We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is McCarthyism?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

McCarthyism was a movement started and perpetuated by US Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin in the 1950s. The senator was strongly opposed to the spread of communism throughout the world, and as a result, he started investigating people in the US for possible communist ties. In the eyes of many people, these investigations went too far by violating people’s rights to free speech and often ruining their lives by publicly tarnishing their reputations. Senator McCarthy was eventually censured by the body of the Senate for abusing his powers. As time went on, it was proven that some of the people McCarthy investigated actually were foreign spies, but there were also many totally innocent people subjected to his interrogations.

A fear of communism spread during the 1950s, partially because of several cases where communists groups rose to power in several different countries. Many people feared that this could happen in the US, and some were concerned that high-ranking government officials might already be secret communists waiting for an opportunity to use their power to aid a foreign enemy.

McCarthy used his power to help stoke the fires of these fears, and he eventually started publicly investigating people. Some were just regular middle-class citizens, but he also investigated a lot of high-profile people, including many in Hollywood. There were many reasons why McCarthy chose who he did — sometimes he had actual evidence against them, but in many cases, people were simply involved in organizations that he considered subversive, or they were acquaintances of someone else he was investigating.

People targeted during the era often found it difficult to find employment afterward. This was often the case even if they were eventually acquitted of any guilt. In part, this was because of the fear that any association with someone who had been investigated might make an individual or company look suspicious.

Eventually, evidence came to light that McCarthy had targeted some people as a way for him to exert influence. For example, he allegedly focused on some US Army officers as a way to threaten them into favoring draftees who were closely acquainted with certain senators. This is the kind of evidence that was in many ways responsible for McCarthy's downfall. Over time, the term "McCarthyism" has been used to describe any kind of movement where people use rumor and innuendo to publicly attack individuals for a belief or political leaning.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon323151 — On Mar 03, 2013

I think its very sad the a senator would harass all those people to find out there were only a handful of them that were communists and the ones that weren't really suffered.

By anon318202 — On Feb 06, 2013

I'm doing a project on mccarthyism and I'm having a very hard time understanding what exactly it is, and why it relates to "The Crucible" at all.

By snickerish — On Sep 09, 2011

@Saraq90 - I noticed that reference in the movie too! In the movie Julia's husband has to contend with an actual investigation with regards to McCarthy.

I learned about McCarthyism and the red scare when I was in high school, and as an adult I have even more appreciation for learning about it as I feel it helps us to learn from past as we face new and different scares as times change.

By Saraq90 — On Sep 08, 2011

My memory of McCarthyism and his whole red scare thing was that it was quite awful, interrogatory, and not quite in any way constitutional. But I had wondered if I had remembered the McCarthyism facts correctly as I did not want to use a reference to McCarthyism incorrectly, so thank you, WiseGeek for once again refreshing my memory!

Also, I thought I noticed a reference to McCarthy in the movie Julie & Julia about Julia Child, was I right?

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.