Senate Resolution 301: Censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy (1954)

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Citation: Senate Resolution 301, December 2, 1954; SEN 83A-B4, Records of the United States Senate; Record Group 46; National Archives.
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On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had led the fight in Congress to root out suspected Communists from the Federal Government. The censure described his behavior as "contrary to senatorial traditions."

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The early years of the Cold War saw the United States facing a hostile Soviet Union, the "loss" of China to communism, and war in Korea. In this politically charged atmosphere, fears of Communist influence over American institutions spread easily. On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, claimed that he had a list of 205 State Department employees who were Communists. While he offered little proof, the claims gained the Senator great notoriety. In June, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and six fellow Republicans issued a "Declaration of Conscience" asserting that because of McCarthy’s tactics, the Senate had been "debased to the level of a forum for hate and character assassination." However, McCarthy took advantage of the Cold War atmosphere of fear and suspicion and with strong support in the opinion polls, McCarthy’s attacks and interventions in senatorial elections brought defeat to some of his party’s Democratic opponents.

After Republicans took control of the White House and Congress in 1953, McCarthy was named chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and its Subcommittee on Investigations. From these posts he continued to accuse Government agencies of being "soft" on communism, but he was now attacking a Republican administration. In 1954 McCarthy’s investigation of security threats in the U.S. Army was televised. McCarthy’s bullying of witnesses turned public opinion against the Senator. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure him, describing his behavior as "contrary to senatorial traditions."

Republican Senators Ralph Flanders of Vermont, Arthur Watkins of Utah, and Margaret Chase Smith of Maine led the efforts to discipline McCarthy. Flanders introduced two separate resolutions against McCarthy, one removing McCarthy from his chairmanships and the other calling for his censure. The censure resolution moved forward with debate beginning July 30, 1954. The full Senate took up the resolution on November 5. This copy of the resolution catches the debate on November 9 as the Senate refined the wording of its resolution. The substance of the first count, charging McCarthy with failure to cooperate with a Senate subcommittee, remained unchanged in the final resolution. The second count was dropped for a condemnation of McCarthy’s attacks on the very members of the committee that considered his censure.

For more information, visit The National Archives' Treasures of Congress Online Exhibit.

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