Army–McCarthy hearings

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Army–McCarthy hearings
McCarthy and Cohn during the hearings
Joseph McCarthy (left) chats with Roy Cohn at the hearings
EventSenate hearing derived from Senator Joseph McCarthy's hunt for communists in the US
TimeApril–June 1954
PlaceWashington, D.C.
ParticipantsThe two sides of the hearing:
  • US Army (accusing their opponents of blackmail)
  • Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine (accusing the Army of communism)
ChairmanSenator Karl Mundt
ResultEnd of the McCarthy era

The Army–McCarthy hearings were a series of televised hearings held by the United States Senate's Subcommittee on Investigations (April–June 1954) to investigate conflicting accusations between the United States Army and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Army accused McCarthy and his chief counsel Roy Cohn of pressuring the Army to give preferential treatment to G. David Schine, a former McCarthy aide and friend of Cohn's. McCarthy counter-charged that this accusation was made in bad faith and in retaliation for his recent aggressive investigations of suspected communists and security risks in the Army.

Chaired by Senator Karl Mundt, the hearings convened on March 16, 1954, and received considerable press attention, including gavel-to-gavel live television coverage on ABC and DuMont (April 22 – June 17). The media coverage, particularly television, greatly contributed to McCarthy's decline in popularity and his eventual censure by the Senate the following December.


McCarthy came to national prominence in February 1950 after giving a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he claimed to have a list of 205 State Department employees who were members of the Communist Party.[1] McCarthy claimed the list was provided to but dismissed by Secretary of State Dean Acheson, saying that the "State Department harbors a nest of Communists and Communist sympathizers who are helping to shape our foreign policy".[2] In January 1953, McCarthy began his second term and the Republican Party regained control of the Senate; with the Republicans in the majority, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations.[3] This committee included the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and the mandate of this subcommittee allowed McCarthy to use it to carry out his investigations of communists in the government.[4] McCarthy appointed 26-year-old Roy Cohn as chief counsel to the subcommittee and future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as assistant counsel, while reassigning Francis Flanagan to the ad hoc position of general counsel.[5]

In 1953, McCarthy's committee began inquiries into the United States Army, starting by investigating supposed communist infiltration of the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth.[6] McCarthy's investigations were largely fruitless, but after the Army accused McCarthy and his staff of seeking a direct commission for Private G. David Schine, a chief consultant to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a close friend of Cohn's who had been drafted into the Army as a private the previous year, McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in bad faith.[7]


The Senate decided that these conflicting charges should be investigated and the appropriate committee to do this was the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, usually chaired by McCarthy. Since McCarthy was one of the targets of the hearings, Senator Karl Mundt reluctantly accepted the appointment to replace McCarthy as chairman of the subcommittee.[8] John G. Adams was the Army's Counsel.[9] Acting as Special Counsel was Joseph Welch of the Boston law firm of Hale & Dorr (now called WilmerHale).[10] The hearings were broadcast nationally on the new ABC and DuMont networks, and in part by NBC.[11] Francis Newton Littlejohn, the news director at ABC, made the decision to cover the hearings live, gavel-to-gavel.[12] The televised hearings lasted for 36 days and an estimated 80 million people saw at least part of the hearings.[13]


Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin

While the hearings went on, a photograph of Schine was introduced, and Joseph Welch accused Cohn of doctoring the image to show Schine alone with Army Secretary Robert T. Stevens.[14] On the witness stand Cohn and Schine both insisted that the picture entered into evidence (Schine and Stevens alone) was requested by Stevens and that no one was edited out of the photograph. Welch then produced a wider shot of Stevens and Schine with McGuire AFB wing commander Colonel Jack Bradley standing to Schine's right. A fourth person also edited out of the picture (his sleeve was visible to Bradley's right in the Welch photograph) was identified as McCarthy aide Frank Carr.[15]

Hoover memo[edit]

After the photograph was discredited, McCarthy produced a copy of a confidential letter he claimed was a January 26, 1951, memo written and sent by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, to Major General Alexander R. Bolling, warning Army Intelligence of subversives in the Army Signal Corps.[16] McCarthy claimed the letter was in the Army files when Stevens became secretary in 1953, and that Stevens willfully ignored it.[17] Welch was the first to question the letter's validity, claiming that McCarthy's "purported copy" did not come from Army files; McCarthy stated he never received any document from the FBI, but when questioned on the stand by special Senate counsel Ray Jenkins and cross-examined by Welch, McCarthy, while admitting the document was given to him by an intelligence officer, refused to identify his source.

Robert Collier, assistant to Ray Jenkins, read a letter from Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr., in which he stated that Hoover examined the document and that he neither wrote nor ordered the letter, and that no such copy existed in FBI files, rendering McCarthy's claims meritless, and the letter spurious.


Though the hearings were primarily about government subversion, they occasionally took on accusations of a more taboo nature: a portion of the hearings assessed the security risk of homosexuals in government. The issue remained an undercurrent throughout the hearings. One such example of this undercurrent was an exchange between Senator McCarthy and Joseph Welch. Welch was questioning McCarthy staff member James Juliana about the unedited picture of Schine with Stevens and Bradley, asking him "Did you think this came from a Pixie?" (a type of camera popular at the time), at which point McCarthy asked to have the question re-read:[18]

McCarthy. Will counsel [i.e. Welch] for my benefit define – I think he might be an expert on that – what a pixie is?
Welch. Yes. I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative of a fairy. (Laughter from the chamber) Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?
McCarthy. As I said, I think you may be an authority on what a pixie is.[19]

Cohn, Schine and McCarthy[edit]

At least a portion of the Army's allegations were correct. Roy Cohn did take steps to request preferential treatment for Schine, going so far on at least one occasion to sign McCarthy's name without his knowledge on a request for Schine to have access to the Senators' Baths, a pool and steam room reserved exclusively for senators.[20]

The exact relationship between Cohn, McCarthy and Schine remains unknown. Cohn and Schine were certainly close, and rather than work out of the Senate offices, the two rented nearby office space and shared bills. McCarthy commented that Cohn was unreasonable in matters dealing with Schine. It is unclear if Schine ever had a romantic or sexual relationship with Cohn, who was a closeted homosexual. (Three years after the hearings, Schine married and eventually had six children.) Some have also suggested that McCarthy may have been homosexual, and was even possibly involved with Schine or Cohn.[21][22][23]

Joseph Welch confronts McCarthy[edit]

Joseph N. Welch (left) being questioned by Senator Joseph McCarthy (right), June 9, 1954

In what played out to be the most dramatic exchange of the hearings, McCarthy responded to aggressive questioning from Army counsel Joseph Welch. On June 9, 1954, day 30 of the hearings, Welch challenged Cohn to give McCarthy's list of 130 subversives in defense plants to the office of the FBI and the Department of Defense "before the sun goes down".[24] In response to Welch's badgering of Cohn, McCarthy suggested that Welch should "check" on Fred Fisher, a young lawyer in Welch's own Boston law firm whom Welch had planned to have on his staff for the hearings.[25] Fisher had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which Attorney General Brownell had called "the legal bulwark of the Communist Party".[26] McCarthy had previously agreed to keep Fisher's involvement in both Welch's law firm and the NLG confidential. In exchange, Welch agreed to leave a controversy regarding Cohn's draft status out of the hearings.

Welch revealed he had confirmed Fisher's former membership in the National Lawyers Guild approximately six weeks before the hearings started.[27] After Fisher admitted his membership in the National Lawyers Guild, Welch decided to send Fisher back to Boston.[28] His replacement by another colleague on Welch's staff was also covered by The New York Times.[29][30] Welch then reprimanded McCarthy for his needless attack on Fisher, saying "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness."[31] McCarthy, accusing Welch of filibustering the hearing and baiting Cohn, resumed his attack on Fisher, at which point Welch angrily cut him short:[25]

Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild ... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Welch excluded himself from the remainder of the hearings with a parting shot to McCarthy:[32] "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!"[33] After Welch deferred to Chairman Mundt to call the next witness, the gallery burst into applause.[34]

Conclusion and aftermath[edit]

Near the end of the hearings, McCarthy and Senator Stuart Symington sparred over the handling of secret files by McCarthy's staff. McCarthy staff director Frank Carr testified that everyone who worked on McCarthy's staff had access to classified files regardless of their level of security clearance. Symington hinted that some members of McCarthy's own staff might themselves be subversive and signed a document agreeing to take the stand in the hearings to reveal their names in return for McCarthy's signature on the same document agreeing to an investigation of his staff. But McCarthy, after calling Symington "Sanctimonious Stu", refused to sign the agreement, claiming it contained false statements, and called the accusations an "unfounded smear" on his men. He then rebuked Symington by saying "You're not fooling anyone!" But Symington retaliated with a prophetic remark of his own: "Senator, the American people have had a look at you now for six weeks; you're not fooling anyone, either."[35]

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.[36]

After hearing 32 witnesses and two million words of testimony, the committee concluded that McCarthy himself had not exercised any improper influence on Schine's behalf, but that Roy Cohn, McCarthy's chief counsel, had engaged in some "unduly persistent or aggressive efforts" for Schine. The conclusion also reported questionable behavior on the part of the Army: that Secretary Stevens and Army Counsel John Adams "made efforts to terminate or influence the investigation and hearings at Fort Monmouth", and that Adams "made vigorous and diligent efforts" to block subpoenas for members of the Army Loyalty and Screening Board "by means of personal appeal to certain members of the [McCarthy] committee". Before the official reports were released, Cohn had resigned as McCarthy's chief counsel, and Senator Ralph Flanders (R-Vermont) had introduced a resolution of censure against McCarthy in the Senate.[37]

Despite McCarthy's acquittal of misconduct in the Schine matter, the Army–McCarthy hearings ultimately became the main catalyst in McCarthy's downfall from political power. Daily newspaper summaries were increasingly unfavorable toward McCarthy,[38][39] while television audiences witnessed firsthand the unethical tactics of the junior Senator from Wisconsin.

On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted 67–22 to censure McCarthy, effectively eradicating his influence, though not expelling him from office.[40] McCarthy continued to chair the Subcommittee on Investigations until January 3, 1955, the day the 84th United States Congress was inaugurated; Senator John L. McClellan (D-Arkansas) replaced McCarthy as chairman.

Fred Fisher was relatively unaffected by McCarthy's charges and went on to become a partner in Boston's prestigious Hale & Dorr law firm and organized its commercial law department. He also served as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and as chairman of many committees of the American and Boston bar associations.[41]

After his censuring, Senator McCarthy continued his anti-communist oratory, often speaking to an empty or near-empty Senate chamber. Turning increasingly to alcohol, McCarthy died of hepatitis on May 2, 1957, at the age of 48.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Enemies from Within': Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's Accusations of Disloyalty". George Mason University.
  2. ^ Robert J. Donovan (1996). Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1949–1953. University of Missouri Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0826210852.
  3. ^ "Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957)". George Washington University. 2006.
  4. ^ "The Man Behind McCarthyism: A Gateway". University of Albany.
  5. ^ Luke Fowler, Jeffrey Markham. "John C. Stennis and the Censure of Joseph McCarthy" (PDF). Mississippi State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 10, 2010.
  6. ^ "McCarthy's Downfall". Mount Holyoke College. Archived from the original on August 8, 2013. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  7. ^ "G. David Schine". The New York Times. June 5, 1977. Retrieved April 1, 2008. Twenty-three years ago this month, the curtain rang down on one of Washington's greatest television dramas: Army-McCarthy hearings. At the start, the focus was on G. David Schine, an Army private who had been chief consultant to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Senator Joseph R. McCarthy headed.
  8. ^ Emile de Antonio (director, editor), Robert Duncan (co-editor) (1964). Point Of Order! (Documentary Film). Washington D.C.: New Yorker Films. 'Presiding over these hearings is a responsibility that I do not welcome.' said by Senator Karl Mundt near beginning of film
  9. ^ "John G. Adams, Army's Counsel In McCarthy Hearings, Dies at 91". Washington Post. June 27, 2003. Archived from the original on April 17, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2008. Mr. Adams, an Army veteran of World War II, worked on Capitol Hill and for the Defense Department before being named Army general counsel in 1953.
  10. ^ Geoffrey K. Pullum (June 9, 2004). "At Long Last". University of Pennsylvania.
  11. ^ "N.B.C. Halts Live TV On Army, McCarthy". The New York Times. April 25, 1954. Retrieved April 1, 2008. The National Broadcasting Company's television network beginning tomorrow will stop carrying live pickups from the Army–McCarthy hearings in Washington, because 'it cost us a lot of money last week' and might cost advertising goodwill.
  12. ^ Holley, Joe (December 9, 2005). "Francis Littlejohn Dies. Aired Full McCarthy Hearings on ABC". Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 16, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2008. Francis Newton 'Fritz' Littlejohn, 97, news director at ABC in 1954 when the network provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Army–McCarthy hearings, died of cardiac arrest November 24 at his home in New York City.
  13. ^ Dorothy Rabinowitz (November 22, 2012). "A Name That Lives in Infamy Enemies Within: Joe McCarthy". The Wall Street Journal.
  14. ^ Drogin, Bob (August 3, 1986). "Roy Cohn, Hero and Villain of McCarthy Era, Dies at 59". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 11, 2016. Retrieved November 13, 2015. Millions of Americans watched the real-life TV drama as McCarthy and Cohn tangled with top Army officials, trading bitter charges and accusations. Army counsel John G. Adams testified that Cohn had threatened to 'wreck the Army.' Army special counsel Joseph N. Welch also accused Cohn of doctoring a photo that was introduced as evidence.(Subscription required.)
  15. ^ "National Affairs: Part of the Picture". Time. May 10, 1954.
  16. ^ "Army Signal Corps – Subversion and Espionage Hearing Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations United States Senate". National Archives and Records Administration. 1954.
  17. ^ "National Affairs: The Bogus Letter". Time. May 17, 1954.
  18. ^ James Cross Giblin (2009). The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 222–225. ISBN 978-0547443188.
  19. ^ Shogan, Robert (2009). No Sense Of Decency: The Army–McCarthy Hearings. Ivan R. Dee. p. 178. ISBN 978-1615780006.
  20. ^ Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 5 (PDF). Government Printing Office. January 2003. xvi.
  21. ^ Miller, Neil (1995). "Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present". New York: Vintage Books. Archived from the original on September 2, 2009.
  22. ^ Baxter, Randolph (November 13, 2006). "An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture". glbtq, Inc. Archived from the original on December 8, 2006. Tall, rich, and suave, the Harvard-educated (and heterosexual) Schine contrasted starkly with the short, physically undistinguished, and caustic Cohn.
  23. ^ Wolfe, Tom (April 3, 1988). "Dangerous Obsessions". The New York Times. But so far as Mr. Schine is concerned, there has never been the slightest evidence that he was anything but a good-looking kid who was having a helluva good time in a helluva good cause. In any event, the rumors were sizzling away
  24. ^ Robert Perske (April 2005). "Simple Decency" (PDF). Robert Perske. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 17, 2015. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  25. ^ a b "'Have You No Sense of Decency': The Army–McCarthy Hearings". George Mason University. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  26. ^ Powell, Michael (July 28, 2006). "Anatomy of a Counter-Bar Association: The Chicago Council of Lawyers" (PDF). Law & Social Inquiry. 4 (3): 503. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4469.1979.tb01027.x. Retrieved March 1, 2009.[dead link](Subscription required.)
  27. ^ "McCarthy will Boycott Inquiry Pending on Action on News Leak". The New York Times. April 16, 1954. pp. 1, 12. The Army charges were signed by its new special counsel, Joseph N. Welch. Mr. Welch today [April 15] confirmed news reports that he had relieved from duty his original second assistant, Frederick G. Fisher Jr., of his own Boston law office because of admitted previous membership in the National Lawyers Guild, which has been listed by Herbert Brownell Jr. the Attorney General, as a Communist front organization. Mr. Welch said he had brought in another lawyer, John Kimball Jr., from his Boston office to take Mr. Fisher's place.
  28. ^ Eugene L. Solomon (2010). Lies and Deceits. iUniverse. p. 365. ISBN 978-1440198090.
  29. ^ "McCarthy will Boycott Inquiry Pending on Action on News Leak". The New York Times. April 16, 1954. pp. 1, 12.
  30. ^ Stanton Evans, M. (November 6, 2007). Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies. Crown Publishing. ISBN 978-0307238665.
  31. ^ "June 9, 1954 'Have You No Sense of Decency?'". Senate Stories: 1941–1963. U.S. Senate. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  32. ^ Fettmann, Eric. "The First 'Reality Show'". New York Post. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  33. ^ W. H. Lawrence (June 9, 1954). "Welch Assails M'Carthy's 'Cruelty' And 'Recklessness' In Attack On Aide; Senator, On Stand, Tells Of Red Hunt". The New York Times. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  34. ^ Murrey Marder (June 10, 1954). "Welch vs. McCarthy". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  35. ^ Powers, Richard Gid (1998). Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism. Yale University Press. p. 271. ISBN 0300074700.
  36. ^ Fried, Richard M. (1990). Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 138. ISBN 0195043618.
  37. ^ "The Censure Case of Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin (1954)". United States Senate. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  38. ^ Morgan, Ted (2004). Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America. Random House. p. 489. ISBN 081297302X.
  39. ^ Streitmatter, Rodger (1998). Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History. Westview Press. p. 167. ISBN 0813332117.
  40. ^ The New York Times (December 2, 2011). "Dec. 2, 1954: Anti-Communist Senator McCarthy Is Condemned". The New York Times. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  41. ^ "Fisher Program". Conference on Consumer Finance Law. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  42. ^ Shogan, Robert (March 1, 2009). No Sense Of Decency: The Army–McCarthy Hearings. Ivan R. Dee. p. 261. ISBN 978-1615780006.

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