Leah Zafir

Mrs. Ephrati

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American History

12 December 2017

Salem
Witch Trials and The McCarthy Era

            The United States of America is filled with many historic
events, enriching its history. Many events that occur are compared to past
events in our history. In particular, the McCarthy Era in the 1950’s was
compared to the Salem Witch Trials which occurred in 1692. This correlation was
first made by Arthur Miller who wrote the play “The Crucible”. He connected the
time period of McCarthy to where there was a hunt for communists, to the Salem
Witch Trials where there was a hunt for witches. Following that, many
comparisons and contrasts have been made between the two. The Salem Witch
Trials and McCarthy Era are both similar, yet different. (Miller)

The
Salem Witch Trial was caused by a combination of numerous different factors and
events. Firstly, the people in Salem town were extremely religious, devout Puritans, who believed in the powers of the
devil. They believed that the devil would give supernatural powers to some
people, in response to their loyalty to
harm others. This created a fear amongst the colonist of witchcraft and the
supernatural. Hence, the scapegoating during the Salem Witch Trial was backed
by the fear and anxiety that resonated amidst the colony. In addition, there
was a lot of stress in the colony due to a recent smallpox epidemic, and attacks from the neighboring Native Americans.
(staff)
Also, there was a lot of politics going on in the town between the farmers who
wanted to separate from Salem town, and the wealthy who wanted to stay
connected due to their economic ties. This led to controversy over Rev. Samuel
Parris who was mostly supported by the farmers. All these factors together led
to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. (Sutter)

The
Salem Witch Trials took place in Massachusetts in the year 1692. It began when
the daughter and niece of Samuel Parris- Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams,
and other girls, began having fits and uncontrollable screaming outbursts. The village
doctor, William Griggs, claimed that the girls were bewitched. This led to the
girls accusing Tituba, Samuel Paris’s slave, and three other townspeople as
being witches. This led to the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials, in which
more and more community members were accused. Nineteen people were hung, and
two dogs were killed. Giles Corey was pressed to death with stones upon
refusing to testify. Most people were accused using spectral evidence, which is
evidence based on dreams or visions. The trials were put to an end when
Governor Phip’s own wife was accused, and
he made spectral evidence illegal. (Ushistory.com)  (Wallenfeldt)

The
Salem Witch Trial had many effects. First, the colony had neglected their crops
and homes and suffered from scarce food
and higher taxes. They dealt with crop failure for many years. Also, the law
required that you had to pay for your board and food before leaving the prison.
Many people were stuck in the prisons
since they could not afford to pay for their release. (Sutter)  Additionally, on January 14, 1692, a fast day with prayers was declared in
Salem over the great tragedy. Many people publicly confessed their guiltiness,
such as Judge Samuel Sewall. It was only in the year 1957, that the state of
Massachusetts properly made an apology. However, the lasting legacy of the
trial still lives on. (Wallenfeldt) 

 The McCarthy Era in the 1950’s, was a time in American
history when Senator Joseph McCarthy began accusing people of being part of the
communist party. After WWII, the United States enemy was no longer Japan and
Russia, but their former allies the Russians. This evolved into what became
known as the Cold War. As more and more countries became communist, a fear
began to spread in the United States. 
Especially in the year 1949, when China became communist, and Russia
detonated its first atomic bomb, the “Red Scare” became real. This fear enabled
Senator Joseph McCarthy to gain power, and no one dared to stand up against him.
He convinced the Americans that the government was infiltrated with communist.  In addition, at the same time, the Republican-led House Un-American Activities
Committee (HUAC) began gaining power. This committee’s job was to search out and
extricate communists and anti-Americans. Many liberals and Hollywood people
were being attacked. The environment in the 1950’s was one of panic and fear.
Hence, Senator McCarthy had the backing to launch his attacks and
investigations. (History.com)

McCarthy
became a senator in the year 1946. He
went on to claim that he had a list of 205 Communists in the State Government.  Later, he changed the number to only 57.
Hundreds of people were accused, and many were put on blacklists not allowing
them to obtain jobs. People were afraid to speak out against him since those who did were immediately
blacklisted or sent to jail. The only way to get out of it was by naming other people who were involved in the communist
party. This led to many innocent people being accused. No one was exempt from
these accusations including the federal government, and private citizens.
McCarthy gained his power by tapping into the latent fears of the Americans.
McCarthy’s downfall began when he started to accuse the army in the year 1954. (Simkin) These hearings were
televised for 36 days, and known as the “McCarthy Hearings.” When McCarthy went
as far as to accuse the army’s lawyer Joseph Nye Welch of employing a
communist, he responded, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
This helped turn the tide against McCarthy by discrediting him. (Achter)

The
McCarthy Era had many detrimental outcomes. Even though Senator McCarthy lost
his power, many people were still affected.
To begin with, many people had lost their jobs and were left with no source of
income. In addition, McCarthyism resulted in a decline of individuals expression.
Many people were afraid to propose reforms, for fear of being called a traitor.
Many liberals were forced into hiding. Mainly, and most unfortunate, was that
the people lost trust in their country. People didn’t feel safe, since many innocent people had been
mistreated. Hence, relationships were damaged, since no one knew who to trust. (Colleague)

There
are so many similarities between the Salem Witch Trial and the McCarthy Era. Both
events are comparable, in so many ways. Primarily, in both events one person
caused major destruction. The lesson of the effects of one person’s actions are
clearly portrayed.  Samuel Parris was the
one who really started the Salem Witch Trial, and led the hunt. His niece, Abigail
Williams and daughter Betty Parris, were the first to accuse people in the
Salem Witch Trials. They were amongst the first to break out in fits, screaming
in pain.  Samuel pressured the girls to makez1 
accusations. As a result, the girls accused Tituba, Rev. Samuel Parris’s slave,
Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good for having bewitched them. This started the chain
effect of people accusing each other of being witches. Since, the only way to
be freed of the charges was by confessing, and accusing others. This led to
major destruction, as twenty people and two dogs were killed. Many more were
sent to prison. Samuel Parris’s actions led to the destruction of Salem Town.  (Ushistory.com) (Sutter)

Similarly,
Joseph McCarthy was one man who caused the major devastation. He was a senator who gained power, by using the fears
of the people. He convinced the people that the government was full of
communists. He grew to such power that the people were terrified to stand up
against him. McCarthy was backed by many Republicans, and he attacked many
liberals and Democrats. This power
allowed him to do enormous damage. (sudycom)
He blacklisted many people causing many to lose their jobs. The fear of communism became tangible in the United States.
McCarthyism even became an ominous word, and is defined by the Webster’s Dictionary
as, “A mid-20th century political attitude characterized chiefly by
opposition to elements held to be subversive and by the use of tactics
involving personal attacks on individuals by means of widely publicized
indiscriminate allegations especially on the basis of unsubstantiated charges.”
McCarthy’s damaging effects, continue to haunt America till today.

In
addition, in both cases, many innocent
people were accused with no evidence.
During the Salem Witch Trial, the use of spectral evidence was allowed.
Spectral evidence is based on dreams and visions. Consequently, many innocent
people were baselessly charged. Since by
making up spectral evidence, you could accuse anyone.  Even Rebecca Nurse, a seventy-one-year-old woman,
who was kind and beloved by the community, was accused based on spectral
evidence. (Sutter)
Once spectral evidence was omitted, the trials came to an end. Many innocent
people were accused because by naming other witches they hoped to decrease
their charges. The afflicted girls would also scream in pain, pinching
themselves during the trials. This caused whoever was being accused to be
charged as guilty. Specifically, many insane people and social outcasts were
charged, since they were the most believable suspects of witchcraft.

Comparatively,
during the McCarthy Era, many innocent
people were convicted with baseless charges. Very few people who McCarthy
accused as spies for the Soviet
government were really guilty. When the people who were questioned used the
fifth amendment, refusing to talk, McCarthy claimed that was the greatest proof
that they were communists.  (colleague) McCarthy targeted
liberal democrats. Also, many Hollywood leftwing
actors were accused. McCarthy blacklisted many people causing many to lose
their jobs. His effects were so damaging that many of these innocent people
never regained their jobs. Afraid they would go to prison, many of the accused
went on to name other members of the communist group This led to a terrible
chain effect of neighbors accusing neighbors.

Furthermore, both of their downfalls started when they chose
the wrong people to attack. Both of their turning points occurred after going
after the wrong people. In the Salem Witch Trial, the trial lost its hype after
Governor Phips very own wife was accused of witchcraft on October 29, 1692. (Wallenfeldt)This was a big
mistake for the accusers. When Governor Phips realized how far it had gone, he
halted the accusations at the Cour of Oyer and Terminer, In its place, he
opened a new court a Superior Court of Judicature, and forbid the use of Spectral
Evidence. This finally brought a halt to this devastating time. However, the
colony still had to deal with all of Salem Witch Trials devastating results. (Wallenfeldt)

Similarly, Senator Joseph McCarthy also fell to his defeat
after he attacked the United States Army. This was the biggest mistake he ever
made, costing him his power and his eventual defeat. When McCarthy attacked the
army in 1952, the people were utterly outraged.  Suddenly newspapers and TV shows began to
attack and criticize McCarthy no longer afraid. Edward R. Murrow
was a popular journalist who spoke very negatively of McCarthy on his
television show, See It Now.  In response,
McCarthy lost his position as chairman of the Government Committee on
operations of the Senate.  The media had
lost interest in him, and they refused to file his stories. McCarthy’s fame and
power had finally come to an end. (Simkin)

However, the Salem Witch Trial and the McCarthy Era were also
very different. Firstly, but most important, was their time periods. The Salem witch
trial took place in the year 1692 during the colonial era. In 1689 the
colonists of Massachusets overthrew the Dominion of New England. Following that
in 1691 Marry and William of Orange, the new king and queen of England, granted
a new anti-religious charter which made the colonist feel very instable. They felt
that their religion was in danger, and for the Puritans this was devastating. This
political instability is what allowed the Salem Witch Trials to take place. (Brooks)

In comparison, the McCarthy Era took place in the 1950’s
across the entire United States.  The
1950’s was right after World War II, and the nation was still dealing with its
effects. Most importantly was the nations fear of Communism. The Americans were
filled with fear of domination of the Communist. As ordered by President
Truman, in the year 1947, anyone working for the government got background checks
The “Red Scare” was so real and felt by everyone all over the country. This was
also the time of the Cold War, with America competing with the Russians. It was
a time that allowed Senator Joseph McCarthy to rise to power by taking
advantage of the fears of the people. (Ushistory.com)

Additionally, the causes leading to the events were
different. The Salem Witch Trial was caused by religious issues, and the McCarthy
Era was caused by political issues. The Salem Witch Trial could not have taken
place if not for the fact that they were so religious. They had escaped England
due to religious persecution and come to America. (Brooks) The people were devout
Puritans, to whom the church was very important. They believed in the
supernatural and the devil. That’s why they believed that the afflicted girls
were bewitched. This is also why they allowed the use spectral evidence. Hence,
the religious environment in Salem caused the Salem Witch Trials.

On the other hand, the McCarthy Era was chiefly caused by
political reasons and the fear of Communism. As Communism was spreading rapidly
through Europe, the people in the United States began to fear that communism
would soon infiltrate America. This was known as the “Red Scare.” Anyone who
had ever had connections with the communist party became a huge threat. As a
result, on June 29, 1940, the Alien Registration Act was passed making it
illegal to talk out against the government with threats to overthrow it  (Simkin). In addition the House
of Unamerican Activities Committee was searching and investigating people who
wanted to rebel against the government.

All things considered, the Salem Witch Trial and the McCarthy
Era were both times of scapegoating in history. They are similar in the fact
that both had one person who caused major destruction, and innocent people were
accused with no evidence. Also, in both events, their downfall began when they
attacked the wrong people. However, they contrast in their time period, causes,
and who they targeted. These two witch hunting events are blemishes to the
United States History.  It was times when
our civil liberties and freedoms were compromised. It made people wonder, are
they really living in the United States, “The land of the free.” Both events
have left their scar on the United States history, forever.

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