“Conscience and Courage: Honoring the Legacy of Senator Margaret Chase Smith”

The U.S. Senate recently unanimously passed a resolution that I cosponsored along with my colleague, Senator Olympia Snowe, that designates June 1, 2010, as "Declaration of Conscience Day" in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s historic "Declaration of Conscience" speech.

Margaret Chase Smith was Maine’s senator from 1949-1972. From Kittery to Calais to Fort Kent, people will always recognize her name as synonymous with thoughtful, independent, and honest representation.

Senator Smith was a woman of many "firsts." Among them, she was the first woman elected to both Houses of Congress, the first woman to serve on the Armed Services Committee, the first woman to have her name put into nomination for President by a major party. She was the woman who gave other women the right to careers in the military. She was the first and only Congresswoman to make a major tour of the Pacific War Theater, and the first Senator to fly faster than the speed of sound. And she was also the first Senator of either party to speak out on the Senate floor against McCarthyism.

On June 1, 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivered a courageous and heroic speech on the floor of the United States Senate in which she denounced Senator Joseph McCarthy’s unchecked anticommunist smear campaign. She called on her colleagues to reject political exploitation, intimidation and fear tactics, and to defend the right of all Americans to freedom of speech and the right to independent thought. She had the integrity to speak out for what is right, though it was not politically popular. Indeed, as Senator Smith once said, "The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character."

Senator Smith has been one of my role models and a special inspiration to me throughout my career in my public service. I had the good fortune to first meet Senator Smith in 1971 while participating in the Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C. I was a senior in high school. She was in her 30th year in Congress, and she was a legend. I was so excited to meet her, but I certainly did not expect our meeting to last more than a few minutes.

We ended up talking for nearly two hours. We spoke about the importance of public service, and the difference one person can make. What I remember most was her telling me always to stand tall for what I believed, citing her Declaration of Conscience as an example. Her eloquent words still ring true today. Her "Declaration of Conscience" is a template for standing tall. And now that I serve in the United States Senate, holding her former seat, her example of moderation, independence, and integrity continues to inspire me every day.

I am proud to be a cosponsor of this resolution which honors Senator Smith’s courage, her character, and commitment to our nation’s highest ideals. Our resolution honors Senator Smith’s Declaration of Conscience, and her spirit of independence and integrity. As our resolution states, she truly was "a timeless leader for the State of Maine and the United States; a friend to freedom and the public interest; a fearless defender of democracy and the bedrock principles of democracy; and, above all else, a stateswoman and public servant who belongs not just to the State of Maine and the United States, but to the ages."