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McCarthy

Joseph Raymond McCarthy

Born in a small, close-knit Irish farming community in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, on November 14, 1909, Joseph McCarthy dropped out of school at age 14. Six years later, he crammed a four-year high school program into one year and in 1930 was admitted to Marquette University. He received his law degree in 1935, and in 1939 was elected a Wisconsin circuit court judge. During World War II, McCarthy served as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps. In 1944, he lost a campaign for the U.S. Senate. His next try came two years later, when he challenged Sen. Robert M. LaFollette for the Republican nomination. He won, and in the fall became the junior senator from Wisconsin.

His early years in the Senate were unimpressive, but in 1949, with several U.S. Cold War setbacks and an increasingly anti-communist political atmosphere at home, McCarthy found a cause. In February 1950, in Wheeling, West Virginia, he made the first of a series of claims that he had the names of "known communists" who were in the employ of the State Department. It was the beginning of a personal witch hunt for communists in the government that lasted for more than five years. McCarthy rarely provided any solid evidence to back up his claims, but in the political climate of the time his accusations and subsequent investigations nonetheless ended many a career and damaged a good number of lives.

After winning re-election in 1952, McCarthy became chairman of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, a position he used to launch many of his investigations of government officials and agencies. He did not shy away from questioning the integrity of people such as George C. Marshall, or even President Eisenhower. The latter disliked McCarthy intensely but refused to "get in the gutter with him" and never denounced the senator publicly. However, by 1953 a seemingly out-of-control McCarthy was making many enemies. His investigation of the activities of an Army dentist, Maj. Irving Peress, eventually led to his downfall. In 1954, the Army launched its counterattack, charging that McCarthy was seeking preferential treatment for a consultant, David Schine, who in 1953 had been drafted into the Army. Eventually McCarthy's own subcommittee decided to hold hearings on the matter, the Army-McCarthy hearings. The televised hearings fully exposed McCarthy as irresponsible and dishonest. In December 1954, the Senate voted to censure him. McCarthy never repented, but he quickly descended into irrelevance and alcoholism. He died of a liver ailment in Bethesda, Maryland, on May 2, 1957, at age 47.


 
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