Preserving Senatorial Traditions:
The Censure of
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy

I do not like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith criticizing the political tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy, June 1, 1950

The early years of the Cold War saw the United States facing a hostile Soviet Union, the "loss" of China to communism, and war in Korea. In this politically charged atmosphere, fears of Communist influence over American institutions spread easily. On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, claimed that he had a list of 205 State Department employees who were Communists. While he offered little proof, the claims gained the Senator great notoriety. In June, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and six fellow Republicans issued a "Declaration of Conscience" asserting that because of McCarthy’s tactics, the Senate had been "debased to the level of a forum for hate and character assassination. . . ."

After Republicans took control of the White House and Congress in 1953, McCarthy was named chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations. From these posts he continued to accuse government agencies of being "soft" on communism, but he was now attacking a Republican Administration. In 1954 McCarthy’s investigation of security threats in the U.S. Army was televised. McCarthy’s bullying of witnesses turned public opinion against the Senator. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure him, describing his behavior as "contrary to senatorial traditions."