Joseph McCarthy

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Joseph Raymond McCarthy (November 14, 1908May 2, 1957) was a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin between 1947 and 1957. Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public figure to stand up against communist infiltration of the United States. He was noted for making unsubstantiated claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the federal government. Ultimately, his aggressive anticommunist tactics led to his being pilloried by the left in the Mainstream media and censured by the Democrats in the United States Senate. The term "McCarthyism," coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy's practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist pursuits.

Born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, McCarthy earned a law degree at Marquette University in 1935 and was elected as a circuit judge in 1939, the youngest in state history.

At age 33, McCarthy bravely volunteered for the United States Marine Corps and served during World War II. McCarthy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1952, but it was later discovered that he had exaggerated the number of missions he had flown in order to be eligible for this award. It was later revealed that he had exaggerated other aspects of his service as well (1,2).

He successfully ran for United States Senate in 1946, defeating Robert M. La Follette, Jr. After several years in the Senate, McCarthy rose suddenly to national fame in 1950 when he brought to light the fact that "members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring" were employed in the State Department.

McCarthy made charges of Communist infiltration of the State Department, the administration of President Truman, Voice of America, and a United States Army research laboratory. He also revealed the presence of communists, communist sympathizers, and disloyal citizens outside of government as well. With the highly publicized Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, McCarthy's support and popularity began to fade due to the efforts of the mainstream media. Later in 1954, a special Senate committee was appointed to study and evaluate McCarthy's methods and actions. Following the recommendations of this committee, the full Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy by a vote of 65 to 22[1], making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion.[1] McCarthy died in Bethesda Naval Hospital on May 2, 1957, at the age of 48. The cause of his death was acute hepatitis.[2]

VENONA files

In 1995, when the VENONA transcripts were declassified, further detailed information was revealed about Soviet Union espionage in the United States. VENONA specifically references at least 349 people in the United States—including citizens, immigrants, and permanent residents—who may have cooperated in various ways with Soviet intelligence agencies. It is generally believed that McCarthy had no access to VENONA intelligence, but VENONA supports the view that some of the individuals investigated by McCarthy were indeed Soviet agents. These are several prominent examples:

While the underlying premise of Communists in the government was true, many of McCarthy's targets were not complicit in espionage. Recent scholaship has established of 159 persons investigated between 1950 and 1952, there is substantial evidence nine had assisted Soviet espionage using evidence from Venona or other sources. Of the remainder, while not being directly complict in espionage, many were considered security risks.


  1. Herman, A. (1999). Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator. Free Press, p 30. ISBN 0-684-83625-4.
  2. Morgan, T. (Nov./Dec. 2003). Judge Joe: How the youngest judge in Wisconsin's history became the country's most notorious senator. Legal Affairs.
  3. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Lists and Venona
  1. Senate Report 104-137 - Resolution For Disciplinary Action. Library of Congress (1995). Retrieved on 2006-10-19.