What Exactly Is McCarthyism?

(InformingNews.com) – The Cold War was a serious event that took place in the world between the end of World War II and 1990. Espionage was a vital way for both sides to get information regarding the opposition. Unfortunately, some extreme views and actions would result from the war as well; one of these was known as McCarthyism.

McCarthyism and What it Entailed

McCarthyism was first used as the title of a political cartoon published in the Washington Post March of 1950. The cartoon portrayed four leading Republicans attempting to push an elephant on top of a swaying stack of 10 tar buckets.

The illustrator, Herbert Block, labeled the top Republican “McCarthyism.” The term quickly became a way to describe the actions of Joseph R. McCarthy, who served as a Republican Senator for the state of Wisconsin between 1947 and 1957.

Senator McCarthy would publicly accuse government employees of political disloyalty or seditious activities. He also used disagreeable investigation techniques to prosecute those he accused.


McCarthyism would hold sway between 1950 and 1954; the US government was especially suspicious during this time period as it was actively fighting against the spread of Communism, namely the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). Much of Congress believed that CPUSA was secretly conspiring against the US government as proven by the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950.

Tip of the Spear

Despite many intellectuals believing that McCarthyism was a product of the Red Scare, Palmer Raids and the Smith Act of 1940, the term mirrored the actions of Senator McCarthy. With his position as chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and Senate Committee on Government Operations, McCarthy was the lead on investigations of CPUSA and sympathizers. Originally, his actions targeted government employees, but it would soon impact average everyday Americans as well.

People who opposed these investigations, also known as Anti-McCarthyites, later referred to the investigations as “witch-hunts.” During McCarthy’s decade-long service, he and his team made crazy accusations, often publicly. The senator had no desire to produce evidence and often made accusations without it.

These actions would eventually catch up to McCarthy and end his political career.

The End of McCarthyism

In a Supreme Court case, Yates v. United States, the court’s decision put an end to the Smith Act prosecutions by making the government prove defendants were guilty of the crimes they had been accused of. Of course, with McCarthy’s disregard for concrete evidence, this decision quickly put an end to the witch-hunts and McCarthyism. McCarthyism still has a presence in modern-day America. In fact, it’s used to describe any government actions that disrupt civil liberties and rights in the name of national security.

If someone doesn’t conform to popular political beliefs, they face government harassment and possibly being blacklisted, much like the “cancel culture” of modern-day America.

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