Literature Study GuidesDeclaration Of Conscience Speech

Declaration of Conscience Speech | Study Guide

Margaret Chase Smith

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Margaret Chase Smith

Year Delivered



Primary Source


History, Speech

At a Glance

  • On June 1, 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (1897–1995), a Republican from Maine, delivered her Declaration of Conscience Speech.
  • Smith's purpose was to denounce unethical tactics used by Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–57) in his anti-communist campaign.
  • In February 1950 McCarthy had gained national attention by falsely claiming that numerous communists had infiltrated the federal government. McCarthy subsequently gained political power by exploiting Americans' fear of communism.
  • McCarthy made countless unsubstantiated allegations against civilians and government officials. Many lost their reputations and livelihoods as a result. Few Republicans challenged McCarthy. Smith was the first to speak out against him.
  • Smith's speech was well received, yet McCarthy's influence grew, and his investigations became relentless. He struck back at Smith by publicly mocking her and by removing her from a prominent Senate committee.
  • McCarthy's downfall came after a televised hearing in 1954, in which attorney Joseph Welch (1890–1960) shamed him by asking, "Have you no sense of decency?" The Senate, finally following Smith's example, censured McCarthy, ending his political career.
  • Known as "The Conscience of the Senate," Smith served in the Senate until 1973. Her speech is often cited as an example of principled and independent political thinking.


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