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1954: US Senate condemns McCarthy
The United States Senate has censured Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy for conduct unbecoming to a senator.

The vote was 67 to 22, with all the Democrats and about half the Republicans voting against him.

He has been condemned on two counts:

  • Contempt and abuse of a Senate committee that looked into his financial affairs in 1952
  • Insulting members of this committee on national television thereby bringing the Senate "into dishonour and disrepute" and obstructing the constitutional process.

In April this year, McCarthy attacked Secretary of the Army Robert T Stevens and General Ralph Zwicker for refusing to help him in an investigation of espionage at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

After years of witnessing his crusade against alleged Communists in government, the entertainment industry, and education, his attack on the army was the final straw and a committee was set up to look into the senator's behaviour and its impact.

'Handmaiden of Communism'

The Watkins Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Arthur Watkins, deliberated from 31 August until 13 September.

Its final report said the senator from Wisconsin should be censured for his conduct in Senate and treatment of General Ralph Zwicker.

Sen McCarthy called the Watkins Committee "the unwitting handmaiden of the Communist Party" and told American TV audiences the whole proceeding was a "lynch party".

His words led to this latest motion to condemn him.

In a news conference soon afterwards, the senator told journalists he was relieved "the circus" was over so that he could return to his job of rooting out "Communism, crime and corruption".

But the Democrats, who won this year's elections, take over in January and he will no longer be allowed to chair the Senate Permanent Investigating Subcommittee charged with looking into Communist influence on government.

Mr McCarthy became a senator in 1946 but it was not until 1950 that he came to prominence. In February of that year he made a speech at Wheeling, West Virginia where he held up a piece of paper claiming it to be a list of 205 communists working in the State Department.

Although a Senate committee under Millard Tydings exonerated the State Department, Mr McCarthy continued to make accusations on radio and television but was never able to produce any solid evidence.

But in March 1951 the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosbenberg for passing atomic secrets to the Russians helped boost popular support for McCarthy's campaign.

After the Republicans took control of Congress in 1953, he began his anti-Communist crusade in earnest and ruined the careers of many.

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Senator Joseph McCarthy
The Senator from Wisconsin said he was glad "the circus" was over

Senator McCarthy responds to the decision

In Context
This was the beginning of the end of Senator Joseph McCarthy's reign of terror in the United States in which he exploited the public's fear of Communism.

His unsubstantiated and sensationalist attacks gave rise to the term "McCarthyism".

After the 1954 censure his influence rapidly declined, as did his health. He died on 1 September 1957 from cirrhosis of the liver induced by years of heavy drinking.

Although McCarthy and his exaggerated and embarrassing accusations were silenced, there was still a general paranoia about "reds under the bed".

Throughout the 1950s the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee made its own investigations and accusations that ruined the careers of many prominent personalities in the movie industry during the 1950s. This was finally abolished in 1975.

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