Joseph N. Welch

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Joseph N. Welch
Born Joseph Nye Welch
(1890-10-22)October 22, 1890
Primghar, Iowa, US
Died October 6, 1960(1960-10-06) (aged 69)
Cape Cod Hospital,
Hyannis, Massachusetts, US
Education Grinnell College (1914)
Harvard Law School (1917)
Years active 1956–1960
Known for Army–McCarthy hearings
Spouse(s) Judith Lyndon (c. 1890–1956)
Agnes Rodgers Brown

Joseph Nye Welch (October 22, 1890 – October 6, 1960) was the chief counsel for the United States Army while it was under investigation for Communist activities by Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, an investigation known as the Army–McCarthy hearings. His confrontation with McCarthy during the hearings, in which he famously asked McCarthy "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" is seen as a turning point in the history of McCarthyism.

Early life[edit]

Welch was born in Primghar, Iowa, on October 22, 1890, the seventh and youngest child of English immigrants Martha (Thyer) and William Welch.[1][2] He attended Grinnell College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1914, then attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1917, magna cum laude, with the second highest grade point average in his graduating class.[1] Welch married Judith Lyndon on September 20, 1917. They had two sons, Joe and Lyndon.[3]


Beginning in 1923, Welch was a partner at Hale and Dorr, a Boston law firm, and lived in nearby Walpole, Massachusetts.

Army–McCarthy hearings[edit]

On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army–McCarthy hearings, McCarthy accused Fred Fisher, a junior attorney at Welch's law firm, of associating with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) while in law school. The NLG was a group that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sought to have the Attorney General designate as a Communist front organization. Welch had privately discussed the matter with Fisher beforehand and the two agreed Fisher should not participate in the hearings. Welch dismissed Fisher's association with the NLG as a youthful indiscretion and attacked McCarthy for naming the young man before a nationwide television audience without prior warning or previous agreement to do so:

Welch (left) being questioned by Senator Joe McCarthy (right) at the Army–McCarthy hearings, June 9, 1954.
Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:

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?

McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch interrupted:

Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it 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. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more questions. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.


Welch played a Michigan judge in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959). He said he took the role because "it looked like that was the only way I'd ever get to be a judge."[1] Welch actually took the part on the condition that his wife, Agnes, would be in the film. She was cast as a juror.[4] He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture and a BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer for the role.[5] He also narrated the television shows Omnibus and Dow Hour of Great Mysteries.[1]

Personal life[edit]

His first wife, Judith Lyndon, died on December 21, 1956, and he married Agnes Rodgers Brown in 1957.[3] After remarrying, he moved to Harwichport, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, where he lived until his death.

He suffered a heart attack and died on October 6, 1960, at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts, fifteen months after the release of Anatomy of a Murder.[1][6]

Later references[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Died.". Time. October 17, 1960. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  2. ^ Longden, Tom. "Joseph Welch". Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Joseph Nye Welch". Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  4. ^ "Mrs. Joseph Walsh". Internet Movie Database. 
  5. ^ "Awards for Anatomy of a Murder". Internet Movie Database. 
  6. ^ "Joseph N. Welch, Army Counsel In McCarthy Hearings, Is Dead". New York Times. 7 October 1960. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  7. ^ "R.E.M.: Document, 1987", Treblezine. Retrieved August 2, 2011.

External links[edit]