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Army–McCarthy hearings

Army–McCarthy hearings

The Army–McCarthy hearings were a series of 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 Chief Committee 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.

Army–McCarthy hearings
EventSenate hearing derived from Senator Joseph McCarthy's hunt for communists in US
TimeApril–June, 1954
PlaceWashington DC,
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


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 and dismissed by then-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 special treatment 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 (R-South Dakota) was reluctantly[8] appointed to replace McCarthy as chairman of the subcommittee. 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

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

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?", 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

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

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

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 challenge, 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] McCarthy then mentioned that 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]

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 that "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, dismissed Welch's dissertation and casually 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 Lawyer's 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

Near the end of the hearings, McCarthy and Senator Stuart Symington (D-Missouri) 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


Citation Linkhistorymatters.gmu.edu"'Enemies from Within': Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's Accusations of Disloyalty". George Mason University.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comRobert J. Donovan (1996). Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1949–1953. University of Missouri Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0826210852.
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Citation Linkwww.gwu.edu"Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957)". George Washington University. 2006.
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Citation Linkwww.albany.edu"The Man Behind McCarthyism: A Gateway". University of Albany.
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Citation Linkwww.sig.msstate.eduLuke 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.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkwww.mtholyoke.edu"McCarthy's Downfall". Mount Holyoke College.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkwww.nytimes.com"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. ...
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgEmile 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
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkpqasb.pqarchiver.com"John G. Adams, Army's Counsel In McCarthy Hearings, Dies at 91". Washington Post. June 27, 2003. 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.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkitre.cis.upenn.eduGeoffrey K. Pullum (June 9, 2004). "At Long Last". upenn.edu. University of Pennsylvania.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkwww.nytimes.com"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.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkpqasb.pqarchiver.comHolley, Joe (December 9, 2005). "Francis Littlejohn Dies. Aired Full McCarthy Hearings on ABC". Washington Post. 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.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkwww.wsj.comDorothy Rabinowitz (November 22, 2012). "A Name That Lives in Infamy Enemies Within: Joe McCarthy". The Wall Street Journal.
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Citation Linkpqasb.pqarchiver.comDrogin, Bob (August 3, 1986). "Roy Cohn, Hero and Villain of McCarthy Era, Dies at 59". Los Angeles Times. 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.)
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org"National Affairs: Part of the Picture". Time. May 10, 1954.
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Citation Linkarchive.org"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.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.org"National Affairs: The Bogus Letter". Time. May 17, 1954.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comJames Cross Giblin (December 14, 2009). The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 222–225. ISBN 978-0547443188.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgShogan, Robert (March 1, 2009). No Sense Of Decency: The Army–McCarthy Hearings. Ivan R. Dee. p. 178. ISBN 978-1615780006.
Sep 24, 2019, 11:07 AM
Citation Linkwww.senate.govExecutive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 5 (PDF). Government Printing Office. January 2003. xvi.
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