The Red Scare and McCarthyism

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Key learning goals

  • To be able to explain: the reasons for the Red Scare, including the Cold War; the impact of events in the USA on the Red Scare; and the role of McCarthy and the impact of McCarthyism on the USA.

Checklist of key concepts personalities and events that you should know and understand:

  • America’s 1st Red Scare – 1919
  • J. Edgar Hoover, Head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 1920s; gives speech to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), founded 1938
  • Federal Loyalty Boards (March 1947)- set up by Truman to investigate the loyalty of Americans in government service.
  • HUAC investigates Hollywood Ten (October 1947) – refuse to co-operate and are thrown in prison; Dalton Trumbo will work clandestinely
  • Blacklists of Hollywood professionals are drawn up to prevent them working or travelling abroad.
  • Whittaker Chambers denounced Alger Hiss in 1948; the trial began in 1949 and he was convicted of perjury on the strength of evidence brought by Richard Nixon, Representative (12th District California) 1946-50
  • McCarran Act (August 1950, strengthened 1952) forced interviewees for federal employment to disclose if they had been communists in the past.
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin) 1947-1957 leds investigations into Hollywood, Congress and the Army (but eventually dies in disgrace from alcoholism)
  • Tydings Committee (January 1950)launched against McCarthy but the latter too strong
  • Klaus Fuchs (Trial in Britain, January 1950)leads to arrest of David Greenglass (Feb 1950) and then Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; tried in 1951; executed in 1953

Key Events

  • 1947
    • March: President Truman announced the end of isolationism and the need for containment (Truman Doctrine)
    • March 26th: J. Edgar Hoover testified before HUAC and argued that ‘for every party member there were 10 others ready, willing and able to do the party’s work.’
    • March: Truman gave an order that allowed government employees to be removed from their posts if there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that they were disloyal to the United States. The Federal Loyalty Boards were set up to investigate and between 1947 and 1951 3 million government workers were investigated and up to 3,000 were either fired or forced to resign because they were considered a security risk – although no evidence of actual spying was found.
    • October: HUAC begin questioning 41 writers, producers and directors about communism in Hollywood. 10 Refused to answer and were jailed for 1 year for contempt and were blacklisted
  • 1948
    • Alger Hiss, a former member of the State Department who had been an important adviser to President Roosevelt in 1930s and during the Second World War, was named as a member of the Communist party during an HUAC hearing by Whittaker Chambers.
  • 1949
    • August: Hiss trial begins
    • The film the ‘Red Menace’ is distributed to American cinemas. The plot: An ex-GI named Bill Jones (Robert Rockwell) becomes involved with the Communist Party USA. While in training, Jones falls in love with one of his instructors. At first true followers of communism, they realize their mistake when they witness party leaders murder a member who questions the party’s principles. When they try to leave the party, the two are marked for murder and hunted by the party’s assassins.


Reasons for the Red Scare: The Cold War

  • Readings
    • K. Taylor, A divided Union: Civil Rights in the USA, 1945-74, pp. 5-8.


  1. Complete the exam style question on p. 7. What impression does the author give about the US government and the threat of communism? Remember to use the extract to answer the question. Begin with overall impression and support this by reference to language, selection of evidence, and the points of emphasis.
    1. Make a timeline of the Cold War between 1950 and 1955, by plotting the line in the middle of the page. Place the events of the Cold War on the left of this line (you will complete the timeline later). Be sure to include:
      • The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan
      • Eastern Europe becoming communist
      • Communist uprising in Greece
      • The Berlin Crisis
      • Communist uprisings in Asia
      • China becoming communist
      • Soviets developing the atomic bomb
      • the Korean War
    2. Which events would have caused American citizens the most concern and why?

Reasons for the Red Scare: Events in the USA

  • Readings:
    • Taylor, pp. 9-12.
    • Walsh, pp.373

  1. As you read through Taylor, complete the right-hand side of the timeline you started on page 6, with the events of the Red Scare in the USA.
  2. Who was J. Edgar Hoover and what does his speech to the HUAC in March 1947 (Source C, p. 10) imply about the size of the American Communist Party?
  3. Find examples of language in source C that Hoover used to convey his belief that communism was a huge threat to the USA
  4. Why did J. Edgar Hoover think the HUAC would be useful in his fight against communism?
  5. Why did the HUAC start with Hollywood?
  6. Write a news headline for (a)Hoover’s testimony to the HUAC; and another for the (b) the Hollywood Ten.
  7. Write a sentence for each of the following, explaining its role in the Red Scare: Federal Employee Loyaltee Program; Hiss Case; Rosenbergs; McCarran Act.
  8. Were international or domestic events more important in creating the Red Scare?
  9. Which factors listed in question caused the biggest fear of communism in the USA? Give reasons for your choice.
  10. Attempt the C question on Taylor, p. 12.

The role of McCarthy in the Red Scare

    • Readings:
      • Taylor, pp. 13-16
      • Walsh, pp.373


  1. Read the speech by Senator McCarthy in source F on p. 13. Explain what you think would have been the reaction of many Americans on hearing that speech.
  2. Why did so many Americans believe the accusations of Joseph McCarthy?
  3. Explain why anti-communist hysteria reached a peak in the 1950s
  4. Watch the episode of See It Now. What does it show about the methods McCarthy used?
  5. Create a mindmap of McCarthy’s methods
  6. Complete the exam style question (6 marks) on page 16

Paul Robeson interview/

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