Joseph R. McCarthy

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Joseph R. McCarthy

Joseph Raymond McCarthy was a United States Senator from Wisconsin during the 1940s and 1950s. He was responsible for fueling the U.S. public's fears over communists in the United States government during the Second Red Scare.

McCarthy was born on November 14, 1908, in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. He attended school irregularly, spending much of his time as a farm laborer to help support his family. McCarthy did enroll in high school in 1927, at nineteen years of age. He completed all four years of high school in a single year, while working in a grocery store and as an usher at a theater. In 1930, he enrolled in college at Marquette University. McCarthy intended to study engineering but switched to law. He graduated in 1935.

In 1935, McCarthy passed the Wisconsin bar exam and began practicing law at Waupaca, Wisconsin. In 1936, he moved to Shawano, Wisconsin, continuing in the legal profession. McCarthy embarked upon a political career in 1939, winning election as a circuit judge. He held this office until 1946, although he was absent for more than thirty months, as he served in the Marine Corps during World War II. Upon the war's conclusion, McCarthy returned to the bench, although he soon resigned this position, having won election to the United States Senate in 1946 as a member of the Republican Party.

As a senator, McCarthy at first did not distinguish himself. However, as the Cold War gripped the United States, a pervasive fear of communism, known as the Second Red Scare, came over the United States. McCarthy quickly exacerbated this fear to his own advantage by claiming that hundreds of members of the United States State Department were communists or communist sympathizers. Many in the U.S. public believed McCarthy's claims, although it is clear that he exaggerated the number of communists serving in the U.S. government. It is also clear that he knowingly falsely accused numerous people of having communist sentiments. In response to fears of communism, the State of Ohio created the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee to determine the number of communists in the state and to limit their influence in political and economic matters.

Many politicians refused to stand up to McCarthy, believing that an accusation, even if false, from the Senator could destroy their political careers. In 1953, McCarthy even accused the United States Army of providing refuge for communists from the Senator's relentless pursuit. McCarthy conducted televised hearings into communists in the army. McCarthy acted in a belligerent manner to the witnesses, and his actions convinced many in the U.S. that the Senator was acting inappropriately and making false accusations. McCarthy's power quickly disappeared. Although the United States Senate "condemned" him for conduct unbecoming of a senator, McCarthy continued to serve in the Senate until his death on May 2, 1957.

See Also


  1. Oshinsky, David M. A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.