Edexcel History: The USA: A Divided Union?

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History – America

Topic 1 – McCarthy and the Red Scare

The McCarthy Anti Communist ‘Witch Hunts’

-After World War 2 ended in 1945 the USA and USSR’s relationship collapsed. They had rival political systems that had co-operated to defeat the Nazis. Once Hitler had been defeated there was very little to keep them together.

-The USA was also worried about the Soviet takeover of countries in Eastern Europe and feared the Domino effect.

-As a result a fear of Communism developed in the USA. The Federal Loyalty Employee Committee (1947) was an attempt to stop Communists working for the US Government. The HUAC also monitored the activities of suspected Communists.

-In the early 1950’s Senator Joseph McCarthy tapped into this fear of Communism, he announced that he had a list of 205 communists working for the US government. He never produced any definite evidence.

-Many suspects were public servants, such as teachers and civil servants or those in ‘alternative jobs’ like actors and writers.

-Many actors, writers and directors were ‘blacklisted’ by big studios. A group of ten of these people were put on trial. They became known as the ‘Hollywood Ten’.

-Thousands of people were accused of being Communists; over 600 teachers lost their jobs. Alger Hiss was imprisoned and the Rosenberg’s were executed.

-Many politicians were too scared to stand up to McCarthy in case they were accused of being sympathetic to Communism. Americans were told to look out for Communists amongst their friends and family.

-In 1953 McCarthy turned his attention to the US Army, despite the fact that it had just fought against Communism in the Korean War. The Army hired a lawyer called Joseph Welch to represent it.

-Welch humiliated McCarthy in the television hearings, he showed him to be a bully who tried to intimidate his opponents. Welch famously asked McCarthy “Have you no decency Sir?” The journalist, Ed Murrow, also criticised McCarthy’s methods.

-McCarthy was forced to resign in 1954, despite this anti communist suspicion continued in the USA. It is still illegal to be a Communist in the ‘land of free’.


Key Terms and Definitions


The Federal Employee Loyalty Programme was set up by Truman in 1947 to check the security risks of those working in the Government. The aim of thee checks was to find spies and those in favour of communism – no spies were found and by 1952, 6.6 million federal workers had been checked.


The House of Un-American Activities Committee was designed to check up on ‘Un-American’ or Communist activities. 1n 1947, the committee started to look at the film industry, due to a fear that it was trying to put across communist ideology. Ten writers and directors chose to remain silent in court after having been accused of being Communists; they were all sacked and spend a year in jail – the ‘Hollywood Ten’.



Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss was a major political figure in the senate. Whittaker Chambers, an editor for



Thank you, very useful reading

Fran Nash

This is very useful, thank you. I do however have to point out a mistake when you talk about the NAACP. You said that the membership grew from 500,000 to 450,000. That's not a growth, that's an increase.

Ali Saleh

you mean decrease..

Antonia Loizou

I just wanted to point out something, are you sure that it is still illegal to be a communist in America and if it is can you show me where you got the information from? Thanks!

Hass Khan

this looks great :) cheers


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