Classic Senate Speeches
In the 19th century, senators, representatives, reporters, and the general public often crowded into the Senate Chamber to listen to major speeches. Such addresses were often long, sometimes stretching over two or three days, and frequently controversial. Although rhetorical styles have changed and few modern senators enjoy standing-room-only audiences in the Senate Chamber, debate on a crucial national issue can still stimulate an impassioned and closely reasoned Senate speech designed to sway listeners and attract votes on legislation.
Classic Senate speeches include those of substantial historical significance and those that marked moments of high drama, such as Jefferson Davis’ emotional withdrawal from the Senate after his state seceded from the Union, and when Margaret Chase Smith denounced Senator Joe McCarthy’s tactics in her “Declaration of Conscience” speech. Arthur Vandenberg’s “speech heard around the world,” marked his conversion from isolationism to internationalism, calling on America to assume the responsibilities of world leadership. Everett Dirksen’s speech supporting civil rights helped persuade a number of Republicans to vote to close debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This month the Senate celebrates these classic speeches for shedding light on particular issues and eras in our nation’s history.
It was up to the first Senate in 1789 to organize, establish its rules, and set precedents that would govern its actions in years to come, evolving into a complex legislative body.