Joseph Welch was born in Iowa in 1890 as the seventh child of English immigrant parents. He was very bright and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Grinnell College. His GPA at Harvard Law School was the second highest in his class.

After a short stint in the U.S. Army, he went into legal practice and became a partner at a prominent law firm in Boston. Few people know the name of Joseph Welch today, but we are indebted to this quiet man for his courage at a time when America was being torn apart by unfounded conspiracies of Joseph McCarthy, one of the worst persons to ever serve in the U.S. Senate.

McCarthy in a speech alleged that communists had taken over the U.S. State Department. He went on to name people who were thought to be Communists. There was little proof and when there was some evidence it was from a long-ago dalliance which had long disappeared. McCarthy became bolder in his attacks going against some of America’s most renewed leaders such as General George C. Marshall.

It was McCarthy’s attack on the U.S. Army where McCarthy and Joseph Welch came into conflict. When Welch challenged McCarthy to provide the names of 130 alleged Communists in defense plants, the response was that Welch should investigate a member of his own law firm.

The young lawyer in question had been in college a member of an association with some Communists sympathies. That association was brief and long past. McCarthy persisted in attacking the young lawyer. Welch had reached a point when he could no longer tolerate McCarthy’s attacks. He interrupted McCarthy and said: “Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild…Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

The reaction to Welch’s confrontation with McCarthy was immediate applause. American public opinion reversed overnight and McCarthy was eventually censured by a majority in the U.S. Senate, including many from his own party. This was in 1954.

Fifty years later, we have seemed to have forgotten the virtue of decency. In fact, we have emboldened a lack of decency with social media. Those who traffic in a lack of civility and decency have seemed to become media and political world darlings of the political world. McCarthy’s tactics of unfounded rumors, slander, and conspiracies have become mainstream. Why have we forgotten the value of being decent to others?

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“As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.” – Caroline Kennedy

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