Year
1954

Joseph McCarthy meets his match

In a dramatic confrontation, Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, lashes out at Senator Joseph McCarthy during hearings on whether communism has infiltrated the U.S. armed forces. Welch’s verbal assault marked the end of McCarthy’s power during the anticommunist hysteria of the Red Scare in America.

Senator McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) experienced a meteoric rise to fame and power in the U.S. Senate when he charged in February 1950 that “hundreds” of “known communists” were in the Department of State. In the years that followed, McCarthy became the acknowledged leader of the so-called Red Scare, a time when millions of Americans became convinced that communists had infiltrated every aspect of American life. Behind closed-door hearings, McCarthy bullied, lied, and smeared his way to power, destroying many careers and lives in the process. Prior to 1953, the Republican Party tolerated his antics because his attacks were directed against the Democratic administration of Harry S. Truman. When Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the White House in 1953, however, McCarthy’s recklessness and increasingly erratic behavior became unacceptable and the senator saw his clout slowly ebbing away. In a last-ditch effort to revitalize his anticommunist crusade, McCarthy made a crucial mistake. He charged in early 1954 that the U.S. Army was “soft” on communism. As Chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, McCarthy opened hearings into the Army.

Joseph N. Welch, a soft-spoken lawyer with an incisive wit and intelligence, represented the Army. During the course of weeks of hearings, Welch blunted every one of McCarthy’s charges. The senator, in turn, became increasingly enraged, bellowing “point of order, point of order,” screaming at witnesses, and declaring that one highly decorated general was a “disgrace” to his uniform. On June 9, 1954, McCarthy again became agitated at Welch’s steady destruction of each of his arguments and witnesses. In response, McCarthy charged that Frederick G. Fisher, a young associate in Welch’s law firm, had been a long-time member of an organization that was a “legal arm of the Communist Party.” Welch was stunned. As he struggled to maintain his composure, he looked at McCarthy and declared, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” It was then McCarthy’s turn to be stunned into silence, as Welch asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” The audience of citizens and newspaper and television reporters burst into wild applause. Just a week later, the hearings into the Army came to a close. McCarthy, exposed as a reckless bully, was officially condemned by the U.S. Senate for contempt against his colleagues in December 1954. During the next two-and-a-half years McCarthy spiraled into alcoholism. Still in office, he died in 1957.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Cartier discovers St. Lawrence River

French navigator Jacques Cartier becomes the first European explorer to discover the St. Lawrence River in present-day Quebec, Canada. In 1534, Cartier was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the northern American lands in search of riches and the rumored ...read more

Secretariat wins Triple Crown

With a spectacular victory at the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat becomes the first horse since Citation in 1948 to win America’s coveted Triple Crown–the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. In one of the finest performances in ...read more

South Vietnamese soldiers reach An Loc

Part of a relief column composed mainly of South Vietnamese 21st Division troops finally arrives in the outskirts of An Loc. The division had been trying to reach the besieged city since April 9, when it had been moved from its normal station in the Mekong Delta and ordered to ...read more

CIA report challenges “domino theory”

In reply to a formal question submitted by President Lyndon B. Johnson–“Would the rest of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under North Vietnamese control?”–the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) submits a memo that effectively challenges the “domino ...read more

Secretariat wins Triple Crown

On this day in 1973, Secretariat wins the Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Secretariat ran the mile-and-a-half race in 2:24, a world record that many believe will never be broken. Secretariat, the son of Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal, ...read more

Cole Porter is born

On this day in 1891, the great composer and lyricist Cole Porter—one of the most important American songwriters of the 20th century—is born in Peru, Indiana. Cole Porter’s legal birth certificate actually gives 1893 as the year of his birth rather than 1891, but that was a change ...read more

Flash flood hits Rapid City

A flash flood in Rapid City, South Dakota, kills more than 200 people on this day in 1972. This flood demonstrated the danger of building homes and businesses in a floodplain region. The native Sioux called the river Minnelusa when European settlers overtook the Black Hills ...read more

“Cars” released

On this day in 2006, the animated feature film “Cars,” produced by Pixar Animation Studios, roars into theaters across the United States. For “Cars,” which won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Pixar’s animators created an alternate America inhabited by ...read more