Margaret Chase Smith

Commencement Address at Westbrook Junior College - June 15, 1983

Margaret Chase Smith
June 25, 1953— Westbrook Junior College, Portland, Maine
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You young women are on the threshold of the finest years of your life. Make the best of those years, not only for yourselves but for your families, your friends, and your country as well. Make better use of those years than has the generation preceding you.

Give the young women who follow you a heritage of peace instead of the world of suspicion, aggression, treason, character assassination and moral delinquency that has been thrust upon you by the older generation that has preceded you.

Show them the way to think the way to control emotions instead of being controlled by emotions. Lead them away from the emotional idolatry of personalities that so beclouds our national thinking today. Lead them away from bitter cynicism and hatred of those with whom they differ in opinion. Show them how to disagree agreeably and with constructive respect.

Help them to realize that this wonderful country of ours is greater than any individual woman or man and that its fate, destiny and security should not be made a political football to be kicked around by clashing personalities greedy and envious of political power.

Your generation can do this. It is your destiny the greatest challenge with which you are faced. You can meet that challenge¾you can fulfill your destiny regardless of what individual role you play in the years to come, whether in the home, in the church, in business or in public office.

There is an old slogan that you can well respect and ever keep before you. It is the slogan of “Stop, Look, and Listen!” But I want to add something new to that slogan and I propose to you the slogan of “Stop, look, listen, and think.” If you ever think you have been wrong and want to change your mind do it and admit it. That’s the sign of a big person.

One of the basic causes for all the trouble in the world today is that people talk too much and think too little. They act too impulsively without thinking. I always try to think before I talk.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating in the slightest that we become mutes with our voices stilled because of fear of criticism of what we might say. That is moral cowardice. And moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. 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.

In short, I urge you to think well and deeply before you talk but once you have made up your mind, don’t hesitate to speak your mind. As long as you speak your minds, dictators and demagogs will never take control of this country.

There will always be demagogs and there must always be people with enough moral courage to stand up and speak out against such demagogs and expose and defeat them, before they get so many unthinking people swallowing their untruthful propaganda that our country is surrendered to them because we were too lazy to do our own thinking and too cowardly to speak our minds.

Instead of making a speech to you today, I would rather think with you. Instead of saying just so many words in catchy phrases and consuming so much time, I would rather just think out loud with you, try to get my simple points across as briefly as possible, and stop. I would rather say fewer words more slowly so that they can sink in mentally than to try to crowd in the maximum number of words in any lengthy speech.

And I fully acknowledge that what I say is nothing new to you nor anything that you could not say yourself. But it is well for all of us to review the fundamentals that are so basic and obvious that too often too many of us take them for granted.

The importance of individual thinking to the preservation of our democracy and our freedom cannot be overemphasized. It is too often overlooked and neglected.

But when we use the word “think,” just what do we mean? To “think” is to exercise the faculties of judgment, conception, or inference to put our common sense into action. When the German people defaulted their thinking to Hitler. they surrendered their freedom. When the Russian people defaulted their thinking to Lenin and Stalin, they surrendered their freedom.

Too few people in this country realize that too many people in this country are defaulting their thinking to demagogs and that we are closer to surrendering our freedom than most of us are willing to recognize and admit. When we accept the statements and proposals of demagogs because we are too lazy to think and test their statements and proposals, we can blame no one but ourselves for subsequent events.

But thoughts, to be effective, must be disclosed. We must have confidence in our opinions, and cherish the belief that they will guide others as well as ourselves. We should so proceed as to merit leadership and then not be timid about accepting it.

It is the articulate majority that rules a democracy. But the articulate majority does not always represent the real majority. Quite often the real minority by “thinking out loud” makes itself the practical, effective articulate majority.

There is a tendency to set women off separate from men when we think about these aspects. I don’t like it simply because women are citizens just like men and have the same responsibilities of citizenship as men do. The simplest and most direct way to state my attitude is in three words — Women are people.

Women, just like men, have the role of voting, of thinking, of articulating of taking a stand and expressing their beliefs. They can play that role in participating in forums and public discussions. They can organize or affiliate themselves with articulate groups that represent their views. They can help get out the vote.

The articulate action of a citizen, whether man or woman, must be constructive must seek to improve to build instead of tear down and destroy must be preceded by serious and responsible thinking. Criticism unaccompanied by positive proposals of substitutes for that criticized indicates lack of informed thinking on the part of the critic.

The broader sense of the concept of the role of women in the defense of democracy is that of the citizen doing her most for the preservation of democracy and peace by (1) independent thinking, (2) making that thinking articulate by translating it into action at the ballot boxes, in the forums, and in everyday life, and (3) being constructive and positive in that thinking and articulation.

In the more narrow sense of the concept — the concept that makes a distinction on the basis of sex the most important role of the woman in defense of democracy is her traditional role as homemaker.

I wish that there were more women holding top positions in our democracy. I wish there were more women in Congress more women in top positions in the executive and judicial branches of our Government.

But in that wish I regard the role of homemaker for women as being far more important than the role in public office. For surely the very backbone of our democracy is the family and the home in which the family lives. As long as the family home structure of our Nation is firm and sound our democracy will be firm and sound and well defended.

Since woman is the homemaker — the keeper of the home she is the key individual of our democracy at the grassroots level. In that respect, woman is the primary and basic governor of our democracy for our governing starts right in the home. Woman molds the citizens of tomorrow in the rearing that she gives the children.

Yes, the first and original governor in our democracy is the woman. Woman administers the home. She sets the rules. She enforces the rules. She metes out the discipline and the justice for violations of those rules.

In other words, women, in their own way, like Congress, legislate the rules; in their own way, like the executive branch, enforce and administer the rules; in their own way, like the courts, interpret the rules of the home.

Some of you, I hope, will enter public service. I hope that more women do inject themselves into their Government for certainly our Government needs more of the home put into it and less of the Government in the home.

But whether you enter public service or not, there is no finer role that you can play in the defense of democracy and our American way of life than that of wife, mother, and homemaker. Run your homes and raise your children in the very best traditions and fundamentals of our American way of life.

But don’t restrict yourself to the home to the extent of exclusion of any interest or participation in public affairs and your Government. For if you do that, your indifference to your Government and to your full citizenship will be reflected in your children who grow up imitating you. In short, in the years that you are about to enter, you can do far more than you realize to make this a better country — to keep it the wonderful democracy that it is to preserve our American way of life.

You don’t have to ask anybody but yourself how to do it. And there is no one who can do it for you. It is your individual responsibility. More important it is your free and cherished right. Don’t let that right die for lack of exercise.

The most precious thing that democracy gives to us is freedom. You and I cannot escape the fact that the ultimate responsibility for freedom is personal. Our freedoms today are not so much in danger because people are consciously trying to take them away from us as they are in danger because we forget to use them.

Freedom may be an intangible, but like most everything else it can die because of lack of use. Freedom unexercised may become freedom forfeited. The preservation of freedom is in the hands of the people themselves now — not the Government.

Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 83rd Congress, First Session, (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office) 1953, A305-306.