Senator McCarthy Finally Slapped Down, Ending Reign of Terror
It was one of the worst examples in American history of paranoia run amok. During the early 1950s U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy ruined the careers and lives of many decent, loyal Americans by investigating them on bogus charges of supporting the Communist Party and being enemies of the United States. He had Americans convinced there were communists in the federal government and the Army, lurking around every corner and hiding behind every door. The end to his reign of terror began on June 9, 1954, when a special counsel to the U.S. Army, Joseph Welch, confronted the senator before a national television audience, saying: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
Fear of communist influence and spying was not new in the 1950s, nor was it limited to McCarthy. Investigations into communist activities began in America shortly after WWI, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities was formed in 1938 to continue these investigations.
McCarthy gained prominence with a speech he delivered on Feb. 9, 1950, in which he waved a piece of paper and claimed it contained the names of 205 communists who had infiltrated the State Department. He never had any proof of his wild accusations (on another occasion, he claimed he had a list of 130 communists working in defense plants), but he had stirred the public into a frenzy and the witch-hunt was on. From 1953-54 McCarthy headed the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the press covered his every word and move.
From March to June, 1954, the McCarthy-Army hearings were held, providing the forum that finally brought McCarthy down. During these hearings McCarthy and the Army quarreled about supposed communist infiltration and alleged preferential treatment. From April 22 until June 17 the hearings were televised live, and a national audience watched McCarthy and his gruff, bullying manner—and did not like what it saw. Finally, on June 9, Joseph Welch delivered his famous rebuke to McCarthy and the senator’s hold on the public was broken. His popularity in public polls plummeted, and less than a year later—on Dec. 2, 1954—the Senate officially censured him for his conduct and accusations. Two and a half years later he died a broken man, on May 2, 1957, from liver complications related to his heavy drinking. He was 48 years old.
These two articles describe the testy exchanges between McCarthy and Welch. The first contains portions of a transcript from a closed-door hearing on June 8, and the second reports the famous rebuke Welch made to McCarthy on June 9 before a national television audience.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on the front page of its June 9, 1954, issue:
Welch Labels McCarthy ‘Genius of Confusion’
‘I Just Bring Out the Facts,’ Snaps Senator
Washington, June 8—(AP)—Army Counsel Joseph N. Welch told Senator Joseph R. McCarthy in a face-to-face encounter behind closed doors today that the senator had “somewhat of a genius for creating confusion…and…turmoil in the hearts and minds of the country.”
The Wisconsin Republican retorted that what Welch probably meant was that McCarthy had “a genius for bringing out the facts which may disturb the people.”
Their words were recorded in the official stenographic transcript of a stormy executive session of the Senate Investigations Subcommittee this morning just ahead of the McCarthy-Army hearing. The subcommittee voted unanimously to make public the transcript.
Here’s Looking at You
It quoted this statement by Welch:
“Looking at you, Senator McCarthy, you have, I think, somewhat of a genius for creating confusion, throwing in new issues, new accusations, and creating a turmoil in the hearts and minds of the country that I find troublesome.
“And because of your genius, sir, we keep on, just keep on, as I view it, creating these confusions. Maybe I am over-impressed by them. But I don’t think they do the country any good.”
In reply about “a genius for bringing out the facts which may disturb the people,” McCarthy said he had brought out facts about some “phony” Army evidence which might be disturbing to some people.
The transcript of the closed-door session also recorded more bitter exchanges between McCarthy and Senator Symington (D.-Mo.).
In one of these, McCarthy described Symington as having sought to hold the coat of Clark M. Clifford, one-time special counsel to former President Truman while Clifford “had a fight with me.”
Symington snapped that McCarthy was talking “a lot of bunk.”
Another exchange went like this:
Symington: “You have said a lot of things to me, and I don’t like them; don’t bluff—say them.”
McCarthy: “I am going to say over and over, Mr. Senator, if you have any honesty, you will appear on the witness stand under oath.”
“You Better Be Worried”
Symington: “You better be worried about what I am going to say.”
McCarthy: “I am not worried about what you are going to say.”
Symington: “You will not intimidate me about anything.”
McCarthy: “I just want you to give the facts, Mr. Symington.”
Symington: “I have never lied yet. I will give them.”
Welch offered to agree to a windup of the hearings without calling some of the witnesses he originally had thought would be major ones. But the session ended without any decision as to future witnesses.
This copyrighted article was printed by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on June 9, 1954:
McCarthy Calls Welch Partner Aide to Reds
By Associated Press.
Washington, June 9.—Senator McCarthy said today Joseph N. Welch of Boston, special Army counsel, had in his law office a man who belonged to “the legal arm of the Communist Party.”
Welch retorted: “Until this moment, I never fully gauged your cruelty and recklessness.”
McCarthy named the man only as “Fisher.”
Welch, naming his associate as Fred Fisher, said he never dreamed McCarthy would be so “cruel and reckless” as to injure that lad.
The organization McCarthy said Fisher belonged to is the National Lawyers’ Guild.
In accusing McCarthy of “reckless cruelty,” Welch said he was afraid forgiveness of McCarthy “will have to come from someone other than me.”
“Let’s not assassinate this lad further, senator,” Welch said. “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
“Mr. Welch here has been filibustering this hearing,” McCarthy said in his side of the exchange.
“This organization has been named…the foremost legal bulwark of the Communist Party…which since its inception has never failed to rally to the defense of the Communist Party.”
McCarthy said that was the language of the House Un-American Activities Committee in describing the guild.
Frederick G. Fisher, a junior partner in Welch’s law firm, at one time was scheduled to have come to the McCarthy-Army hearings as an assistant counsel to Welch. However, he was replaced by John Kimball, another junior partner. A third partner, James D. St. Clair, has been active in the hearings with Welch.
After his exchange with McCarthy, Welch declared he would not ask Roy M. Cohn a single other question.
Welch told McCarthy:
“If there is a God in Heaven, this thing will do neither you nor your cause any good…I will not discuss this further…nor will I call any further witnesses…Mr. Chairman, you may call the next witness.”
The hearing room broke into loud applause.