On June 1, 1950, the Republican junior United States Senator from Maine, a 53-year old-woman named Margaret Madeline Chase Smith, the granddaughter of French-Canadian immigrants (immigrants from Quebec who fled anti-French Canadian and anti-Catholic sentiments in 19th century Canada), made a speech that would become famous in the American annals for its courage and historical significance. Senator Smith, who would be remembered as the first woman to serve both houses of Congress and the first woman to serve the state of Maine in either house, would go on to be the first woman nominated by a major party in American life to the office of the presidency. That party was the Republican party, and the speech for which she is most famous was, in part, a speech recriminating the party to which she belonged.
It would be called the “Declaration of Conscience” and it was in response to the infamous Joe McCarthy, Republican Senator from the state of Wisconsin, who delivered his own famous speech, known as “The Wheeling Speech,” on a cold, wet Lincoln Day in February to the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. During the speech, which would mark the start of his meteoric rise to infamy, Senator McCarthy produced from his coat pocket a slip of paper on which he claimed to have 205 names of Communist Party members in positions of influence within the State Department. “The State Department is infested with communists,” he said. And he would go on to build his career identifying and publicly shaming them from their positions of power.
But, when McCarthy’s fellow senator and party member Smith spoke, she condemned McCarthy’s actions, even if she refused to name him directly.
“The Democratic administration has greatly lost the confidence of the American people by its complacency to the threat of communism 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. Surely it is clear that this nation will continue to suffer as long as it is governed by the present ineffective Democratic Administration.
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 don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
Senator Smith was right about that. Shew was right about it all the way up to the 21st century, when communism and socialism are still the talk of the day, and the Russians are still looking for secrets. These are not problems at the root of our Democratic system, but symptoms of greater, deeper, and more damaging poisons. Fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear continue to be the tools of a trade steeped in personal interest.
Smith concluded, “I doubt if the Republican Party could [ride to victory on these ‘Horsemen’] — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest.”
Perhaps she held too high an opinion of her fellow Americans, or her fellow men in general.
The only response to these Horsemen are the horsemen of the Lord, yet to come and ride, and those horsemen — though deeply desired by so many — bring a kind of dread of their own.
But, in the meantime, we wait for heroes like Senator Smith who recognize the needs of men like ourselves, and we take a longer view of the history of America, and the history of mankind, and we do not give ourselves the credit for being more callous or degenerate than we rightfully deserve.