In the past, certain individuals have been able to gain complete control over society and have a negative impact on it. The late 1600’s and mid 1900’s were times of chaos and political hysteria in America which were caused by rumors started by very powerful people, resulting in the deaths and imprisonment of several innocent citizens. Starting in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, a series of witch hunts and trials for those accused of witchcraft took place which became known as “The Salem Witch Trials”.
Among the accusers was Abigail Williams.
During the McCarthy Era in 1950, towards the beginning of the Cold War, a huge fear of communist activity in the United States was installed in the American citizens (“Joseph McCarthy: Biography”). Similar to Abigail Williams, Joseph McCarthy, an American politician, made numerous claims that communists had intruded the American government. Webster’s Dictionary describes the word McCarthyism as a general term for the hysterical investigation of a government’s opponents or the publicizing of accusations against these opponents without sufficient evidence to support the charges.
Motivated by power, Abigail Williams of the Salem Witch Trials and Joseph McCarthy of the McCarthy Era each corrupted society by making false accusations against innocent people. Abigail Williams was an eleven year old girl who belonged to Salem, Massachusetts, a strict Puritan town where the church was the central authority. She lived with her uncle Samuel Parris, the town’s minister, and his daughter Betty. Abigail was the first accuser, along with her cousin Betty, during the Salem Witch Trials and gave formal testimony at seven cases and made over forty legal complaints (Ray 1).
Of the accused were John and Elizabeth Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, Martha Cory, George Burroughs, Bridget Bishop, Mary Easty, John Willard, and Mary Witheridge (Caporael 3). When the trials finally ended around 1693, nineteen people and two dogs had been hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, had been crushed to death by heavy stones (Roach 1). Abigail was able to make all of these false accusations very feasibly because her word was more powerful than the word of these people. She was a dedicated member of the church, a young girl, and the niece of Reverend Parris which made her seem very innocent and believable.
Under these circumstances, Abigail had a dangerous amount of power throughout the course of the trials and was a main cause of the corruption in society. Joseph Raymond McCarthy was a Republican U. S Senator from Wisconsin who served from 1947 until his death in 1957 (Cook 1). During his first years in the senate, he was unimpressive and disliked by most people. However, in order to win the next election and retain his seat in the Senate, McCarthy met with Edmund Walsh, his close friend, who proposed the idea to campaign against suspected communists in the Democratic Party.
On February 9th, 1950, at a meeting of the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, McCarthy claimed that he had a list of 205 people in the State Department that were known to be members of the American Communist Party (Cook 2). There was almost no evidence at all against any of the names mentioned on the list. By the end of the McCarthy Era, no people had been killed or convicted by the courts, but McCarthy’s accusations destroyed thousands of reputations and many people lost their jobs.
After the Army-McCarthy Hearings, the Senate imposed a censure against McCarthy which effectively ended the Senators power in government and seized his committee chairmanship (Cook 2). McCarthy accused the innocent people in order to rebuild his reputation and keep his name in headlines of newspapers. As he defeated his political adversaries through dirty campaigning, he gradually gained more and more power in government. Also, many politicians feared opposing McCarthy because they didn’t want to be next on his hit list.
The corruption caused by Joseph McCarthy during the 1950’s was caused mainly by his motivation of power in the United States Federal Government. Abigail Williams and Joseph McCarthy were two individuals in history who corrupted their societies because of the desire for power. The Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthy Era were very similar time periods of false accusations in America, during which people abused their power in order to benefit themselves. The constant abuse of power led to the corruption of society and misfortunes of innocent people.