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Eugene Joseph McCarthy

Eugene Joseph McCarthy

Eugene Joseph McCarthy (born 1916) had a long and influential career in American politics. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives he stood up to the Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In the late 1950s he chaired the Senate Special Committee on Unemployment, part of an effort to investigate the causes of and solutions to unemployment. He also opposed incumbent President Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1967 in an effort to force debate on Vietnam. Since leaving politics, McCarthy has enjoyed a second career as a prolific writer.

Eugene McCarthy was born March 29, 1916, in Watkins, Minnesota. He received his bachelor of arts degree from St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota (1935), and his master of arts at the University of Minnesota (1939). From 1935 to 1940 he taught in the Minnesota Public Schools, returning to St. John's University in 1940 as an instructor in economics. From 1946 until 1949 he taught economics and sociology at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1945 McCarthy married Abigail Quigley. They had four children: Margaret, Michael, Mary and Ellen.

Organized New Party

McCarthy entered politics in St. Paul in 1947 as an organizer of the newly fused Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. The following year he ran for Congress in Minnesota's traditionally Republican Fourth Congressional District and won by 25,000 votes. During his 10 years in the House of Representatives, McCarthy built a solid liberal-internationalist record. In 1952 he showed great courage by debating the Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy on national television. On numerous occasions in the House, he attempted to curtail the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His chief goal was to reorganize the House to facilitate the passage of liberal legislation. But by 1958 McCarthy had grown tired of the House. "The House," he remarked, "is not a home."

Chaired Committee on Unemployment

McCarthy won a Senate seat in 1958 following another of his low-budget campaigns. While a senator, he chaired the Special Committee on Unemployment. The committee dedicated itself to studying the causes of unemployment—and ways to alleviate them—holding hearings in McCarthy's native Minnesota, as well as in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

"Unemployment," he said in 1959, "is first of all a human and social problem, affecting the welfare and happiness of individual workers and of their families." He was critical of the government's lack of urgency about maintaining full employment. He said, "there has been no real recognition of the basic fact that to be strong and healthy and secure an economy must expand and grow dynamically" (from committee archives, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI).

McCarthy supported Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Democratic primaries, nominated Adlai Stevenson at the Democratic National Convention, and traveled cross-country in support of John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency. In the Senate, McCarthy was more concerned about the general quality and direction of policy than with the detailed work of committees or the drafting of legislation. This aloofness made him an intellectually effective, yet totally unconventional, member of the Senate. Until the selection of Humphrey as the vice presidential nominee in 1964, many Democratic leaders had considered McCarthy the logical choice for the nomination. President Lyndon Johnson himself had led McCarthy to expect it.

Tried to Force Vietnam Talks

During his second Senate term McCarthy emerged as one of the country's leading foreign policy critics. He first broke with the Johnson administration in 1965 over American intervention in the Dominican Republic. Possessing no special knowledge or interest in Vietnam, McCarthy at first accepted administration rationalizations regarding American participation in that conflict—even after other senators had begun to condemn United States involvement. In 1966, however, McCarthy became convinced that peace in Vietnam required a political settlement with the Vietcong. He began to oppose American participation in the war at every turn.

Unable to affect policy, McCarthy entered the presidential race on Nov. 30, 1967, in order to force a debate over Vietnam within his party. Supported by students and suburban volunteers, McCarthy ran a close race against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, took the Wisconsin primary easily, and defeated Robert Kennedy in Oregon. He lost to Kennedy in California. McCarthy's low-key, polished style, and his frequent insistence on a coalition government in South Vietnam, made him a symbol of the nation's widespread dissatisfaction with the war. As a way of attempting to force Humphrey to adopt his positions, McCarthy withheld his support until late in the 1968 campaign. Shortly after the presidential election McCarthy announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate.

McCarthy has written numerous books on American politics and foreign policy: Frontiers in American Democracy (1960); Dictionary of American Politics (1962); A Liberal Answer to the Conservative Challenge (1964); The Limits of Power: America's Role in the World (1967); The Year of the People (1969): The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions (1975); A Political Bestiary: Viable Alternatives, Impressive Mandates and Other Fables (1978); America Revisited: 150 Years after Tocqueville (1978); The Ultimate Tyranny: the Majority Over the Majority (1980); Gene McCarthy's Minnesota: Memories of a Native Son (1982); The View from Rappahannock (1984); Up Until Now: A Memoir (1987); Required Reading: A Decade of Political Wit and Wisdom (1988); Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work (1989); and A Colony of the World: the United States Today: America's Senior Statesman Warns His Countrymen (1992).

McCarthy's writings have not been limited to politics. In 1977 he published Mr. Raccoon and His Friends, a collection of stories he originally shared with his children. The book includes a brief introduction by Ellen McCarthy. His published poetry includes the books Ground Fog and Night (1979); Other Things and the Aardvark (1970); "Older Sisters" McCall's (March 1985); and "Fawn Hall Among the Antinomians New Republic (Sept. 14-21, 1987). He also wrote the foreword to Alban Boultwood's Into His Splendid Light (1968), a collection of spiritual meditations.

McCarthy has published the following articles: "Dimpled Neos" New Republic (June 13, 1980); "Bad Calls" New Republic (Aug. 29, 1983); "Going Spare" New Republic (April 23, 1984); "Tips for Veeps" New Republic (July 16-23, 1984); "Big Benny" New Republic (Aug. 4, 1986); "Capital Takes Advantage" Commonweal (Jan. 30, 1987); "The 15 Commandments" New Republic (Feb. 22, 1988); "Pollution Absolution" New Republic (Oct. 29, 1990); "The Enclosure Movement" America (June 4-11, 1994); "The Vindicator" New Republic (May 15, 1995); and "Elegy for the Evening News" Commonweal (Nov. 3, 1995).

Further Reading

Eugene McCarthy is a subject of the 90-minute motion picture American is Hard to See (1970), a documentary of the 1968 American presidential campaign beginning with McCarthy's entry into the race.

Books on aspects of McCarthy's life include Joseph Frank, ed., The New Look in Politics: McCarthy's Campaign (University of New Mexico Press, 1968); David Frost, The Presidential Debate, 1968; David Frost Talks With Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (Stein and Day, 1968); Arthur Herzog, McCarthy for President (Viking Press, 1969); Ben Stavis, We Were the Campaign: New Hampshire to Chicago for McCarthy (Beacon Press, 1969); Jeremy Larner, Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968 (MacMillan, 1970). □

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McCarthy, Eugene Joseph


Eugene Joseph McCarthy served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to 1959 and as a U.S. senator from 1959 to 1971. He was a liberal Democrat who served in the shadow of his fellow Minnesota senator, hubert h. humphrey. His opposition to the vietnam war led to his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his candidacy galvanized the anti-war constituency and helped persuade President lyndon b. johnson not to seek re-election.

McCarthy was born March 29, 1916, in Watkins, Minnesota, the son of a livestock buyer. He graduated from Saint John's University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 1935, and worked on a master's degree at the University of Minnesota during the late 1930s while he was a high-school teacher in Mandan, North Dakota. McCarthy returned to Saint John's in 1940 to teach economics. After deciding not to join the priesthood, he left Saint John's in 1943 and served in the War Department's Intelligence Division until the close of world war ii in 1945.

After the war, McCarthy joined the faculty at the College of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, where he taught sociology. In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning a 22-year political career in Washington, D.C. During the 1950s McCarthy worked on labor and agricultural issues and maintained a liberal Democratic voting record. In 1957, he established an informal coalition of members of Congress, later formally organized as the House Democratic Study Group, to counter anti–civil rights actions of southern Democrats.

McCarthy was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958 and became a respected member of the body. His wit and scholarly, understated manner became recognized nationally, but his demeanor was no match for that of Humphrey, his energetic and voluble colleague. In 1964, President Johnson generated publicity during the Democratic National Convention by floating both senators' names for the vice presidential slot on his reelection ticket. In the end, he chose Humphrey.

In 1965, McCarthy joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was to become the center of congressional opposition to the Vietnam War. Although in 1964 McCarthy had voted for the tonkin gulf resolution (78 Stat. 384), which had given President Johnson the power to wage war in Vietnam, he soon had doubts about the wisdom of U.S. involvement. In January 1966, McCarthy and 14 other senators signed a public letter urging Johnson not to

resume bombing of North Vietnam after a brief holiday truce. From that first public criticism of the Vietnam War, McCarthy became a consistent, vocal opponent, making speeches against the war in 1966 and 1967.

In November 1967, McCarthy announced his candidacy for president, based specifically on Johnson's Vietnam policies. Although McCarthy's campaign was not taken seriously at first, an outpouring of support by largely unpaid, politically inexperienced student volunteers on college campuses across the country captured national attention and gave his candidacy political momentum. This momentum was demonstrated when McCarthy won 20 of the 24 New Hampshire delegates in the state's March 1968 primary. President Johnson narrowly won the popular vote in New Hampshire, but the delegates' response was a devastating blow for an incumbent president.

Encouraged by McCarthy's success, Senator robert f. kennedy, of New York, joined the race. McCarthy was embittered by Kennedy's decision because McCarthy had wanted Kennedy to run all along, but because Kennedy had refused, McCarthy ran instead. Kennedy had refused to contest Johnson's re-election when the odds appeared in the president's favor. Johnson, sensing the difficulty of his re-election, dropped out of the race in March 1968. Vice President Humphrey entered the race after Johnson's withdrawal.

From April to June 1968, McCarthy and Kennedy waged a series of primary battles. McCarthy won the first three, then lost four of the next five to Kennedy. Humphrey refused to run in the primaries, collecting his delegates through state political conventions and the cooperation of local party leaders.

Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, and the race then centered on McCarthy and Humphrey. Humphrey won the nomination, but unprecedented violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago helped to doom his candidacy against richard m. nixon. McCarthy refused to campaign for Humphrey, largely because Humphrey was reluctant to articulate a proposal to end the Vietnam War. Humphrey lost the November election to Nixon by a smaller margin than had been predicted, leading some Democratic leaders to complain that McCarthy's unwillingness to campaign for the ticket had cost Humphrey the election.

McCarthy declined to run for re-election to the Senate in 1970. Humphrey ran successfully

in his place. McCarthy ran a lackluster presidential campaign in 1972 and a better-organized independent presidential campaign in 1976. He lost both races and subsequently retired from the political arena.

McCarthy endorsed ronald reagan in 1980 over incumbent president jimmy carter and his running mate, Minnesotan Walter Mondale. In 1982, McCarthy ran for senator in Minnesota but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Mark Dayton.

"The war in Vietnam is of questionable loyalty and constitutionality … diplomatically indefensible … even in military terms [and] morally wrong."
—Eugene McCarthy

After leaving active politics, McCarthy concentrated on teaching, political commentary, and poetry writing. In 1998, he published No-Fault Politics: Modern Presidents, the Press, and Reformers. In 2001, a documentary film titled, I'm Sorry I Was Right: Eugene McCarthy was released. In the film, McCarthy discusses his past experiences, extrapolates on lessons learned from the Vietnam War, warns against the growing power of the military-industrial complex, and recites some of his poetry. In 2003, McCarthy continued to write, to travel the country, and to speak out against the war in Iraq.

further readings

Callahan, John. 2003."As War Looms." Commonweal (March 14).

Colford, Paul D. 1998. "Eugene McCarthy, Revisited." Newsday (August 26).

Eisele, Albert. 1972. Almost to the Presidency: A Biography of Two American Politicians. Blue Earth, Minn.: Piper.

McCarthy, Abigail. 1972. Private Faces, Public Places. New York: Doubleday.

McCarthy, Eugene. 1969. The Year of the People. New York: Doubleday.

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"McCarthy, Eugene Joseph." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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McCarthy, Eugene Joseph

Eugene Joseph McCarthy, 1916–2005, U.S. political leader, b. Watkins, Minn. He served (1942–46) as a technical assistant for military intelligence during World War II and then taught (1946–49) at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. As a liberal Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1949–59) and the Senate (1959–71), McCarthy gained a reputation as an intellectual in politics. In 1967 he announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination as a direct challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam policies. His antiwar position won the support of many liberals and his strong showing (Mar., 1968) in the New Hampshire primary brought Sen. Robert F. Kennedy into the race and helped persuade Johnson not to seek reelection. Defeated for the nomination by Hubert H. Humphrey, McCarthy retired from the Senate and resumed (1973) teaching, but subsequently mounted several (1972, 1976, 1988, 1992) futile campaigns for the presidency. Among his books are The Limits of Power (1967) and The Year of the People (1969).

See D. Sandbrook, Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004).

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"McCarthy, Eugene Joseph." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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