U.S. Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s speech to a group of Republicans in Wheeling on February 9, 1950, launched the 1950s red scare, giving McCarthy a national platform that he would not relinquish for four years. The speech at Wheeling’s McLure Hotel was part of the Lincoln Day celebration, an annual Republican political holiday. McCarthy had a speech on housing that he could have given. Former U.S. Sen. Francis Love, who met him at the airport, suggested he give one on the perils of communism instead.
McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican, claimed in his speech to have a list of 205 communists who worked in the U.S. State Department with the knowledge of Secretary of State Dean Acheson. McCarthy had no such list, and whether he actually said the 205 number isn’t clear. The next day’s Wheeling Intelligencer said he did, but the reporter later told Congress he wrote his story from McCarthy’s prepared remarks, not the actual speech.
The allegation ‘‘did not cause a ripple in the room,’’ said one Wheeling lawyer who attended the speech. Nevertheless, the senator’s charges were national headlines in a couple of days. McCarthy made the same charges several times during the next few days, often changing the numbers. He never produced his list, and a congressional inquiry found there was no substance to his charges.
None of it mattered. Republicans rode to a huge victory in the 1950 elections, and McCarthy was reelected to the Senate in 1952. He held various anti-communist hearings until 1954, when he recklessly challenged the U.S. Army, whose integrity was beyond impugning. McCarthy’s efforts never uncovered a single communist in the U.S. government. His name has become synonymous with witch hunts and baseless allegations.
This Article was written by Greg Moore
Last Revised on October 08, 2010
Reeves, Thomas C. The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy. New York: Stein & Day, 1982.
Rovere, Richard H. Senator Joe McCarthy. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1959.
Moore, Greg. Wheeling Speech Set McCarthy on his Path. Sunday Gazette-Mail, 2/6/2000.
Cite This Article
Moore, Greg "Joseph R. McCarthy’s Wheeling Speech." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 October 2010. Web. 27 February 2017.