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Meeting Senator Flanders

08/18/03 12:00AM By Edith Hunter
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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter recalls a memorable encounter with Ralph Flanders, the senator from Vermont who spoke out against the McCarthy hearings.

(Hunter) It was Sunday afternoon, August 14, 1955, 48 years ago. Gathered on the lawn chairs in front of this house were Aunt Mary and Aunt Margaret Peirce, their sister, Elizabeth, her husband Stanley Hunter, summer pastor at the Center Church, my husband Armstrong, ten year old Elizabeth, almost eight years old Graham, almost two years old, William, and I.

The group also included Senator Ralph Flanders and Judge Learned Hand. We were waiting to go up to the Weathersfield Center Meeting House where Sen. Flanders would deliver the address at the Annual Pilgrimage Service.

A year earlier, on March 9, 1954, Senator Flanders had delivered his first speech critical of Senator Joseph McCarthy, a speech that caught the attention and was approved of by President Dwight Eisenhower. On June 11, in a resolution introduced by Sen. Flanders, the actions of Sen McCarthy were "condemned as unbecoming the dignity of the Senate"

In August, 1955, Judge Learned Hand was 83 years old, retired, described as "the greatest United States judge never to sit on the Supreme Court." His decision in 1917 in the 'Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten' marked a milestone in the protection of dissident speech. He too had spoken out clearly against the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Judge Hand owned a summer home in the Cornish Colony across the Connecticut River. With Herbert Croly, another Cornish Colony resident, Judge Hand had been a founding contributor to the New Republic. This Sunday, August 14, the Judge had come over to hear his fellow warrior, Senator Flanders.

When Sen. Flanders spoke in Weathersfield in 1955 he called for the "Moral Penetration of the Soviet World." He was working on his book Letter To A Generation, published in 1956. Because of the development of atomic bombs, and the use of saturation bombing, he wrote, "We have arrived at a stage in history when 'victory' through a military offense is as bad as defeat." Therefore, he called for complete, universal and controlled disarmament, in what he called "The Grand Project."

He was no pacifist, indeed his son described him as "hawkish," but he was convinced of the need of "waging peace as actively as we have waged war." The book is well worth reading again in 2003.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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