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Senator Margaret Chase Smith and Courage

Guiding Questions

  • What does it mean to have courage?
  • Why is courage important in a healthy political system and in civil society?




  • Ask students to identify the bravest person they know and why this person is courageous.  


  • Have students share with a shoulder partner or in small groups before leading a brief class share-out.   
  • Ask students to define courage, based on the examples shared by the class.  
  • Option: compare student definitions of courage with BRI’s definition:  
    • Courage: To stand firm in being a person of character and doing what is right, especially when it is unpopular or puts you at risk  
  • Ask follow up questions such as, “Is it easy to have courage? Why or why not?  
  • Encourage students to make their thinking visibly by asking questions such as, “What makes you say that?” “Explain what you mean” or, “How did you come to that conclusion?”  


  • Tell students they will consider the virtue of courage by looking at a speech by Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine in 1950.  
  • Distribute the primary source handout. Have students read the primary source and answer the comprehension and analysis questions that follow. Students can work alone or collaborate in groups as best fits your classroom.  

Assess and Reflect

  • Lead a brief discussion of answers to the comprehension and analysis questions.  
  • Ask students if the message of Senator Chase Smith’s speech is specific to its historical context of the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s, or if elements apply to the present day.  
  • Senator Chase Smith listed four basic principles of Americanism—the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest, and the right of independent thought. Ask students if they agree with this list. What principles would they add? Would they remove any? 

Extension Activities

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