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 William Seward’s maiden speech in the Senate in support of the anti-slavery movement, “Freedom in the New Territories,” or Arthur Vandenberg’s “Speech Heard Around the World,” which marked his conversion from isolationism to internationalism and called on America to assume the responsibilities of world leadership. Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” was a denunciation of Senator Joe McCarthy’s tactics. Everett Dirksen’s speech supporting civil rights helped persuade a number of senators to vote to close debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.