The Art of Filibuster

  • The most instructive part of last week's World Court debate was the long speech, having very little to do with the Court, with which the new Senator from South Carolina, Cole* I. Blease, filled up an entire afternoon of the Senate's time to forestall a vote. He began:

    " Mr. President, I think if we ever have a contest in the United States to determine who is its poorest reader, that I can easily win the prize. So if any Senator has any other business to attend to I shall not consider it the slightest discourtesy if he declines to listen to my reading.

    " There was delivered in this country at one time an important message by a very distinguished gentleman, and I think that of all times this is the time that the American people should have it recalled to their attention. It was as follows:"

    He then began to read Washington's farewell address. Several hours later he closed:

    " It is now 3:30 o'clock. Like a good soldier I have obeyed orders and done my duty. Therefore, I shall close for the present, but I now give the Senate notice that I shall resume my remarks whenever duty calls."

    The entire interval was not, however, filled with Washington's remarks, for the unique Senator, standing behind his desk in the back row on the Democratic side, his fine dark hair now streaked with white, thundered interpolations across the all but empty chamber towards the rostrum where Mr. Dawes, himself a connoisseur of filibustering, with his chair turned towards the speaker, leaned back in languid and good-natured attention.

    Mr. Blease would pause in his reading to exclaim, "How true!" "How prophetic and how pathetic!" "Now, Senators, listen..." "What words!" "There you are." "That 'my doctrine," or " What a great sentence! He could have stopped with that sentence* and yet immortalized himself," or "He surely told God's truth then ..." or again, "Great words; but not mine. I never had and never will have sense enough to write as Washington wrote." But he also made longer interpolations illustrating his opinion on a diversity of subjects:

    Of Woodrow Wilson: "I saw before me when I was Governor of South Carolina a man in the President's office called a Democrat, elected, however, because the Senator from California [Mr. Johnson] and the candidate from New York did not shake hands, elected by Republican votes, undoubtedly. The only Democratic President this country has had since the Civil War elected by Democrats was Grover Cleveland of New York."

    Of Religion: "I never argued with a man about his religion. I do not care what church he belongs to. The only thing I am interested in is whether his church leads by its doctrine to the same future happiness that my church leads to."

    Of Evolution: "I have no sympathy with the theory of evolution, although in some respects I have pretty nearly changed my mind since I came to Washington. When I see a man sitting in a restaurant smoking a cigaret and blowing the smoke in the face of a perfectly respectable woman, I have my doubts whether God created him in His image or notP]

    Mr. Blease: "Mr. President, the Senator does not want an answer to that questionervation of those wonderful forests around his home; who loved everything that had life in it, whether it were a human being, an animal, a bird, or a fish, or a fowl, even a tree or a bush or a flower..."

    Of Himself: "I love all of the citizens of America. If a man is a true-blooded American, and stands for American principles, I love him. I do not care whether he be a Republican or a Progressive, a Socialist or a Democrat stands ready to defend them at all hazards, I love him....

    "Down in my section of the country if the governor of my State were to go around with liquor in his pocketny immunity with any man or set of men....

    "I know just exactly how long I am going to be here if I live. I shall be here until March 4, 1931. Then, if I am alive and have good health and my people shall say, 'We want you to stay,' I shall stay; but if they shall not want me to stay, it will not hurt my feelings a bit, for along that line I have a wonderful record, Mr. President. I have been beaten a whole lot more than I have been elected. [Laughter.]

    "So I do not worry about being defeated; in fact, my younger brother told me once when I was defeated, 'I am glad they beat you.' I asked, 'Why, boy?' He replied, 'Because somehow or other you are greater in defeat than you are in victory.' I suppose that is because I have more sense when I get beaten and keep my mouth shut better than I do when I get elected." [Laughter.]

    Of William Howard Taft: "That great man, the man whom this country has honored as no other man has ever been honored t about as hard to please about a court as is anybody, because courts have decided against me so many times that sometimes I feel like they do not know any law, and I think it over seriously, and then I think they are right and that I do not know any law." [Laughter.]

    Of Diplomatic Privilege: "Liquor sent over from Baltimore under protection for foreign embassies that they and their people might have a big Christmas, drink liquor, drink wine and champagne, frolic and have dances. Oh, they had a glorious old time Christmas Day, but the poor little devil who drove a street car all day in the snow, or drove his hack and had to beat his arms to keep warm, or worked down here in a ditch somewhere and quietly slipped out and got his little half pint, put it in his hip pocket, and slipped around in somebody's closet or maybe slipped home and took a little drink, whose feet were wet after he had been working hard all day, and who was cold and felt like he would just have a little appetizer 'Good morning, Mr. Ambassador. Good morning, Mr. Consul. Not only you but your attache, your little automobile driver, are exempt from the American law.'

    "Great God, what a country!"

    Of Prohibition: "Prohibition? Why any man who thinks this country has prohibition is an ignorant fool. The only man in this country that has prohibition is the poor devil who has not money to buy liquor, and everybody knows it; and if he does not know it, it will not take him long to find out if he will just walk slowly along up the street and look like his lips were dry. Why, they have soliciting agents all over the city, and they come into the Senate Office Building and they go into the House Office Building and they come under the dome of the Capitol; and yet some people stand up and talk about our having prohibition."

    *Pronounced in two syllables.

    *"It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."