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Famous Filibusters

Updated on October 22, 2017

A filibuster is a political delaying tactic used in the United States to prolong or block a bill. It is a seemingly endless debating of an issue and has been used hundreds of times since the 1840s. Many of these we've hardly heard about, Many took place before the advent of C-Span. The filibuster's effect on the political process is sometimes obstructive where marathon speechmaking impairs the progress of government work. The word "filibuster" itself is thought to come from the Dutch word " vrijbuiter" which loosely means "pirate". In this way, members who employ filibuster tactics are said to have "pirated" away the spirit of debate in Congress. Following are some of the better known filibusters in U.S. history.


The first major filibuster occurred in 1841 when Senator Henry Clay proposed a banking bill that Senator Calhoun opposed. Calhoun is thought to have created the modern filibuster when he began a lengthy and wordy rebuttal much to Clay's disdain. The filibuster lasted two weeks. What's interesting about this filibuster is that Senator Calhoun was notoriously known for his pro-slavery stance and may have introduced the tactic to further his defence of the abominable institution of slavery. Senator Henry Clay opposed the filibuster and rightly so. The filibuster legislation created by Calhoun went on to be used to block any legislation in subsequent years that would protect and garner anti-race discrimination statutes.


In 1917, Senator Robert La Follette from Wisconsin used a filibuster in opposition to the proposal to arm merchant ships against German submarine attacks. He believed it would lead the U.S. closer to being involved in World War I which he was against. Known as "Fighting Bob", La Follette gave a speech defending free speech in times of war. The filibuster lasted for over 18 hours and was met with talk and threats of expulsion and accusations of treason. When the war ended, pending resolutions of expulsion were dismissed. His filibuster speech became his most famous and he went on to be viewed as one of the U.S. Senate's most outstanding members.


Senator Huey Long from Louisiana was known for the most creative and effective use of the filibuster. The colorful and fiery senator was considered a master of Senate filibustering borrowing from Shakespeare and cookbooks to extend the process. In 1935, Long embarked on his longest and most dramatic filibuster. It lasted 15 hours and 30 minutes and had other senators sleeping at their desks. His intention was to force the senate to retain a provision that required Senate confirmation when awarding jobs under the National Recovery Administration. President Franklin Roosevelt was opposed but this didn't stop Senator Long. He wanted to prevent his political enemies in Louisiana from getting the lucrative NRA jobs.


In 1957, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond began a 24 hour, 18 minute long tirade hoping to stall voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Thurmond indicated that the bill ensuring ready access to polling booths for black voters was unconstitutional. Southern democrats did not rally behind him as he had hoped and called him a "grandstander". In preparation for his useless filibuster, Thurmond had a steam bath to rid his body of liquid so he would not need to use the bathroom during his speech. In the end, no one was persuaded to change their vote and a weakened version of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed.


Michigan Senator Robert Griffin initiated the first filibuster of a Supreme Court pick in 1968. The intention was to forestall and scuttle President Lyndon B. Johnson's nomination of Justice Abe Fortas to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Republicans thought Fortas too liberal and were hoping the filibuster would drag out the vote until President Johnson's term was up. It worked. Basically, Fortas was defeated by the filibuster and because not enough votes could be mustered, President Johnson withdrew the nomination. Ironically, when Senator Griffin's own son later was nominated for a judicial position in the Bush administration, Democrats threatened to filibuster. Griffin was eventually confirmed on June 9, 2005.


They say women talk too much. If you have ever worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men. Clare Booth Luce

You know, the purpose of reconciliation is to avoid the filibuster. The filibuster is an effort to talk something to death. Dick Durbin

Please don't ask me to do that which I've just said I am not going to do, because you're burning up time. The meter is running through the sand on you, and I am now filibustering.

President George Bush

There is no Senate rule governing the proper uses of the filibuster. - Tony Snow

Phillip Buster - a poem by Gail DeBole

Phillip Buster could fluster a room -

Full of men whose anger ballooned

When came his turn to speak,

Congress snored for a week,

All dreaming he'd peter out soon.

Here are some other of my Hubs you might want to read -


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    • Mimi721wis profile image

      Mimi721wis 6 years ago

      It's amazing the power of the filibuster has been around for so long and people react as if it's something new.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, Mr. Tindle. Good to see you.

    • Mr Tindle profile image

      Mr Tindle 7 years ago

      Hey Suziecat7,

      Just found this hub, it was very interesting and informative. Voted Up!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, Malcolm.

    • Malcolm_Cox profile image

      Malcolm_Cox 7 years ago from Newcastle, England

      Love it! I remember a Filibuster storyline in the West Wing! rated up

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Mulberry - Yes - I couldn't write it without a mention of Mr. Smith. Thanks for your comment.

    • TheManWithNoPants profile image

      TheManWithNoPants 7 years ago from Tucson, Az.

      Thumbs up, useful, and awesome. Well put together Suziecat!


    • mulberry1 profile image

      mulberry1 7 years ago

      Ugh, imagine what it would be like to have to sit through this. (and I thought my work meetings were bad!) Glad to see the clip of Mr. Smith Goes to was the first thing I thought of on this topic ;)

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Wayne - Ha - you're right - it seems like just one long filibuster. Thanks for stopping by.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Carolina - thanks so much for reading!

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 7 years ago from Texas

      Ah yes, another loophole of our beautiful legislative process. I thought the whole thing was one long that not the case? LOL! WB

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Lorlie - glad you enjoyed.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Great post... very interesting!!!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Akirchner - Thanks.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Quill - So nice of you to stop by. Actually threats of a filibuster have been emerging since Obama's health care bill. But so far no one has made good on it. Thank you for your comment.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Darlene - Yes, politics can be complicated. Thanks for your comment as always - Hugs to you.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Shakespeare and cookbooks? Well, you've got to give these politicians credit for some creativity!

      Fun read, susiecat!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      Thanks for the informative hub - I know what it means but it never hurts at my age to remember these things and you did it beautifully!

    • profile image

      "Quill" 7 years ago

      Great Hub... it is a term we have not heard for sometime maybe something which can be brought back into play to stop some really bad decisions... good read.

      Blessings and Hugs

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Dahoglund - Unfortunately, it was most often used in an attempt to thwart civil rights. But yes, it may have its place. Thanks for your comment.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      This is a new term for me as I am not at all a political person, I know enough but it is so complicated. It is so dishonest and it twist and turns in so many directions my head spins. Thank you for this excellent hub and your informed information on this subject, which of course, states my fact of the GAME. Your friend and fan, Darski

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The filibuster can also be the only means for a minority in congress to defend itself against bully tactics by others.