President Dwight D. Eisenhower (June 14, 1953)
In 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy, with assistance from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, campaigned to suppress books hinting at any connection to Socialism or Communism.
In April 1953, two of McCarthy’s underlings, Roy Cohn and David Schine, were dispatched to Europe, partly to scour U.S. Information Service libraries. Created to provide war-ravaged countries with American books, these collections – McCarthy claimed – held thousands of works by Communists. Intimidated by McCarthy’s men, foreign service officials removed titles by, among others, the blacklisted writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, and Howard Fast.
Reluctant to challenge the powerful Senator, Eisenhower offered these words to a commencement audience at Dartmouth:
Look at your country. Here is a country of which we are proud, as you are proud of Dartmouth and all about you, and the families to which you belong. But this country is a long way from perfection–a long way. We have the disgrace of racial discrimination, or we have prejudice against people because of their religion. We have crime on the docks. We have not had the courage to uproot these things, although we know they are wrong. And we with our standards, the standards given us at places like Dartmouth, we know they are wrong.
Now, that courage is not going to be satisfied–your sense of satisfaction is not going to be satisfied, if you haven’t the courage to look at these things and do your best to help correct them, because that is the contribution you shall make to this beloved country in your time. Each of us, as he passes along, should strive to add something.
It is not enough merely to say I love America, and to salute the flag and take off your hat as it goes by, and to help sing the Star Spangled Banner. Wonderful! We love to do them, and our hearts swell with pride, because those who went before you worked to give to us today, standing here, this pride.
And this is a pride in an institution that we think has brought great happiness, and we know has brought great contentment and freedom of soul to many people. But it is not yet done. You must add to it.
Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.
“Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises”
Source and complete text: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project
It is also worth noting that Eisenhower’s words did not translate into much action. U.S. Information Services libraries were stripped of thousands of titles.