"What is known as 'McCarthyism' began on February 9, 1950, when McCarthy, a relatively obscure Republican senator from Wisconsin, announced during a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, that he had in his possession a list of 205 communists who had infiltrated the U.S. State Department. The unsubstantiated declaration, which was little more than a publicity stunt, thrust Senator McCarthy into the national spotlight.
"In 1953, a newly Republican Congress appointed McCarthy chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations, and McCarthyism reached a fever pitch. In widely publicized hearings, McCarthy bullied defendants under cross-examination with unlawful and damaging accusations, destroying the reputations of hundreds of innocent officials and citizens.
"In the early months of 1954, McCarthy, who had already lost the support of much of his party because of his controversial tactics, finally overreached himself when he accused several U.S. Army officers of communist subversion. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed for an investigation of McCarthy's charges, and the televised hearings exposed the senator as a reckless and excessive tyrant who never produced proper documentation for any of his claims.
"A climax of the hearings came on June 9, when Joseph N. Welch, special attorney for the army, responded to a McCarthy attack on a member of his law firm by facing the senator and tearfully declaring, '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 no sense of decency?' The crowded hearing room burst into spontaneous applause."
From This Day in History