. Senate finally censured him on December 2, 1954, and his influence quickly faded. The term “McCarthyism” is regularly used as a short-hand for the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War. But in fact, President Harry Truman’s Loyalty Program, which he announced on March 21, 1947, made guilt-by-association attacks on people for their political associations official government policy three years before McCarthy burst on the scene.

The term “McCarthyism” was coined by Washington Post cartoonist Herblock (real name: Herbert Block) in a cartoon published on March 29, 1950.

Read McCarthy’s Famous Speech: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6456/

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

Watch a documentary on McCarthy, Point of Order: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EhOdSSI8n4

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

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