Senator Joseph McCarthy was the leading American anticommunist figure in the late 1940s and early 50s. McCarthy himself was a product of Wisconsin. He left school at 14 years of age to tend to a farm. Six years later he returned and completed High School. The following year he was a student at Marquette University. He received his law degree from that institution in 1935. Eleven years later, he was elected to the Senate.
McCarthy first began his witch hunt in February of 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia. This is when he waved a piece of paper and claimed it had the names of 205 Communist Party members who held high positions in the State Department. A special committee looked into the accusations, and then denounced them all as false, and attacked McCarthy for unethical tactics. For the next couple of years these attacks continued, on several people, no one was safe.
After winning reelection in 1952, McCarthy had guaranteed himself a position of chairman of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee of the Senate Government Operations Committee. His first attack was on Charles E. Bohlen. This was the man who President Eisenhower had nominated for the ambassador to the Soviet Union. This accusation put quite a distance between the President and the Senator.
Each new investigation into McCarthy's accusations drove him into further excess. In November of 1953, he attacked President Eisenhower on national television of not acting to eliminate subversives from the federal government and that America had been "reduced to a state of whining and whimpering appeasement."
In December of 1953, McCarthy accused one person too many. This time the communist was supposed to be Major Irving Peress, who was a memeber of the left-wing American Labor Party. In November of 1953 Peress had been routinely promoted to the rank of major under the Doctor Draft Law, although he invoked the 5th Amendment when asked about loyalty. A few weeks later the Pentagon learned of his background, and ordered a discharge. McCarthy called Peress before his subcommittee on January 30, 1954. When McCarthy asked about the loyalty of Peress, he again took the 5th. McCarthy then demanded that Peress be court-martialed, but the process of the discharge had already started. Immediately after his appearance before McCarthy, Peress was given an honorable discharge.
From this point on, the public image of McCarthy dwindled. Politicians and comedians everywhere took part in the bashing. Perhaps the most damaging of attack came from then Vice President Richard Nixon, who speaking on behalf of the administration on March 13th, 1954, he denounced "reckless talk and questionable methods" of McCarthyites. From here it was only a matter of time. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy by a vote of 67 to 22. McCarthy responded with a bitter attack on the Eisenhower administration, and apologized to the American people for urging them to vote for Eisenhower. His health deteriorated, and he began to drink. McCarthy died on May 2, 1957. The official cause of death was acute hepatitis. However, according to a number of sources, it was due to liver cirrhosis.