McCarthy, Joseph R. “Joe”


1950 TLS from “Tailgunner Joe”, 1950’s Senate anti-Communist demagogue 


Type: Letter
Description: (1908-1957) US Senator (R-WI) 1947-57. He became the most visible public face of intense anti-Communist suspicion from 1950, making claims of large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the US government and elsewhere. Term “McCarthyism” describes demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.

After several undistinguished years in the Senate, he rose to national fame in 1950 when in a speech he said he had a list of “members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring” at the State Department. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee investigated the charges and concluded that individuals on McCarthy’s list were neither Communists nor pro-Communist, and the State Department had an effective security program. Sen. Wm. E. Jenner (R-IN) claimed Chairman Tydings (D-MD) was guilty of “the most brazen whitewash of treasonable conspiracy in our history”. McCarthy accused the Truman State Department of harboring “known Communists,” and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, target of some of his most colorful rhetoric, was directly responsible for the “loss of China” to Communism, implying he was guilty of treason.

By the end of 1953, he was increasingly combative towards the Eisenhower Administration. McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations which included the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, its mandate sufficiently flexible to allow McCarthy to use it for investigations of Communists in the government. McCarthy appointed New York lawyer Roy Cohn as subcommittee chief counsel and Robert F.  Kennedy as assistant counsel. The subcommittee investigated allegations of Communist influence in the Voice of America (VOA), then under the Department’s US Information Agency, then the overseas library program of the International Information Agency.

Early in 1954, the Army accused McCarthy and Cohn of improperly pressuring the Army to give favorable treatment to former aide to McCarthy and friend of Cohn’s, Army private David Schine. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations had the task of adjudicating the charges. Senator Karl Mundt (R-SD) chaired the committee, and the Army-McCarthy hearings convened April 22, 1954, lasted for 36 days, broadcast on live TV with an estimated 20 million viewers. The committee concluded that McCarthy had not exercised any improper influence on behalf of Schine, but Cohn had engaged in “unduly persistent or aggressive efforts.”

Of far greater import to McCarthy was the negative effect of extensive exposure on his popularity. In an exchange between McCarthy and Army chief counsel Joseph Welch, Welch challenged Cohn to provide Attorney General Brownell with McCarthy’s list of Communists or subversives in defense plants “before the sun goes down.” McCarthy said that Welch should check on a man in his Boston law office who had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, which Attorney General Brownell called “the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party.” Welch responded, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch interrupted: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” When McCarthy once again persisted, Welch cut him off and demanded the chairman “call the next witness.” At that point, the gallery erupted in applause and a recess was called.

One of the most prominent attacks on McCarthy’s methods was the Edward R. Murrow TV documentary series “See It Now”. The Murrow shows and the televised hearings caused a national popular opinion backlash against McCarthy. Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” June 1, 1950, calling for an end to smear tactics without mentioning McCarthy by name. After 2 months of hearings and deliberations, a Senate Committee recommended McCarthy be censured. On Dec. 2, 1954, the Senate voted to “condemn” McCarthy on both counts by 67-22, only the 3rd times in the nation’s history. After his censure, McCarthy’s career as a major public figure was ruined but he continued to rail against Communism. The official cause of his death was listed as acute hepatitis, but it was hinted in the press that he died of alcoholism.

TLS on 10-1/2 x 8 United States Senate/Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments letterhead, as Ranking Minority Member, Washington, June 1, 1950, shortly after he came into national prominence sending, not present, an autographed photo to an Indiana man.

Condition: Good, light staining at right edge and small spot lower right corner

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