Year
1954

Eisenhower criticizes McCarthy

On this day in 1954, President Eisenhower writes a letter to his friend, Paul Helms, in which he privately criticizes Senator Joseph McCarthy’s approach to rooting out communists in the federal government. Two days earlier, former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson had declared that the president’s silence on McCarthy’s actions was tantamount to approval. Eisenhower, who viewed political mud-slinging as beneath the office of the president, declined to comment publicly on Stevenson’s remark or McCarthy’s tactics.

Eisenhower was not the only respected American to criticize McCarthy on March 9. Earlier in the day, in a congressional session, Senator Ralph Flanders had publicly censured McCarthy for his vicious persecution of innocent Americans whom he suspected of communist sympathies. That evening, journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a newscast that McCarthy was treading a fine line between investigation and persecution in pursuing suspected communist infiltration of the federal government.

Although Eisenhower had yet to criticize McCarthy in public, according to an aide’s memoirs, he did not hesitate to criticize McCarthy in private. On March 9, he referred to McCarthy as a pimple on the path of progress in a telephone call to Republican National Committee Chairman Leonard Hall. Later that evening, Eisenhower let off more steam about McCarthy in his letter to Helms. Ike worried that the country’s obsession with the bombastic McCarthy, whether pro or con, drew attention away from equally important matters facing the nation. He complained to his friend that public policy and ideals have a tough time competing for headlines with demagogues [like McCarthy] “It is a sad commentary on our government when such a manifestly useless and spurious thing can divert our attention from all the constructive work in which we could and should be engaged.” Ike also defended himself from Stevenson’s criticism in the letter, writing, “[I have not] acquiesced in, or by any means approve, the methods that McCarthy uses in his investigatory process. I despise them.”

Two days later, Helms wrote back in support of the president’s decision not to lambaste McCarthy in public. He agreed with Eisenhower’s opinion that the president should avoid public confrontations that might damage the proper prestige of the presidency. Many Americans at the time—and since—disagreed with Helms, believing that the president should have spoken out against McCarthy’s tactics.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

U.S. forces land at Vera Cruz

During the Mexican-American War, U.S. forces under General Winfield Scott invade Mexico three miles south of Vera Cruz. Encountering little resistance from the Mexicans massed in the fortified city of Vera Cruz, by nightfall the last of Scott’s 10,000 men came ashore without the ...read more

Pancho Villa raids U.S.

In the early morning of March 9, 1916, several hundred Mexican guerrillas under the command of Francisco “Pancho” Villa cross the U.S.-Mexican border and attack the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico. Seventeen Americans were killed in the raid, and the center of town was ...read more

Battle of the Ironclads

During the American Civil War, the CSS Virginia, a captured and rebuilt Union steam frigate formerly known as the Merrimac, engages the USS Monitor in the first battle between iron-fortified naval vessels in history. The Confederate navy’s addition of iron plates to the captured ...read more

Supreme Court rules on Amistad mutiny

At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the African slaves who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law. In 1807, the U.S. Congress joined with Great ...read more

Barbie makes her debut

On this day in 1959, the first Barbie doll goes on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth ...read more

Firebombing of Tokyo

On this day, U.S. warplanes launch a new bombing offensive against Japan, dropping 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo over the course of the next 48 hours. Almost 16 square miles in and around the Japanese capital were incinerated, and between 80,000 and 130,000 Japanese ...read more

Marines continue to land at Da Nang

The 3,500 Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Brig. Gen. Frederick J. Karch continue to land at Da Nang. The Marines had begun disembarking from the USS Henrico, Union, and Vancouver on March 8 and were the first U.S. combat troops in South Vietnam. Among the ...read more

Bobby Fischer born

On this day in 1943, Bobby Fischer is born in Chicago, Illinois. Fischer went on to become the only American ever to win the chess world championship. He also became well-known for his strange behavior, which paranoia and anti-Semitic and anti-American rants, in spite of his ...read more

Pancho Villa attacks Columbus, New Mexico

Angered over American support of his rivals for the control of Mexico, the peasant-born revolutionary leader Pancho Villa attacks the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. In 1913, a bloody civil war in Mexico brought the ruthless general Victoriano Huerta to power. American ...read more

Comedian George Burns dies at age 100

On this day in 1996, the legendary cigar-chomping performer George Burns dies at his home in Beverly Hills, California, just weeks after celebrating his 100th birthday. Born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City, Burns was one of 12 children. As a young child, he sang for pennies on ...read more

Japanese power plant leaks radioactive waste

A nuclear accident at a Japan Atomic Power Company plant in Tsuruga, Japan, exposes 59 workers to radiation on this day in 1981. As seems all too common with nuclear-power accidents, the officials in charge failed to timely inform the public and nearby residents, endangering ...read more

Rapper Notorious B.I.G. is killed in Los Angeles

Christopher Wallace, a.k.a Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G., is shot to death at a stoplight in Los Angeles. The murder was thought to be the culmination of an ongoing feud between rap music artists from the East and West coasts. Just six months earlier, rapper Tupac ...read more

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 ...read more

U.S.S. Monitor battles C.S.S. Virginia

On this day in 1862, one of the most famous naval battles in American history occurs as two ironclads,the U.S.S.Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginiafight to a draw off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The ships pounded each other all morning but their armor plates easilydeflected the cannon ...read more