Introduction

When Senator Joseph McCarthy faltered in supporting his 1950 charge that the State Department knowingly employed more than 200 communists (Document 5), numerous Republican members of Congress backed him up. The problem of Soviet espionage was a real one, and the attention McCarthy received enhanced conservatives’ criticism that the Truman administration had not adequately dealt with the issue. However, not all Republicans approved of McCarthy’s methods, especially his harsh attacks on critics. In June 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) spoke out against McCarthy’s “selfish political exploitation,” though she was careful not to identify him by name.

Smith persuaded six fellow Republicans to sign this Declaration of Conscience, which ended with a call for bipartisan cooperation to protect national security. The declaration had very little immediate effect, but it opened a pathway for Republicans to later break with McCarthy because of his methods. After the Wisconsin senator charged Army officers with harboring communists, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower began working behind the scenes with Congressional Republicans to isolate him and diminish his influence. These efforts culminated in a Senate censure in December 1954 for actions “contrary to senatorial traditions.” His power gone and his reputation irreparably harmed, McCarthy died less than three years later.


Source: Congressional Record, 81st Congress, 2d sess., pp. 7894-95. Available at https://goo.gl/CR8cPU.


Mr. President, I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership either in the legislative branch or the executive branch of our government. . . .

. . . I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States senator. I speak as an American. . . .

. . . I think 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.

I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech, but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation.

Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate, there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined.

“The Basic Principles of Americanism”

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 exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us does not? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as “Communists” or “Fascists”1 by their opponents. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.

The American people are sick and tired of seeing innocent people smeared and guilty people whitewashed. But there have been enough proved cases . . . to cause nationwide distrust and strong suspicion that there may be something to the unproved, sensational accusations.

A Challenge to the Republican Party

As a Republican, I say to my colleagues on this side of the aisle that the Republican party faces a challenge today that is not unlike the challenge that it faced back in Lincoln’s day. The Republican Party so successfully met that challenge that it emerged from the Civil War as the champion of a united nation – in addition to being a party that unrelentingly fought loose spending and loose programs . . . .

The Democratic administration2 has greatly lost the confidence of the American people by its complacency to the threat of communism here at home and the leak of vital secrets to Russia through key officials of the Democratic administration. There are enough proved cases to make this point without diluting our criticism with unproved charges.

Surely these are sufficient reasons to make it clear to the American people that it is time for a change and that a Republican victory is necessary to the security of this country . . . . Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this Nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I do not want to see the Republican party ride to political victory  . . . [using] fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear . . . I do not want to see the Republican party win that way. While it might be a fleeting victory for the Republican party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people. Surely it would ultimately be suicide for the Republican party and the two-party system that has protected our American liberties from the dictatorship of a one-party system.

As members of the minority party, we do not have the primary authority to formulate the policy of our government. But we do have the responsibility of rendering constructive criticism, of clarifying issues, of allaying fears by acting as responsible citizens.

As a woman, I wonder how the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters feel about the way in which members of their families have been politically mangled in Senate debate – and I use the word “debate” advisedly . . .

I do not like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity. I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the floor of the Senate.

As an American, I am shocked at the way Republicans and Democrats alike are playing directly into the Communist design of “confuse, divide, and conquer.” As an American, I don’t want a Democratic administration “whitewash” or “cover-up” any more than I want a Republican smear or witch hunt.

As an American, I condemn a Republican Fascist just as much as I condemn a Democrat Communist. I condemn a Democrat Fascist just as much as I condemn a Republican Communist. They are equally dangerous to you and me and to our country. 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.

It is with these thoughts I have drafted what I call a Declaration of Conscience. I am gratified that the senator from New Hampshire, the senator from Vermont, the senator from Oregon, the senator from New York, the senator from Minnesota and the senator from New Jersey have concurred in that declaration and have authorized me to announce their concurrence.

The declaration reads as follows:

Statement of Seven Republican Senators3

  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.

Study Questions

A. Why does Smith believe she needs to speak out? What are the “basic principles of Americanism”? What criticisms does Chase make of the Truman administration and the Democratic Party? Why is Chase also critical of her own party, the Republicans? What challenges does the Republican Party face? What is the Declaration of Conscience?

B. In what ways does this speech criticize the tone and content of Document 5? How is the definition of Americanism in this document similar to the American Way defined in Document 6? In what ways are this speech and Document 15 similar?

Footnotes

  1. Fascism is a political ideology based on intense nationalism, glorification of war and violence, and suppression of freedom. Germany under Nazi rule was, for example, a fascist state. Fascism is strongly anti-communist – Nazi Germany tried to destroy the Soviet Union during World War II – even though communism and fascism often both use the same methods to take away citizens’ freedoms.
  2. Truman administration.
  3. The seven Republican senators were Charles Tobey (R-N.H.), George Aiken (R-Vt.), Wayne Morse (R-Ore.), Irving Ives (R-N.Y.), Edward Thye (R-Minn.), and Robert Hendrickson (R-N.J.).