History Ph.D. Dissertations


The Vietnam War Dissent of Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morse, 1964-1968

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Gary Hess (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Edmund Danziger (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Beth Griech-polelle (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jeffrey Peake (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Timothy Fuerst


On 2 August 1964, while patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin, the U.S.S. Maddox was attacked by the North Vietnamese Navy. Then on 4 August both the U.S.S. Maddox and the U.S.S. C. Turner Joy were also allegedly attacked. These events were used by President Johnson to secure authority from the United States Senate, by a vote of 88-2, to take actions he deemed necessary to protect United States military personnel, national security interests, and United States allies. In this dissertation the Gulf of Tonkin incidents will be summarized, the ensuing Senate debates analyzed with a specific focus on the dissenting position of Senators Ernest Gruening (Democrat-Alaska) and Wayne Morse (Democrat-Oregon), the only members of Congress to vote against the resolution, their ceaseless effort to extricate the United States from Vietnam and finally attention given to the impact of the aforementioned on their Senatorial colleagues. There has been much written about the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Congressional debate; however, there has been little focus on the continued arguments of these two senators from 1964-1968, their attempts to bring equilibrium back to the Senates relationship with president and the impact they had on their Senate colleagues. This continuing debate over Vietnam deeply divided the Senate into three main groups who each held distinct opinions on the support they should give Johnson in relation to the issue. One group compromised of Hawks believed that the president should be given full support in taking whatever action he deemed necessary, even if it led to war. A strong response after all would discourage other enemies from attacking the United States. A second group believed that the president needed to be supported at this time, especially since the United States had been attacked. They also held the view that the United States foreign policy needed to be re-evaluated once the conflict was resolved. How far could the United States extend itself before it became spread too thin and thus ineffective? The third group, comprised of Gruening and Morse did not believe that the United States should be involved in Vietnam at all. Rationale for this position was not merely based on their belief that the United States had no real business medaling in the affairs of Vietnam, it was also rooted within a concern over the manner in which America had been led to war by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Requesting and being granted the resolution according to these two senators gave the president a blank check and did two things. First, it altered the governance structure established by the Founding Fathers which was codified in the Constitution. Those who had written and ratified this document intended that Congress declare war and the Chief Executive guide the military once the country had become involved in one. Second, it altered the balance of power in favor of the president allowing him to take whatever actions he deemed necessary and provided Congress with little recourse to stop him. While the Senate finally ruled to support the president's request for the resolution and continued to fund the war once it had become Americanized, it was those who opposed the resolution and were overruled who made the most valid argument. The balance of power was altered and re-establishing that balance was extremely difficult to achieve.