Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Foreign Policy of Senator Wayne L. Morse

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Foreign Policy of Senator Wayne L. Morse

Article excerpt

WAYNE L. MORSE (1900-1974) served four voluble and contentious terms as a U.S. Senator from Oregon. He was known for challenging the positions of party leaders (both Republican and Democratic), long filibusters on behalf of organized labor and civil rights, his public spat with Clare Boothe Luce, his fight for the Hells Canyon Dam, and for being the most consistent opponent of U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia. His true claim to fame, however, should be his recognition of, and resistance to, one of the most significant, de facto revisions in the history of the U.S. Constitution. During Morse's tenure, the executive branch was using vast powers it had exercised during World War II and those it was accumulating at the beginning of the cold war to dispatch military units and counter-intelligence operatives abroad without seeking congressional approval. Earlier than most government officials or members of the public, Morse recognized that the war-declaring powers granted to the legislative branch had been usurped by the executive branch, which was using them in ways detrimental to both world peace and national security.

The historiography of the era is silent on the subject of those, like Morse, who both supported the cold war and warned about the dangers of expanding the power of the executive branch to fight it. The vast bulk of writing on the cold war focuses on the assignment of blame for its onset, and historians who take the time to reflect on and critique the growth of executive power do not mention Morse. (1) He also is not mentioned in three recent histories of the cold war. (2) And Melvyn P. Leffler, in his discussion of power during the Truman administration, refers only to the balance of international power, not the balance of power within the U.S. government. (3)

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Morse's opposition to presidential war was based in law, not partisanship or ideology. He had taught law at the University of Oregon and served as dean of the law school from 1931 to 1944. Although he began his political career as a Republican, he was neither a classic isolationist like Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) nor a small-government-is-better conservative like Herbert Hoover. He was raised in Wisconsin as a progressive Republican, and from Theodore Roosevelt though Robert La Follette, the progressive tradition advocated vigorous government regulation and reform, both at home and abroad. Morse entered the Senate as a liberal internationalist, a supporter of Wendell Willkie's one-world thesis and Franklin D. Roosevelt's war policies. He admitted during his 1944 campaign for the U.S. Senate that he had voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he also sharply criticized the Roosevelt administration in order to gain support from the ultra-conservative Republican organization in Oregon. Morse won that election and would fudge his liberal inclinations again during his 1950 campaign. Richard L. Neuberger, then an Oregon state senator, wrote that Morse bartered "a liberal voice in Washington for political security at home" by making concessions to "the state's incredibly mossback Republican machine." (4)

As a senator, Morse followed a liberal foreign-policy line. (5) He was one of the most consistent Republican supporters of the bipartisan foreign policy of Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg (R-Michigan). (6) When Vandenberg died in 1951 and Republican bipartisanship weakened, Morse proceeded to carve out his own stance. Over the years that followed, he favored working for peace and against the spread of communism through the United Nations (UN), the World Court, and multilateral regional organizations; opposed support for undemocratic governments; urged government leaders to distinguish between acts of communist aggression imposed from the outside and civil wars, and to stay out of the latter; emphasized social and economic reform and aid over military assistance; and exhorted members of Congress to demand full information and accountability from the executive branch, to vote against blank-check, war-making resolutions authored by the executive branch, and to refrain from rubber-stamping presidential decisions to employ armed forces abroad. …

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