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McCarthyism DBQ

70 min
  • Students will learn the historical background of the Cold War and McCarthyism and analyze documents related to anti-communist legislation.
  • Students will evaluate the threats to civil liberties, especially free speech, free press, and freedom of association, during national security crises.
  • Students will craft a thesis statement based on their learning.

Handout A: Warm-Up and Background Essay

Handout B: Student Document Packet

  • Document 1: The Alien Registration Act of 1940, also called the Smith Act
  • Document 2: Dennis v. United States (1951), Chief Justice Vinson’s Majority Opinion
  • Document 3: Internal Security Act of 1950, also called the McCarran Act
  • Document 4: Truman’s Veto of the Internal Security Act, September 22, 1950
  • Document 5: “McCarthy Cries Again,” Editorial, Collier’s, August 2, 1952
  • Document 6: Edward R. Murrow, “See It Now,” March 9, 1954
  • Document 7: Senator Margaret Chase Smith, “Declaration of Conscience,” June 1, 1950

The Warm-Up and Background Essay in Handout A can be assigned for homework before this activity. Small groups are recommended for the document analysis in the exploration portion of this lesson to encourage a higher level of participation and to allow students to compare and contrast their reasoning with one another.

Have students read the First Amendment on Handout A and answer the questions either in discussion or on paper.

Assign Students the Background Essay and accompanying questions on Handout A. Discuss answers with students.Distribute Handout B. Have students address the documents alone or in groups, as best fits your classroom. Note that the documents are longer than those appearing on the DBQ on the AP Exam.

  • Document 1: The Alien Registration Act of 1940, also called the Smith Act
  • Document 2: Dennis v. United States (1951), Chief Justice Vinson’s Majority Opinion
  • Document 3: Internal Security Bill of 1950, also called the McCarran Act
  • Document 4: Truman’s Veto of the Internal Security Bill, September 22, 1950
  • Document 5: “McCarthy Cries Again,” Collier’s, 1952
  • Document 6: “Edward R. Murrow, See It Now,” 1954
  • Document 7: Senator Margaret Chase Smith, “Declaration of Conscience,” 1950

Have students craft a thesis statement for the following prompt: Explain the extent to which anti-communist hysteria during the second Red Scare violated civil liberties.

Collect the thesis statements and use the DBQ rubric from the College Board to grade the submissions.