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Joseph McCarthy: America on Trial 1953-1954

As America and the Soviet Union faced off in the Cold War, sensational charges of Soviet spying triggered congressional investigations. In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican, accused the State Department of harboring “known Communists.” When McCarthy became Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations three years later, he set out to prove his charges.

McCarthy called hundreds of witnesses, browbeating and intimidating them. His charges of Communist subversion in the U.S. Army culminated in the 1954 televised Army–McCarthy hearings. When Army Counsel Joseph Welch challenged the senator’s reckless charges, asking, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” McCarthy’s support eroded. The Senate later censured him for conduct unbecoming a senator.

"Senator Ervin: Do we have the manhood in the Senate to stand up to a challenge of that kind?
Senator Arthur V. Watkins: I think we do. I may be a coward, but I will not compromise with that kind of attack. . . . I will not compromise on matters of principle.
—Congressional Record, November 16, 1954

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
—Army Counsel Joseph Welch, June 9, 1954

1 Image Army Special Counsel Joseph Welch listens in frustration as Senator... View All Images
1 Image Cornered?, cartoon by Edwin Marcus, March 26, 1950 View All Images
1 Image Aaron Copland’s Testimony before a Closed Hearing, 1953 View All Images
2 Images Joseph Welch’s Rebuke of Senator McCarthy at a Public Hearing, 1954 View All Images