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What Were Some of the Longest Filibusters in the US Senate?

The US Senate has witnessed epic filibusters, with senators speaking for hours to delay votes. Strom Thurmond holds the record, speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Wayne Morse's 1953 speech lasted 22 hours. These marathons of endurance showcase the lengths to which senators will go to champion their causes. What drives such determination? Explore the stories behind these political standoffs.
Josie Myers
Josie Myers

A filibuster is an attempt to delay or stop the vote on an issue within a legislative body. In the United States Senate, the person opposed to a bill is allowed to speak indefinitely on any topic unless 60 members of the Senate bring a motion to stop them, a process known as "cloture." The point of a filibuster is to postpone a vote long enough to raise public awareness of the bill, thereby garnering support and forcing the legislators' hands to the people's will. The longest filibusters sometimes require cots and other materials to be brought in for the attending Senators.

Topping the list of the longest filibusters in US history is one by South Carolina Senator, Strom Thurmond, on 28 August 1957, beginning at 8:54 p.m. He argued against the Civil Rights Act for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes. Reports say that he had a large steak dinner beforehand to maintain energy, and took a steam bath to vent liquids so he could avoid using the lavatory during the process. Thurmond told no one of his plan, and hoped to incite fellow Southerners to sway their Senators' votes. The filibuster was unsuccessful, as no senator changed their vote following the event. As of 2009, this 52 year old event still tops the list of the longest filibusters.

South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate when he spoke for more than 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act in 1957.
South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate when he spoke for more than 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act in 1957.

Oregon’s Wayne Morse had another of the longest filibusters when he spoke against Tidelands Oil Legislation on 24 April 1953. Senator Morse was most known for leaving the Republican Party following Richard Nixon's appointment as Dwight Eisenhower's running mate. He reportedly came to the Senate the following day with a folding chair, and the words: "Since I haven't been given any seat in the new Senate, I decided to bring my own." His filibuster on the Tidelands Oil Legislation, which gave offshore rights to states, was only one of the many areas he was known to be contentious on. In historical references, he was often referred to as the original "maverick". His filibuster, then the longest in history, lasted 22 hours and 26 minutes.

Number three in the list of the longest filibusters in US history - is Louisiana’s Huey Long on 12 June 1935. Senator Long has been called the “master of the Senate filibuster.” His longest attempt was delivered to continue requiring Senate confirmation for senior employees of the National Recovery Administration. When he began to run out of words, he suggested that those in the Senate ask questions. When no one took him up on the offer, the press began to send in questions. After these questions stopped coming, he offered recipes for fried oysters and "potlikkers" before finally yielding after 15 hours and 30 minutes of continuous speech.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the longest filibuster in US Senate history?

The longest filibuster in US Senate history was conducted by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1957. According to the United States Senate records, Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an attempt to block the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. His marathon speech remains the record for the longest solo filibuster.

How did Senator Alfonse D'Amato's filibuster rank in terms of length?

Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York executed one of the longest filibusters in US Senate history. In 1986, he spoke for 23 hours and 30 minutes to delay a military bill he believed would negatively impact a typewriter company in his state. This filibuster ranks as the second-longest solo effort, as noted by Senate archives.

What was the purpose of Senator Wayne Morse's lengthy filibuster?

Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon conducted a 22-hour and 26-minute filibuster in 1953, which stands as one of the longest in Senate history. His objective was to oppose the Tidelands Oil legislation, which concerned the ownership of offshore oil reserves. Morse's marathon speech was a testament to his strong opposition to the bill, which he believed unfairly favored certain states and private oil interests.

Can you tell me about Senator Robert La Follette's filibuster?

Senator Robert La Follette from Wisconsin carried out a significant filibuster in 1908, speaking for 18 hours and 23 minutes against the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which was related to currency reform. La Follette's effort is notable not just for its length but also for its passionate defense of progressive ideals and opposition to what he viewed as legislation favoring big banks.

What impact did Senator Rand Paul's filibuster have?

In 2013, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky led a 12-hour and 52-minute filibuster to raise concerns over the government's drone policy and the potential targeting of American citizens. Paul's filibuster, while not among the longest, was significant for its use of the filibuster to prompt a national discussion on civil liberties and executive power. It also showcased the continued relevance of the filibuster as a political tool in the modern era.

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Discussion Comments

Moldova

Sunny27-A filibuster is a congressional tactic that those in the Senate use when they want to avoid or delay the voting of a piece of legislation.

The Senate talks ad nauseum in efforts to make the other side want to throw in the towel and give up. This is the filibuster definition and we only happen to see this action when the legislation has a high level of opposition. A filibuster senate is sometimes the only political tactic that a minority party has in the Senate. In this case it is the Republicans because they do not have the votes to stop the legislation.

Sunny27

The longest filibuster in senate history occurred in August 29, 1957. The filibuster lasted slightly over twenty-four hours.

Strom Thurmond was against the Civil Rights bill and by creating the longest filibuster, he was hoping to tire so many of the senators out that they would give up and not vote for the Civil Right legislation.

This was really the longest filibuster in American history.

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    • South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate when he spoke for more than 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act in 1957.
      By: vlad_g
      South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate when he spoke for more than 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act in 1957.