Face-to-Face: Joseph McCarthy portrait

About the Project

As part of the National Portrait Gallery's education program "Face-to-Face," NPG historian David Ward discusses Joseph McCarthy. On February 9, 1950, a little known junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, proclaimed that he had a list of 205 Communist Party members who worked in the State Department with the full knowledge of the secretary of state. McCarthy's speech came shortly after the Communist takeover in China, the U.S.S.R's successful detonation of an atomic bomb, and suspected spy Alger Hiss's conviction for perjury. For many, McCarthy's charges explained why the West was experiencing setbacks, and made him a formidable political force. It marked the beginning of demagogic red baiting and made the term "McCarthyism" synonymous with hysterical anti-Communism. McCarthy had no evidence for his accusations and was censured by the Senate in 1954; "McCarthyism" would be remembered for its corrosive effect on America's ability to deal effectively with real Communists abroad and at home. You can see a 1954 portrait of McCarthy by photographer George Tames in the "Twentieth-Century Americans" exhibition on the museum's third floor. Recorded at NPG, October 30, 2008. Image info: Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn / George Tames, 1954 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Frances O. Tames / Copyright The New York Times/George Tames. ["Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn" by George Tames. NPG.94.239]

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