• On February 9, 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy made a speech to the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he accused members of the U.S. Department of State of being communists. The so-called “Wheeling speech” launched a period of “McCarthyism”—a “Red Scare” that did not end until the late 1950s.
     
    McCarthyism targeted individuals for having socialist or communist sympathies. The Soviet Union, the Cold War enemy of the United States, had a communist economy. People accused of being communists were suspected of being disloyal to the U.S.
     
    Thousands of teachers, writers, union supporters, and government employees were “blacklisted” and lost their jobs after being accused of supporting communism. Celebrities, too, were accused, including musician Leonard Bernstein, civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, and physicist Robert Oppenheimer. 
     
    Today, McCarthyism is defined as “the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, often without proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accuse Verb

    to blame or charge with a fault or crime.

    blacklist Noun

    list of individuals or organizations suspected of disloyalty or wrongdoing.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    Cold War Noun

    (1947-1991) conflict between the Soviet Union (and its allies) and the United States (and its allies). The two sides never confronted each other directly.

    communist economy Noun

    system where the distribution of goods and services, as well as prices, are largely determined by the government. Also called a managed economy.

    Department of State Noun

    department of U.S. government responsible for international relations, whose mission is to "Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community."

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    McCarthyism Noun the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, often without proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.
    physicist Noun

    person who studies the relationship between matter, energy, motion, and force.

    Red Scare Noun spreading of fear about the potential rise of communism.
    socialist Noun

    person who supports greater community control of the production and distribution of goods and services.

    Soviet Union Noun

    (1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.

    suspect Noun

    person accused of a crime.

    union Noun organization of workers formed to protect the rights and interests of its members.
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