Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Joshua Scott
American History
Huac Trials
Red Scare
Cold War

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

The lesson will be a traditional lecture based lesson using primary source documents from President Truman and Joseph McCarthy.  I will also incorporate a documentary movie on the HUAC trials and McCarthy.  My main focus will be on the Red Scare and the affect it had on the overall Cold War.


I am using this lesson to emphasize how times of intense fear and tension allow charismatic leaders rise to national fame and push for a restriction of civil liberties in the name of national security.  Many times these politicians are working for a political/personal gain at the expense of fellow countrymen/women.  Not only are civil liberties lost, but we also sacrifice possible national gains simultaneously.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Standards –Show Me Standards-

            6 – Relationships of groups to institutions and cultural traditions.

            7 – Use of tools of Social Science inquiry.

Grade Level Expectations – Social Studies 9-12

            USH.2a.D.(4). USHIS – Evolution of US Policy during the Cold War.

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

5. (A) analyzes domestic life in the United States during the Cold War era (e.g., McCarthyism, federal aid to education, interstate highway system, space as the New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

"Good Night and Good Luck"- use specific clips of McCarthy interviewed by Edward R. Murrow detailing the public downfall of Senator McCarthy.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Include the letter from Senator McCarthy to President Truman, dated February 11, 1950 describing his speech in Wheeling claiming to have the names of 57 communists in the state department and asking the President to become active in kicking “communists” out of the government. 

http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/mccarthy-telegram/images/telegram-page-1.gif  (same address through 6 pages)

Include President Truman’s letter to Senator McCarthy in response to McCarthy’s charges and suggestions to the President. 


You will also need a list of the questions HUAC used in their interrogations of suspected communists or you can use the opening scene of Jim Carey’s The Majestic.

For a transcript of a full hearing… http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/texts/huac.html Ayn Rand

Technology Required:

Technology-Power Point, TV and VCR/DVD

Full description of activity or assignment.
  1. Open class with a pink slip on a student’s desk falsely accusing him/her of stealing.  Give no proof, and do not make the accuser known.  Then turn to a friend of the student and charge them also for cooperating with initial suspect.  Discuss this type of justice with the class.


  1. Refresh class of the first Red Scare in American History. 
    1. Attorney General Palmer
    2. Mass Hysteria and deporting calls of communism


  1. Senator Joseph McCarthy
    1. Students will compare the tone of the two letters.

  2. Wheeling  speech
  3. Senator McCarthy’s letter to President Truman * primary source*
  4. President Truman’s response letter *primary source* (Students will compare the tone of the two letters.)
  5. HUAC
  6. Hearing operations and questions asked
  7. 5th Amendment Right – what does it and doesn’t it pertain to?


  1. Misconceptions of McCarthyism
    1. Period of McCarthyism
    2. Who was accused
    3. Successful Case – Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg
    4. Ridiculous case – Ethel Rosenberg as an attack on civil liberties


  1. Too Far
    1. Eisenhower and the Army
    2. Edward R. Murrow and CBS *show clip from GNGL*


  1. Consequences
    1. African Americans quest for Human Right dissolved to Civil Rights

                                                              i.      Compare human/civil rights

  1. Entertainment Industry

                                                              i.      Hollywood Ten

  1. World view of the United States
  2. Political Chill in America
  3. Joseph McCarthy

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Students will research someone not mentioned in class who was affected by McCarthyism.  They must have the following information typed and ready to discuss in three class periods:

  1. Name of the victim.
  2. Year the victim was charged.
  3. The crime charged with.
  4. Evidence presented against the accused.
  5. Why do you believe this person was singled out?
  6. Outcome of the case.
  7. How can we as a society make sure nothing like this happens again?