Seventy years ago, a then-freshman senator from Maine addressed what she saw as unbridled political opportunism rearing within her own party.
Margaret Chase Smith, in the budding days of what has come to be known as McCarthyism, took a stand against her party’s shooting star, delivering a 15-minute speech to the president of the Senate on June 1, 1950.
Sen. Smith decried the lack of leadership she said was giving “the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear” — their head.
She spoke of the trampling of the basic principles that gave America its uniqueness.
She took her colleagues to task saying “that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some real soul searching and to weigh our consciences as to the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America and the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.”
And she concluded with a call to conscience — all without even once mentioning the subject of her speech, Joe MacCarthy, by name, or by attacking him personally.
… “I speak as briefly as possible because too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism. I speak as briefly as possible because the issue is too great to be obscured by eloquence. I speak simply and briefly in the hope that my words will be taken to heart.
“I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American.
“The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity…” she said.
Her objective was a simple one.
… “As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves,” Sen. Smith said.
She concluded with a “Declaration of Conscience,” also was signed by six Republican senators of equal backbone — Charles W. Tobey of New Hampshire, George D. Aiken of Vermont, Wayne L. Morse of Oregon, Irving M. Ives of New York, Edward J. Thye of Minnesota, and Robert C. Hendrickson of New Jersey.
The declaration reads as follows:
Statement of Seven Republican Senators
1. We are Republicans. But we are Americans first. It is as Americans that we express our concern with the growing confusion that threatens the security and stability of our country. Democrats and Republicans alike have contributed to that confusion.
2. The Democratic administration has initially created the confusion by its lack of effective leadership, by its contradictory grave warnings and optimistic assurances, by its complacency to the threat of communism here at home, by its oversensitiveness to rightful criticism, by its petty bitterness against its critics.
3. Certain elements of the Republican party have materially added to this confusion in the hopes of riding the Republican party to victory through the selfish political exploitation of fear, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance. There are enough mistakes of the Democrats for Republicans to criticize constructively without resorting to political smears.
4. To this extent, Democrats and Republicans alike have unwittingly, but undeniably, played directly into the Communist design of “confuse, divide and conquer.”
5. It is high time that we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom. It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques — techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.
The concluding declaration point is well worth reading twice:
It is high time that we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom. It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques — techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the House and Senate will convene jointly to formally count the Electorial College votes and validate the 2020 Presidential Election.
The process promises to be a bit more controversial than in the past.
So we share, as food for thought and, perhaps, inspiration, Sen. Smith’s historically renowned call to conscience, made in a similar time of political dissension.
The full speech may be found at senate.gov.