July 27, 2003

Thurmond's Filibuster

In honor of the 24-hour Blogathon, I decided to make the following post about Strom Thurmond's 24 hour and 18 minute filibuster in 1957.

I gleaned most of the following information from Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change after not being able to find my copy of Ol' Strom.

Thurmond began the filibuster at 8:54 p.m. on August 28, 1957, when he rose and said, “Mr. President, I rise to speak against the so-called voting rights bill, H.R. 6127.”

According to Cohodas, Thurmond made the decision to filibuster without consulting any of his staffers. Fred Dent was the first one to figure out something might be going on when earlier in the evening he noticed Thurmond gathering reading material.

Earlier in the day, Thurmond spent an extended period of time in the steamroom in the Senate Spa so that he would absorb any water he drank later and wouldn't have to leave the floor to go to the bathroom. His wife Jean brought him a sirloin steak and a piece of bread wrapped in tinfoil to his office for dinner. She stayed in the family gallery throughout the night.

Thurmond loaded up on malted milk tablets and throat lozenges before leaving his office.

After Thurmond began, he read aloud the election statutes of every single state. This would take until 2 a.m. on the 29th, including an interruption at 1:30 a.m. by Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona who inserted some material into the record.

Thurmond then discussed the right to jury trials in contempt cases and read and discussed an opinion written by President and Chief Justice Taft. Dent and other staff members kept trying to get Thurmond to end the filibuster overnight out of concern for the Senator's health.

By 6:30 a.m. when House Republican Leader Knowland came to the floor to indicate that the House would not adjourn without passing a civil rights bill, Thurmond's voice was a whisper. Later that morning, he had regained his voice and re-read a statement urging that the bill be sent back to committee.

Senator Douglas of Illinois brought Thurmond a pitcher of orange juice at 9 a.m. and Thurmond drank a glass of it before Dent could take the pitcher away and put it out of reach.

Thurmond could have been forced to relinguish the floor on two occasions - once when he sat down and once when he left the floor to eat a sandwich in the cloakroom during the swearing-in of Senator Proxmire - but the presiding officers either missed the events or ignored them.

Thurmond also read and discussed the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and Washignton's Farewell Address during the filibuster. As the filibuster neared the 24-hour mark, Dent sought help from the Senate physician who gave him instructions to get the Senator off the floor.

Thurmond starting winding down around 9:00 p.m. on the 29th and concluded with, "I expect to vote against the bill," before giving up the floor at 9:12 p.m. on August 29, 1957.

Posted by Jeff Quinton at July 27, 2003 01:30 AM | TrackBack
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Impressive. You don't see such commitment in filibusters today.

Posted by: Sgt Hook at July 27, 2003 02:26 AM