McCarthy's Downfall

McCarthy and Welsh Exchange, June  1954

Exchange between McCarthy and Welsh, June 1954

Taken from

Despite initial popularity among his fellow party members and the American public, McCarthy's career began to decline. Even some moderate Republicans withdrew their support from him because they felt the senator was hurting the presidential administration. Despite his waning support, President Eisenhower refrained from publicly reprimanding McCarthy. Apparently, the president refused to "go into the gutter" with McCarthy by initializing a public confrontation. Doing so would only create more chaos and generate more publicity for the senator .However, it became apparent that McCarthy's end was near.
McCarthy's First Strike
In june 1953, J.B. Matthews was appointed as McCarthy's research director. In July, Matthews published an article called "Reds in our churches" in the conservative American Mercury. In it, Matthews referred to the Protestant clergy as " the largest single group supporting the Communist apparatus in the United States." The result was a public outrage at Matthews as well as his boss McCarthy.
Army Investigation

McCarthy began his investigation of the Army Signal Corps Laboratory at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey in 1953. The laboratory had employed many Jewish engineers from New York. Many of the civilian employees there were members of the left-leaning Populist Front. In fact, Julius Rosenberg once worked there. Many of the workers have been inspected and cleared by the government. The army was already reexamining the entire workforce in 1953.Nevertheless, McCarthy insisted on opening up an investigation into the matter. McCarthy eventually gave up the investigation after months of quarreling with the army.

The Irving Peress Case

After giving up his investigation on the Army Signal Corps, McCarthy's committee began to concentrate on Irving Peress, an Army dentist. Peress had invoked the Fifth Amendment when filling out the army's questionnaire. Even though he was put under military surveillance, Peress was still promoted to Major. The army eventually found the paperwork that called for his dismissal and Peress was quickly discharged.

McCarthy then launched a campaign to criticize the army for allowing Peress to be promoted. When interrogating General Ralph Zwicker, the senator demanded that the general should reveal some names. Zwicker refused because he could not violate executive order. In response, McCarthy rudely insulted the general by comparing his intelligence to that of a "five year old child." McCarthy's treatment of the general generated a lot of hostility from the press and the American public.

In retaliation for McCarthy's investigation, the Army accused McCarthy's aide Roy Cohn of trying to force the Army into giving special treatment to his friend G. David Schine.

The Televised Hearings

The Senate then started hearings into the Peress matter. The investigations and hearings between the Army and McCarthy was televised live to the public. For two months, Americans watched on as McCarthy bully witnesses and called "point of order" to make crude remarks.

The climax came on June 9. Representing the Army was Joseph Welch. As the Welch was questioning Cohn, McCarthy intervened and said,

I think we should tell him that he has in his law firm a young man named Fisher, whom he recommended, incidentally, to do work on this committee, who has been for a number of years a member of an organization which was named, oh year and years ago, as the legal bulwark of the Communist party.

Here, McCarthy was referring to Fred Fisher, a young associate in Welch's law firm. Fisher had refused to come to the hearings because he was once affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild. In response, Welch said he did not let Fisher come to the hearing because he did not want to hurt "the lad" on national television. Welch then urged McCarthy to drop the issue. Nevertheless, McCarthy persisted in questioning Fisher's background. At this point Welch exclaimed,

Welch: You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

At this point, the entire American public viewed McCarthy with disdain. On television, the senator from Wisconsin came off as cruel, manipulative and reckless.


The Final Days

The hearings were not the only components that eroded McCarthy's credibility. Earlier in the year, the journalist Edward R. Murrow had aired a documentary that showed how McCarthy's charges were groundless and how he had used bullying techniques to harass individuals. By June, the senator's Gallup Poll ratings fell from 50% to 34%.

On December 2, the Senate voted to censure Joe McCarthy by a margin of sixty-seven to twenty-two.

Driven by depression from being censured, Joe McCarthy resorted to alcohol, which greatly worsen his health. On May 2, 1957, Joe McCarthy died from acute hepatitis and was buried in Appleton, Michigan.