• SumoMe

History of the Filibuster

With all this talk about Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster, obnoxiously referred to as the #filiblizzard, I felt compelled to write about the history of the filibuster technique and obstructionist tactics in general. Basically, a filibuster is when someone (usually in Senate/Parliament) talks for a really long time to either delay a vote or stop the workings of congress (typing “working” and “congress” in the same sentence is hilarious) in order to get something they want. I’m all for brushing up on argument skills, and giving a 13-hour speech is one way to do it. However, usually filibusters are inane and pointless speeches, and are less “speeches” as they are a form of protest.

But why can’t someone just tell the filibuster…er… to stop talking? Well, in the U.S. House of Representatives, filibusters were allowed until 1842, when the legislature limited the amount of speaking time each representative could use. However, in the Senate, the tactic is alive and well, with some senators calling it, “The Soul of the Senate.” Eye roll. The reason the filibuster is alive in the Senate is because senate rules permit a senator (or group of them) to speak for as long as they wish on any topic unless three-fifths of the total senators (60 total) vote against it and invoke Senate Rule XXII. Throughout American history, you can find some notable filibusters of significant length; and below is a list of the 5 longest filibusters in history.

5. Senator William Proxmire


Senator Proxmire spoke for 16 hours and 12 minutes, in order to delay the debate on efforts to increase the debt ceiling in 1981.

Proxmire’s opponents attacked his filibuster, claiming that his efforts in using the filibuster technique were actually contrary to what he wanted in the first place, as it cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to keep the Senate open all night.


4. Senator Robert La Follette Sr.

Senator La Follette spoke for 18 hours and 23 minutes with the goal of stalling debate in 1908. The debate was about the Armed Ship bill, which would allow U.S. merchant ships to carry weapons on their boats during WWI.

La Follette’s opposition to the measure caused President Wilson to name him as part of “A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own….” He was also mocked by political cartoonists and the media, often portraying him receiving the Iron Cross award.

3. Senator Wayne Morse


Senator Morse, AKA the “Tiger of the Senate,” spoke for 22 hours and 26 minutes in order to stall debate on the Tidelands Oil bill. At the time, it was the longest single-person filibuster in the history of the Senate (there were groups of people who went longer).

Morse was extremely outspoken in all contexts, not just when he was conducting a filibuster.

He was known to speak well into the night on some issues, like the Vietnam War, so he was no stranger to speaking for long periods on end.

2. Senator Alfonse D’Amato

Senator D’Amato spoke for 23 hours and 30 minutes to delay debate on a military bill in 1986. The bill was set to cut funding to a jet trainer plane company in his state.

D’Amato was no stranger to the filibuster, and his second-longest obstruction was 15 hours and 14 minutes long. Not long enough to make him a two-timer on this top 5 list, but still notable.

1. Senator Strom Thurmond

SenatorThurmondTopping the list of the 5 longest filibusters of all time is Senator Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours an 18 minutes in opposition of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. With this act, Thurmond, an outspoken supporter of racial segregation, became the record holder for the longest single-person filibuster “speech” in U.S. history.

During his day-long rambling, cots were brought in for spectators who listened to him talk increasingly irrelevant topics, such as his grandmother’s biscuit recipe.

According to the Senate records, he also said some incredibly racist remarks that I will not soil my website with. They are pretty typical for the time and place, I’ll let you use your imagination.

The filibuster has a long and storied history as a congressional technique. However, it seems pretty ridiculous to waste all that time and money bringing in cots to listen to a senator talk about biscuits. The motives behind the filibuster are understandable, and there’s nothing really preventing people from doing it, but you have to admit–it’s a little silly, and Senator Thurmond basically looks like a huge jerk for speaking more than a day against Civil Rights. I applaud his conviction, but it’s a shame his conviction was for such a ridiculous cause.

What do you think of the history of the filibuster? Effective? Waste? Give your thoughts…but not 24 hours worth…in the comments.