Army-McCarthy Hearings

The Army-McCarthy Hearings were a series of hearings held by the United States Senate's Subcommittee on Investigations between March 1954 and June 1954. The hearings were held for the purpose of investigating conflicting accusations between the U.S. Army and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. The Army accused McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, of pressuring the Army to give preferential treatment to G. David Schine, who was a former McCarthy aide and a friend of Cohn's. McCarthy countercharged that this accusation was made in bad faith, in retaliation for his recent aggressive investigations of suspected Communists and security risks in the Army.

Chaired by Senator Karl Mundt, the hearings were convened on March 16, 1954, with witnesses appearing from April 22, 1954 until June 17, 1954. The hearings received considerable press coverage, including live television broadcasts, and are widely believed to have contributed to McCarthy's decline in popularity.


Following World War II, concern over the increasing power of the Soviet Union and other Communist states led to investigations about the influence that Communist organizations had on the United States. The convictions of Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg led some to believe that there were Communist infiltrators still operating in the government.

McCarthy came to national prominence in 1950, when he claimed to have a list of a number of people (McCarthy did not always cite the same number) known to the State Department as Communists, yet who still remained employed there. With the beginning of his second term as senator in 1953, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations. This committee included the Senate 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. McCarthy appointed Roy Cohn as chief counsel to the subcommittee.

In 1953, McCarthy's committee began an inquiry into the United States Army. This began with McCarthy investigating into Communist infiltration of the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth. McCarthy's investigations were largely fruitless, but after the Army accused McCarthy and his staff of seeking special treatment for G. David Schine, McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in bad faith. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=G. David Schine |url= |quote=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. ... |publisher=New York Times |date=June 5, 1977, Sunday |accessdate=2008-04-01 ] 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 himself. Since McCarthy was one of the targets of the hearings, Republican Senator Karl Mundt was appointed to replace McCarthy as chair of the committee.

McCarthy Hearings

The Subcommittee on Investigations hearings, chaired by Senator McCarthy, began on January 15, 1953 and ended on January 3, 1955, while the Army-McCarthy hearings, chaired by Senator Karl Mundt, began on March 16, 1954, and ended on June 17, 1954. The public sessions were broadcast from April 22, 1954 until their conclusion.

When McCarthy began the hearings, Roy Cohn was given the position of chief counsel, reassigning Francis Flanagan to the ad hoc position of general counsel. The ranking member was Senator John L. McClellan.

In all, 395 executive session witnesses and 214 public session witnesses were examined. 98 witnesses were called before the Army-McCarthy hearings in executive session, including Cohn himself, while 44 were called for public testimony.

Executive Sessions

In United States Senate history, executive sessions are designated for Senate business which involves the Executive Branch, and are often conducted in closed session. Despite the fact that there was essentially no executive business, Senator McCarthy held extensive examinations in executive session in order to keep the contents of these sessions secret. In practice, McCarthy would report portions of these sessions to the press.

The purpose of these executive sessions was ostensibly to determine if the witness could be "cleared," but witnesses were sometimes "cleared" on the basis of how well they could stand up to examination.

Pursuant to Senate rules, the executive session transcripts were made public in 2003.


Though the hearings were about Communist infiltration inside the government, the hearings often took on accusations of a different taboo. A portion of the hearings were taken up for the express purpose of evaluating the security risk of homosexuals in government and the issue would be brought up on other occasions, as well as being an undercurrent in the investigations.

A famous example of this undercurrent appearing in the testimony was the following exchange between Senator McCarthy and Joseph Welch:

:Mr. Welch. Did you think this came from a pixie? Where did you think this picture that I hold in my hand came from? : [...] :Senator McCarthy. Will counsel for my benefit define—I think he might be an expert on that—what a pixie is? :Mr. Welch. Yes. I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is close relative of a fairy. Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you? :Senator McCarthy. As I said, I think you may be an authority on what a pixie is.

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 David Schine, going so far on at least one occasion as to sign Sen. Joseph McCarthy's name, without McCarthy's knowledge, on a request for Schine to have access to the Senators' Baths. [cite book
title = Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 5
publisher = Government Printing Office
month = January | year = 2003
pages = xvi
url =

The exact relationship between Cohn, McCarthy and Schine is not precisely known. 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 himself commented that Cohn was unreasonable in matters dealing with Schine. It is unclear if Schine ever had a romantic or sexual relationship with him. Some have also suggested that McCarthy may have been gay, and even possibly involved with Schine or Cohn. [cite web
last = Miller
first = Neil
title = Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present
publisher = New York: Vintage Books
year = 1995
url =
accessdate =
] [cite web
last = Baxter
first = Randolph
title = An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
quote = Tall, rich, and suave, the Harvard-educated (and heterosexual) Schine contrasted starkly with the short, physically undistinguished, and caustic Cohn.
publisher = glbtq, Inc
date = November 13, 2006
url =
accessdate =
] [cite news
last = Wolfe
first = Tom
quote = But so far as Mr. Schine is concerned, there has never been the slightest evidence that he was anything but a good-looking kid who was having a helluva good time in a helluva good cause. In any event, the rumors were sizzling away ...
authorlink = Tom Wolfe
title = Dangerous Obsessions
publisher = New York Times
date = April 3, 1988
url =
accessdate =

It is also possible that Cohn acted simply because Schine asked him to make his tour of duty with the U.S. Army more comfortable; Schine came from a wealthy family and was accustomed to a privileged lifestyle.

The inquiry and its conclusions

The Subcommittee on Investigations ordered the inquiry into the matter, which was broadcast live and on television. For the duration of the proceedings, the chair was temporarily relinquished to Karl E. Mundt (Republican, South Dakota). John G. Adams was the Army's Counsel. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |quote=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. |url= |title=John G. Adams, Army's Counsel In McCarthy Hearings, Dies at 91. |publisher=Washington Post |date= |accessdate=2008-03-15 ] Acting as Special Counsel was Joseph Welch of the Boston law firm of Hale & Dorr (now called WilmerHale). This was the first nationally televised congressional inquiry, and was broadcast on the new ABC and DuMont networks. The National Broadcasting Company covered part of the hearings. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=N.B.C. Halts Live TV On Army, McCarthy.|url= |quote=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. |publisher=New York Times |date=April 25, 1954, Sunday |accessdate=2008-04-01 ] Francis Newton Littlejohn, the news director at ABC, made the decision to cover the hearings live, gavel to gavel. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Francis Littlejohn Dies. Aired Full McCarthy Hearings on ABC. |quote=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. |url= |publisher=Washington Post |date=December 9, 2005 |accessdate=2008-03-15 ] The televised hearings lasted for 36 days and an estimated 80 million people saw at least part of the hearings.

During the hearings, a photo of Schine was introduced, and Joseph N. Welch accused Cohn of doctoring the image to show Schine alone with Army Secretary Robert Stevens.cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Roy Cohn, Hero and Villain of McCarthy Era, Dies at 59. |url= |quote=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. |publisher=Los Angeles Times |date=August 3, 1986 |accessdate=2008-03-17 ]

After hearing 32 witnesses and two million words of testimony, the committee concluded that McCarthy himself had not exercised any improper influence on behalf of David Schine, but that Roy Cohn, McCarthy's chief counsel, had engaged in some "unduly persistent or aggressive efforts" on behalf of Schine. The conclusion of the committee also reported questionable behavior on the part of the Army: That Army Secretary Robert 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."

Joseph Welch confronts McCarthy

In one famous interchange, McCarthy responded to aggressive questioning from the Army's attorney, Joseph Welch. On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the hearings, Welch challenged Roy Cohn to give the Attorney General McCarthy's list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants "before the sun goes down." McCarthy responded, sounding noticeably intoxicated, by saying that if Welch was so concerned about persons aiding the Communist Party, he should check on a man in his Boston law office named Fred Fisher, who had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. had called "the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party." At the time Brownell was seeking to designate the NLG as a Communist front organization. This was a violation of a pre-hearing agreement not to raise the issue because the designation was being litigated. Welch responded:

:"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness...."

When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch cut him short:

:"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?"


The Army-McCarthy hearings are considered to have been a key event in the fall of McCarthy from his position of power in American politics and society. Many in the television audience saw him as bullying, reckless and dishonest, and the daily newspaper summaries of the hearings were also frequently unfavorable to him. [cite book
last = Morgan
first = Ted
title = Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America
publisher = Random House
year = 2004
pages = pg. 489
id = ISBN 0-8129-7302-X
] [cite book
last = Streitmatter
first = Rodger
title = Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History
publisher = Westview Press
year = 1998
pages = pg. 167
id = ISBN 0-8133-3211-7
] Indeed, McCarthy himself referred to his performance in the hearings, saying, "I was brash, smug, and smart-alecky. I was pompous and petulant." [cite book
title = Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 5
publisher = Government Printing Office
month = January | year = 2003
pages = xvi
url =
] Late in the hearings, McCarthy, after refusing to sign a document that he claimed had false statements in it, rebuked Senator Stuart Symington by saying, "You're not fooling anyone. I'm sure of that." Symington fired back with an angry but prophetic remark to McCarthy: "Senator, the American people have had a look at you now for six weeks. You're not fooling anyone, either." [ cite book
last = Powers
first = Richard Gid
title = Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism
publisher = Yale University Press
year = 1998
pages = pg. 271
id = ISBN 0-300-07470-0
] In Gallup polls of January, 1954, 50% of those polled had a positive opinion of McCarthy. In June, that number had fallen to 34%. In the same polls, those with a negative opinion of McCarthy increased from 29% to 45%. [cite book
last = Fried
first = Richard M.
coauthors =
year = 1990
title = Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective
publisher = Oxford University Press
pages = pg. 138
id = ISBN 0-19-504361-8

On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted by a 2/3 margin to censure McCarthy. Though he was not expelled from his office, his role as major figure in national politics was effectively ended. McCarthy continued to chair the Subcommittee on Investigations, investigating Communist infiltration up until 3 January, 1955, the day the 84th Congress was inaugurated. McCarthy would die just two years later.


References and further reading

*cite book
last = Adams
first =John G.
authorlink =John G. Adams
title =Without Precedent: The Story of the Death of McCarthyism
publisher =W. W. Norton & Company
year =1983
id = ISBN 039330230X

*cite book
last = Straight
first =Michael
title =Trial by Television and Other Encounters
publisher = Devon Publishers
date = 1954/1979
id = ISBN 0934160031

ee also

*Joseph McCarthy
*John L. McClellan
*Point of Order!
*House Un-American Activities Committee
*United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security

External links

* [ Transcript of Army-McCarthy hearings, missing volumes 8-11, 28-31, 48-54]
* [ Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations]
* [ The Army-McCarthy Hearings]
* [ McCarthy-Welch Exchange "Have You No Sense of Decency" (transcript and sound file)]
* [ New York Times review of "Point of Order!"]
*imdb title|0058481|Point of Order!
* [ Welch-McCarthy Confrontation, NY Times]

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