March 9

This Day in History

Cold War

Mar 9, 1954:

Republican senators criticize Joseph McCarthy

Senate Republicans level criticism at fellow Republican Joseph McCarthy and take action to limit his power. The criticism and actions were indications that McCarthy's glory days as the most famous investigator of communist activity in the United States were coming to an end.

A Republican senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy had risen to fame in early 1950 when he stated in a speech that there were over 200 known communists operating in the U.S. Department of State. Various other charges and accusations issued forth from McCarthy in the months and years that followed. Although he was notably unsuccessful in discovering communists at work in the United States, his wild charges and sensational Senate investigations grabbed headlines and his name became one of the most famous in America.

Republicans at first embraced McCarthy and his devastating attacks on the Democratic administration of President Harry S. Truman. However, when McCarthy kept up with his charges about communists in the government after the election of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, the party turned against him. Eisenhower himself was particularly disturbed by McCarthy's accusations about communists in the U.S. Army. On March 9, 1954, Republican Senator Ralph Flanders (Vermont) verbally blasted McCarthy, charging that he was a "one-man party" intent on "doing his best to shatter that party whose label he wears." Flanders sarcastically declared, "The junior Senator from Wisconsin interests us all, no doubt about that, but also he puzzles some of us. To what party does he belong? Is he a hidden satellite of the Democratic Party, to which he is furnishing so much material for quiet mirth?" In addition to Flanders' speech, Senate Republicans acted to limit McCarthy's ability to conduct hearings and to derail his investigation of the U.S. Army.

McCarthy's days as a political force were indeed numbered. During his televised hearings into the U.S. Army later in 1954, the American people got their first look at how McCarthy bullied witnesses and ignored procedure to suit his purposes. By late 1954, the Senate censured him, but he remained in office until his death in 1957. His legacy was immense: during his years in the spotlight, he destroyed careers, created a good deal of hysteria, and helped spread fear of political debate and dissent in the United States.

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