The Oxford Biblical Studies Online and Oxford Islamic Studies Online have retired. Content you previously purchased on Oxford Biblical Studies Online or Oxford Islamic Studies Online has now moved to Oxford Reference, Oxford Handbooks Online, Oxford Scholarship Online, or What Everyone Needs to Know®. For information on how to continue to view articles visit the subscriber services page.

Related Content

Related Overviews

George Catlett Marshall (1880—1959) American general and statesman

Dean Acheson (1893—1971) American statesman, Secretary of State 1949–53

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890—1969) American general and Republican statesman, 34th President of the US 1953–61

J. Edgar Hoover (1895—1972) American lawyer and director of the FBI 1924–72

See all related overviews in Oxford Reference »


More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • History
  • Contemporary History (post 1945)


Show Summary Details


Joseph McCarthy

(1908—1957) American Republican politician

Quick Reference

(b. 14 Nov. 1908, d. 2 May 1957).

US Senator 1947–57 Born in Grand Chute in rural Wisconsin, he was a farm worker and store-keeper until he went on to obtain a high school degree within one year (1929), gaining an LL B from Marquette University in 1935. He built up a successful law practice, entered politics, and was then elected to the US Senate in 1946, after a distinguished record of war service. He launched a campaign alleging that there was a large-scale Communist plot to infiltrate the government at the highest level. In February 1950 he announced that he had evidence of 57 ‘card-carrying Communists’ in the State Department and some 205 ‘sympathizers’. Despite the conclusions of a Senate investigating committee under Millard Tydings that such charges were fraudulent, McCarthy continued to make repeated attacks on the administration, the military, and public figures.

McCarthy's demagogic methods of anti-intellectualism and social envy had an early popular appeal. In the wake of the Communist takeover in China, many people were very receptive to his warnings about the Red Menace, which appeared to be confirmed by the events such as the Alger Hiss and Rosenberg trials. McCarthy's baseless and inflammatory anti-Communist ‘witch hunt’ gripped the USA (1950–4). In 1953, as chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, McCarthy conducted a series of televised hearings, where his vicious questioning and unsubstantiated accusations destroyed the reputations of many of his victims. He was not censured by the Senate for his conduct until 1954, after a ferocious attack on the army. After the 1954 election, with the Democrats again in control of Congress, his influence rapidly declined.

Reference entries

View all reference entries »