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Remarks to the Senate in Support of a Declaration of Conscience

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the main themes and quotes from Margaret Chase Smith's remarks to the Senate in support of a ''Declaration of Conscience.''

Historical Background

Have you ever had to stand up to someone on your own team because you felt like what they were doing was wrong? Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican politician from Maine, was the first woman to have ever been elected to both House and Senate.

During her time in the Senate, her colleague, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was also Republican, was promoting the Red Scare, which was a nation-wide fear that Communists were taking over the world.

Without regard to the Constitutional rights of individual citizens, 'McCarthyism', claiming to be protecting the U.S. citizens from Communist spies, accused many high-profile people, particularly those in the movie industry, of being communist based on their liberal views. These accusations often destroyed their careers or personal lives.

While most people were afraid to speak out against Senator McCarthy, Margaret Chase Smith was not. In June 1950, Smith delivered the 'Declaration of Conscience' to the Senate denouncing McCarthyism, despite personal and professional risks. Senators Tobey, Aiken, Morse, Ives, Thye, and Hendrickson agreed with her stance. Let's examine some of the main points from her statement.

Ineffective Leadership

Smith opened her speech by expressing concern for the nation based on ineffective leadership on the part of both the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch, led by Democratic President Harry S. Truman. Not wanting to be accused of 'political opportunism,' Smith chose to be direct and brief.

Smith felt that the Senate had failed to perform their duty, which is to serve the people, by holding themselves above criticism while simultaneously assassinating the character of private citizens who have no ''…legal redress against us…''

Smith went as far as to say that the Senate was abusing their power, reminding those that hold office ''…that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.'' People were afraid to speak their minds because of unproven accusations that are dividing the nation.

Principles of Americanism

Smith made the accusation, ''Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

  • The right to criticize;
  • The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
  • The right to protest;
  • The right of independent thought.''

The Two-Party System

Smith asked fellow Republicans to run their campaigns based on economic policy, political integrity, and intellectual honesty, rather than the current ''…ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.'' This is an allusion to the story in Revelations from the Bible about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 'Calumny' means slander.

Smith asserted her beliefs that the Republican party was only hurting themselves, and it was her opinion that the people would not put up with a party ''…that puts political exploitation above national interest.'' She did not want to see the failure of the party, as there is security in having the nation led by a two-party system, rather than a one-party system that could become too powerful.

She called the country to unity as an American who did not want to see Democratic cover-ups and Communism any more than she wanted to see Republican witch-hunts and Facism, both of which are damaging to the Union.

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