Today’s TBT commemorates famous 20th Century filibusters in American politics — why? Because tomorrow marks the 58th anniversary, to the day, of Sen. Strom Thurmond’s record breaking solo filibuster. He spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes — a commendable feat, were it not for his purpose behind doing so. Mr. Thurmond got his pipes winded for the ignoble goal of preventing the Senate from voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He concluded with the understatement, “I expect to vote against the bill.”
What issues led other filibusterers to their political soliloquies?
In 1953, Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon set the record at the time for a filibuster lasting 22 hours and 26 minutes, intended to denounce an oil bill.
In 1939, Sen. Jefferson Smith filibustered a bill that would have permitted dam construction on the site of his proposed boys camp; and in 1935, Sen. Huey Long chattered on for 15 hours and 30 minutes fighting the passage of a New Deal bill that would have aided political enemies with jobs in Louisiana.
Perhaps the greatest combined filibuster time award goes to Sen. Al D’Amato. In 1986, this New York Republican spoke for 23 and a half hours to stall an amendment to a military bill that would have cut funding for a jet manufacturer in his district. Then, in 1992, D’Amato filibustered again for 15 hours and 14 minutes to hold up a $27 billion tax bill. His total uninterrupted talking time for those two measures alone: 37 hours and 44 minutes.
Perhaps of interest to those with currency gripes today, the fourth longest filibuster in American political history happened in 1908 over the Aldrich-Vreeland act, which permitted the US Treasury to lend funds to banks during financial crises. This 18 hour and 23 minute filibuster was performed by Sen. Robert La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin.
In case you were wondering, the English term filibuster derives from the Dutch word, vrijbuiter, which means pirate or robber, and was first used in military contexts. It wasn’t until 1853 when Mississippi Rep. Albert Brown used the term to describe a ‘filibustering intervention’ in Cuba, that the word entered the political lexicon.