From Our Archives: A Woman On the Senate Floor
“Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall,” the first eBook in the Progressive's Hidden History series, is available for purchase, and a second is on its way! To commemorate the occasion, we're featuring some of the best writing our archives have to offer on our website.
Today, there are twenty women in the U.S. Senate, the most in our country's history. But in 1950, there was only one — Margaret Chase Smith, who would represent Maine in the upper chamber until 1973.
The following passage from “The President's Choice,” an article by our editorial board published in our July 1950 issue, celebrates Smith's famous speech, “Declaration of Conscience,” in which she bravely lambasted the scourge of McCarthyism on the Senate floor.
Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine Republican, took the floor of the Senate with a magnificent indictment of the tactics being used by Republicans and Democrats alike in the dirty game of smear and counter-smear.
“Those of us,” said Sen. Smith, “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 to independent thought.
“The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as 'Communists' or 'Fascists' 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 nation-wide distrust and strong suspicion that there may be something to unproved, sensational accusations.”
Sen. Smith's speech was followed by issuance of a "Declaration of Conscience" which she and six other Republicans signed in protest against the use of "totalitarian techniques which, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life." Together the speech and declaration opened a window in a reeking room, but they could not go beyond that in cleaning up the origins of the poisonous Washington atmosphere.
Want to read more? The Hidden History series of eBooks unearths many more buried treasures from our archives. For more information, check out progressive.org/ebooks or email ebooks [at] progressive [dot] org!
Erik Lorenzsonn is an editorial intern at The Progressive.
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