In preparing to facilitate a session on vision with an amazing group of women leaders recently, I found the splendid one-minute clip below. Twenty years ago you couldn’t have found it, unless perhaps you scraped through recording archives of the Library of Congress. Today, we are blessed to be able to access such an historical treasure at a click of a button. So, I offer you VIDEO today. Less than a minute of it and I hope it inspires you. First, the context . . .
In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy was sending a wave of hysteria around the country. Demagogues do that. They capitalize on ignorance. They make ridiculous statements and bully those who temperately ask for evidence. History well recounts that Joseph Nye Welch, the army’s chief lawyer, showed us all how to stand up to a bully when he took McCarthy to task, asking, “Have you no decency, sir, at long last. Have you left, no sense of decency?” Would that we could all rise so firmly against bullies and demagogues, as Welch did.
But someone showed greater political courage than Welch. Eight days earlier, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, after garnering the support of 6 fellow Republicans, took on her party-mate McCarthy in a 15-minute speech, known as the “Declaration of Conscience.” On the Senate Floor, she decried “the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle.” She talked about how McCarthy and his ilk had “debased” the Senate, making it “a forum of hate and character assassination.” She stood instead for the rights of every American, to “criticize…to hold unpopular beliefs…to protest; the right of independent thought.”
Four years later, in 1964, Senator Smith, the first woman in American history to serve in both houses of Congress announced at the Women’s Press Club that she would run for President of the United States. As though a lawyer, recounting the pro’s and con’s of someone else’s deliberations about whether to run, she finished with this eloquent statement that speaks to principles as well as to the virtuous cycle of leadership! As you watch, consider thanking your predecessors and setting a like example of class, dignity and calling like the one you’ll see and hear here: https://vimeo.com/43149480
“High time … to weigh our consciences.” June 1, 1950, Margaret Chase Smith was the first member of Congress to denounce the abuses of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communism campaign in her “Declaration of Conscience” speech. “I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul searching — for us to weigh our consciences — on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America — on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges.” Fourteen years later in 1964, on this date, Margaret Chase Smith announced a Presidential campaign. The first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate, she foresaw her role as a pioneer for women seeking the high office. Ms. Smith died Memorial Day 1995.
This and other unique Maine news clips were saved by the foresight of John J. White Sr., an employee at the WGAN-TV station in Portland, now WGME-TV. Preserved at www.oldfilm.org
John J. White Sr./WGAN Collection, Northeast Historic Film