On February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin claimed that 205 communists were presently "working and shaping the policy of the State Department." Although McCarthy produced no documentation for this preposterous charge, he quickly emerged as the nation's dominant Cold War politician?the yardstick by which citizens measured patriotic or scurrilous behavior. McCarthy's popularity was not difficult to explain. Americans were frightened by Soviet aggression in Europe. The years since WORLD WAR II had brought a series of shocks?
the Hiss trial, the fall of China, the KOREAN WAR?which fueled the Red Scare and kept it alive.
President HARRY S. TRUMAN played a role as well. In trying to defuse the "Communist issue," he established a federal LOYALTY-SECURITY PROGRAM with few procedural safeguards. The program relied on nameless informants; it penalized personal beliefs and associations, not just OVERT ACTS; and it accelerated the Red hunt by conceding the possibility that a serious security problem existed inside the government and elsewhere. Before long, state and local officials were competing to see who could crack down hardest on domestic subversion. Indiana forced professional wrestlers to sign a LOYALTY OATH. Tennessee ordered the death penalty for those seeking to overthrow the state government. Congress, not to be outdone, passed the INTERNAL SECURITY ACT of 1950 over Truman's veto, requiring registration of "Communist action groups," whose members could then be placed in internment camps during "national emergencies."
Despite his personal commitment to CIVIL LIBERTIES, President Truman appointed four Supreme Court Justices who opposed the libertarian philosophy of WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS and HUGO L. BLACK. As a result, JUDICIAL REVIEW was all but abandoned in cases involving the rights of alleged subversives. The Court upheld loyalty oaths as a condition of public employment, limited the use of the Fifth Amendment by witnesses before congressional committees, and affirmed the dismissal of a government worker on the unsworn testimony of unnamed informants. As ROBERT G. MCCLOSKEY noted, the Court "became so tolerant of governmental restriction on freedom of expression as to suggest it [had] abdicated the field."
By the mid-1950s, the Red Scare had begun to subside. The death of Joseph Stalin, the Korean armistice, and the Senate's censure of Senator McCarthy all contributed to the easing of...