Study Guide

McCarthyism & Red Scare Timeline

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May 17, 1938

Dies Committee

The Dies Committee—later known as the House Un-American Activities Committee—is formed to investigate subversive activities within the United States. The committee, headed by Texas Democrat Martin Dies, initially targets Nazi sympathizers but eventually comes to focus almost entirely on the communist threat.

Jun 28, 1940

Smith Act

Congress passes the Smith Act, which makes it illegal to assist any groups "who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of the government of the United States by force or violence." Hundreds of American communists will later be charged for violations of the Smith Act.

Feb 4, 1945


Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin meet in the Soviet resort town of Yalta to make plans for the postwar era. In a problematic compromise, Roosevelt accedes to Churchill's and Stalin's plans for spheres of influence in Europe even while convincing the British and Soviet leaders to sign on to a statement affirming the principles of democracy.

Apr 12, 1945

Roosevelt Dies

Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies of cerebral hemorrhage just 82 days into his fourth term, elevating newly installed Vice President Harry S. Truman to the presidency.

Mar 5, 1946

Iron Curtain Speech

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivers his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at a college in Missouri. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic," Churchill declares, "an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent" of Europe.

Feb 25, 1948

Czech Coup

A coup in Czechoslovakia installs a communist government, heightening American fears that communists will seize power in Eastern Europe by any means necessary.

Mar 12, 1947

Truman Doctrine

President Harry S. Truman requests congressional funding to support the government of Greece in its civil war against Communist insurgents, couching his request in dramatic rhetoric now known as the Truman Doctrine, which defines communist victory anywhere in the world as a threat to American security: "Totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States."

Mar 21, 1947

Truman Loyalty Oaths

President Harry S. Truman issues Executive Order 9835, establishing a Loyalty-Security Program for all federal employees. Designed to pre-empt Republican charges of communist infiltration of the government, Truman's loyalty oaths only heighten the country's growing fears of communist subversion.

Jun 23, 1947

Taft-Hartley Act

Congress passes the Taft-Hartley Labor-Management Relations Act over President Truman's veto, sharply curtailing the rights of organized labor while forcing unions to purge communists from their ranks.

Oct 20, 1947

House Un-American Activities Committee

The House Un-American Activities Committee opens hearings investigating communist activity in Hollywood.

Oct 27, 1947

John Lawson Refuses

Screenwriter John Howard Lawson, a hostile witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee, refuses to answer, on constitutional grounds, whether he is or was a member of the Communist Party. He is ejected from the hearing and later charged with Contempt of Congress.

Nov 24, 1947

Hollywood Ten

The House of Representatives issues citations for Contempt of Congress to the Hollywood Ten: John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo.

Nov 25, 1947

Hollywood Blacklisting

The Motion Picture Association confirms the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten from employment in the film industry.

May 1, 1948

Arrest in Alabama

Glenn Taylor, Progressive Party candidate for vice president on Henry Wallace's ticket, is arrested in Alabama for violating segregation laws by attempting to hold an integrated political rally. Taylor's jailor is Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor, who will later became notorious for unleashing attack dogs on peaceful civil rights protestors associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jun 24, 1948

Berlin Airlift

The Soviets blockade West Berlin, leaving the city—which is surrounded on all sides by communist East Germany—without access to food and supplies. The Truman administration organizes a military airlift to supply the besieged city. The Berlin Airlift will last for nearly a year, delivering 1.5 million tons of supplies via 200,000 separate flights before the blockade is lifted in May 1949.

Jul 2, 1948

Soviets Reject Marshall Plan

The Soviet Union rejects participation in the Marshall Plan, with Stalin's Foreign Minister, V.M. Molotov, calling it an "imperialist" plot to enslave Eastern Europe.

Jul 15, 1948


The Democratic Party Convention nominates President Truman to run again as its candidate for president. Northern liberals succeed in including a strong civil rights plank in the party platform, leading to the defection of conservative Southern Democrats to the segregationist States Rights (or Dixiecrat) Party.

Jul 17, 1948

States Rights Party

Southern Democrats opposed to President Truman and the Democratic Party's liberal position on civil rights convene in Alabama to form the new States Rights Party (better known as Dixiecrats), which nominates South Carolinian Strom Thurmond for president.

Jul 26, 1948

Truman Desegregates the Military

President Truman signs Executive Order 9981, ending racial segregation of the armed forces.

Aug 3, 1948

Alger Hiss Named a Communist

Former communist Whittaker Chambers testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee, naming Alger Hiss—an important figure in Franklin Roosevelt's State Department—as a communist agent.

Aug 5, 1948

Alger Hiss Testifies

Alger Hiss testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee, denying that he is, or ever was, a member of the Communist Party.

Aug 25, 1948

First TV Broadcast of Congressional Hearing

Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers both testify in a televised hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee. It is the first time any congressional hearing has been broadcast over television.

Nov 2, 1948

Truman’s Surprise Reelection

President Harry S. Truman is elected to a second term as president, defeating Republican Thomas Dewey, Progressive Henry Wallace, and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in the election of 1948.

May 12, 1949

Berlin Airlift Ends

The Berlin airlift ends in victory for the Western Allies as the Soviets lift their blockade on the city.

Aug 29, 1949

Soviet Atom Bomb

The Soviet Union successfully detonates its first atomic bomb. The loss of its atomic monopoly comes as a terrible shock to the United States and its people.

Oct 1, 1949

Mao Victorious in China

Chairman Mao declares victory in the Chinese Civil War, creating the Communist People's Republic of China.

Nov 2, 1949

CIO Boots Communist Labor

The Congress of Industrial Organizations votes in its national convention to revoke the charter of the United Electrical Workers, the third largest union in the CIO, for failing to purge itself of communist influence. Ultimately, 12 left-leaning unions, and countless individual left-wing organizers, will be booted from the CIO.

Dec 10, 1949

Chiang Kai-Shek Flees

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, longtime American ally and leader of the anticommunist Chinese Nationalists, flees mainland China to organize the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan.

Jan 21, 1950

Alger Hiss Convicted

Alger Hiss is convicted for perjury after a jury concludes that he made false statements in denying Whittaker Chambers' allegations that the two men had known each other as communists in the 1930s. Hiss will serve more than three years in federal prison.

Feb 9, 1950

Joseph McCarthy Claims Targets

Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy gives a speech in Wheeling, Virginia, dramatically claiming, "I have in my hand a list of 205 cases of individuals who appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party" within the United States State Department.

Jun 25, 1950

North Korea Invades South

Communist North Korean troops invade South Korea, beginning the Korean War.

Mar 29, 1951

Rosenbergs Convicted

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are convicted of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

Mar 5, 1953

Stalin Dies

Soviet communist leader Joseph Stalin dies of a stroke.

Apr 22, 1954

McCarthy Hearings Begin

The Army-McCarthy hearings begin, broadcast live in their entirety by ABC television.

Jun 9, 1954

Joseph Welch Accuses “no sense of decency”

Army attorney Joseph Welch, disgusted by McCarthy's attacks against his own assistant counsel, asks the senator, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"

Dec 2, 1954

McCarthy Censured

The United States Senate censures Senator Joseph McCarthy for "conduct contrary to senatorial tradition."

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