McCarthy-Army Hearings

In 1953, McCarthy began inquiries into the United States Army for suspected Communist infiltration of the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The Army in turn charged McCarthy with using improper influence to win preferential treatment for one of his former staff members, Pvt. G. David Schine, who had been drafted. On April 22, 1954, six weeks after the See It Now program discussed above, the hearings, chaired by Senator Karl Mundt, convened and received considerable press attention, including gavel-to-gavel live television coverage on ABC and DuMont. The televised hearings lasted for 36 days, with 32 witnesses and two million words of testimony. An estimated 80 million people saw at least part of the hearings.

The hearings largely turned into a battle between Roy Cohn, New York lawyer who was McCarthy’s right hand man, and Joseph Welch from the Boston law firm Hale & Dorr, who was special counsel for the Army. Welch was getting the better of Cohn and McCarthy. McCarthy retaliated by launching into a tirade against a young lawyer from Welch’s firm, Fred Fisher, who McCarthy suggested had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group suspected of being a Communist front organization. In front of the national TV audience, Welch made what has come down as one of the most famous rebukes in the history of the Senate. Welch reprimanded McCarthy for his needless attack on Fisher, saying that “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” (TFC, p. 130) Welch excluded himself from the remainder of the hearings with a parting shot to McCarthy: “Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you… You have seen fit to bring [the Fisher/NLG affair] out, and if there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good! I will not discuss it further… You, Mr. Chairman, may as you will, call the next witness!” After Welch deferred to Chairman Mundt to call the next witness, the gallery burst into applause. After that McCarthy lost all support in the Senate and was censured by a vote of 67-22. (Id. at 132) In Gallup polls from January 1954, McCarthy’s approval rating was at 50%, with only 29% disapproving. By June, both percentages had shifted by 16%, with more people (34% approving, 45% disapproving) now rejecting McCarthy and his methods. Thereafter, he slipped into oblivion, and McCarthyism lost all its steam.