Politics of Conscience: A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith

Politics of Conscience: A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith

Politics of Conscience: A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith

Politics of Conscience: A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith

Synopsis

This biography of Margaret Chase Smith is the first historical treatment of Smith to use her voluminous private papers as well as extensive interviews with Smith and her colleagues in Congress. As Maine's daughter, Smith was frugal, hard-working, reticent, and caustic. At age thirty-two she married, in scandal, state politician Clyde Smith with whom she had been involved since she was sixteen and who was twenty-one years her senior. Smith came to Washington when Clyde was elected to Congress and, against his wishes, she became his secretary. When Clyde died in office in 1940, Smith played the widow's game and successfully ran for his seat. In the House during World War II, Smith sat on the powerful Naval Affairs Committee and, tutored by committee counsel Bill Lewis, developed a national constituency, the military, which in turn allowed her to better serve Maine's interests. Lewis directed Smith's first Senate campaign in 1948 when she won an upset victory by an astonishing margin. Overnight she became the darling of the Republican party, the heroine of women everywhere, and the only woman in the United States Senate.

Excerpt

Margaret Chase Smith was the most influential woman in the history of American politics. Her only significant rival was Eleanor Roosevelt, who influenced more as symbol than as policy maker. For thirty-two years Smith served in Congress and worked with committees on military affairs, appropriations, government operations, space, and intelligence. Twice Republicans considered her a vice presidential possibility, and in 1964 she launched the first campaign by a woman for the presidential nomination of a major party. Indicative of her longevity and her bid for national office, Smith served both a state constituency in Maine and a larger group of supporters in the nation. She went from being Maine's daughter to America's heroine, and she did it with her conscience and reputation intact. Along the way Smith developed a unique political partnership with William C. Lewis with whom she lived and worked, in both office and retirement.

History does not allow for heroines any more than heroes when recounting human activity, and Margaret Chase Smith, revealed, was as replete with petty rancors, vengeances, ambitions, and self-doubts as anyone else. Her public persona, however, was the New England lady: gracious, reticent, frugal, hard working, and honest. From this mixture came a skillful politician who found her way through the congressional labyrinth of conflicting interests as an independent. No one ever took her vote for granted, and she never acknowledged the sexist discrimination and patronizing of her colleagues unless it denied her rights due a senator. Then she responded with a fury that taught others to be wary. In this manner she challenged Joseph McCarthy, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. As prototype for female and minority politicians, Smith succeeded in her goal to be a U.S. senator, not a woman senator, and she did this by overcoming gender instead . . .

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