McCarthy doubles down on McCarthyism


This mini-lesson gives students a chance to use their historical thinking skills to take a deeper look at what was happening in the US government during the Cold War and the anti-Communism scare.


Read this telegram (see additional pages via the link) from Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Harry Truman, use these questions as a guide during your reading:

  • Why do you think McCarthy chose to write this telegram? What were his goals?
  • What does this document tell you about the events occurring in our government when it was written?
  • What are McCarthy’s demands? Who does McCarthy accuse of being a spy?

Next, read President Truman’s unsent response and discuss the following questions:

  • Discuss the general tone of Truman’s response, what could you infer his opinions about McCarthy are at this time? Why?
  • Do you think McCarthy and Truman agree on the problem that is happening at this time? Why do you think they have such different responses to the same issue?
  •  Why do you think Truman left this response un-sent?
  • How do you think the events unfolding in these two documents are reflected in society today?

Document Source: Telegram from Senator Joseph R. McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman; 2/11/1950; President’s Secretary’s Files (Truman Administration). [Online Version,, September 10, 2018]

Skills used: 

Sourcing, Contextualization, Corroboration


These documents are important historical documents because the words come right from the mouths of two powerful players in history. The documents are meant to show two very different positions on the same subject, allowing for corroboration and a fuller understanding of the politics at this time in American history. Reading them and exploring the questions about their varying opinions allows for discussion around the various viewpoints of the Cold War and America’s uneasiness about Communism as a whole. Both documents allow for broad contextualization about the events and fears occurring in America at the time. The discussion question regarding what students could infer about the events in the government allow for contextualization as well. Sourcing is practiced when the students are asked to discuss why McCarthy chose to write the telegram, and why Truman never sent his response.


2 Replies to “McCarthy doubles down on McCarthyism”

  1. Nice work, Jana! It is often easy to see history as one stream of events unfolding in sequence. I appreciate this lesson because the documents in it show that history is not so simple. Multiple opinions and outcomes always exist. To better understand both historical and current events, it is crucial we are able to see multiple sides of an issue. This lesson helps us do that – as I teach the Cold War this year, I look forward to doing something similar in the classroom.


  2. I really like this lesson, Jana. It is a great example of what goes on in government behind closed doors.
    I love the use of letters from two opposing sides to allow students to analyze the situation better.

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