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This week in history

The Red Scare began this week in 1950 in Wheeling when a then-obscure Wisconsin Republican serving in the U.S. Senate delivered a Lincoln Day speech in which he warned of hundreds of Communists who worked in the U.S. State Department with Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s knowledge. McCarthy had planned to talk about housing in his Feb. 9, 1950, speech at the McLure Hotel, but he switched gears at the suggestion of former U.S. Sen. Francis Love, a fellow lawyer who met him at the airport and encouraged him to use his speech to address the dangers of communism. It was the start of years in the national spotlight for McCarthy, though from the beginning his allegations wavered – in Wheeling, he said he had a list of 205 Communists but in charges made over the next few days, the number changed and he never produced a list. Finally, in the spring of 1954, the Senator launched hearings into the Army, and the 36-day spectacle broadcast live on TV by ABC and seen by some 20 million viewers proved his undoing. After nothing came of McCarthy’s allegations, he found himself censured by his colleagues. McCarthy continued to serve in the Senate until his death May 2, 1957, in the naval hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 48.

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