5 of the longest filibusters in U.S. Senate history

Senator Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) is mobbed by reporters as he steps from the Senate Chamber after ending his 24-hour, 18-minutes talkathon against the Civil Rights Bill.
Senator Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) is mobbed by reporters as he steps from the Senate Chamber after ending his 24-hour, 18-minutes talkathon against the Civil Rights Bill. (Getty Images)

The term “filibuster” has been in the news the past few days, with Democrats and Republicans debating in the Senate whether they should still exist.

For those who don’t know, a filibuster, as defined by the Senate website, is “any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.”

In other words, it’s the ultimate stall tactic that hopes to delay a process or change people’s minds when a senator has unlimited time on the floor to speak about a topic.

With that in mind, it got us thinking: What are the longest filibusters in Senate history?

Here are five of them, which have some creative backgrounds.


5. William Proxmire (16 hours, 12 minutes)

William Proxmire. (Getty Images)

A Democratic senator from Wisconsin, Proxmire in 1981 took the floor to deliver remarks against a measure that would raise the national debt ceiling to more than $1 trillion.

Taking the floor, Proxmire proclaimed, “I intend to speak all night.”

Proxmire did, speaking from 6:10 p.m. on a Monday until 10:27 the next morning, managing to take a quick bathroom break when two other senators offered questions.

Proxmire made his point, but ultimately, it didn’t have an effect on the vote.

The measure to raise the national debt passed.


4. Robert La Follette (18 hours, 23 minutes)

Robert La Follette. (Getty Images)

La Follette was also a senator from Wisconsin, but in a different time, and his filibuster was to oppose the Aldrich-Vreeland currency bill, which allowed the U.S. Treasury to lend currency to banks during times of financial crisis.

He spoke on May 29, 1908, while temperatures in the chambers were near 90 degrees, according to the Senate’s website.

To make sure he had energy to get through his more than-18 hour filibuster, La Follette sent a page to get a turkey sandwich and a glass of milk with fortified eggs, which, as it turned out, made him sick after a few sips. He didn’t drink the whole glass, but if he had, the mixture of the drink was reportedly toxic enough that he would have died.

La Follette trudged on the best he could, but eventually stopped just after 7 a.m. on May 29.

The filibuster didn’t sway the opinion of his colleagues, as the measure passed.


3. Wayne Morse (22 hours, 26 minutes)

Wayne Morse (Getty Images)

A senator from Oregon who was born in Wisconsin, Morse broke La Follette’s previous record on April 24, 1953, getting on the floor to protest the Submerged Lands Act, which gave states the title to submerged navigable lands within their borders instead of the federal government.

Morse tried his best to persuade, but eventually, states were given titles to submerged lands.


2. Al D’Amato (23 hours, 30 minutes)

Al D’Amato. (Getty Images)

D’Amato fell just short of the record for longest filibuster from Oct. 16-17, 1986, passionately voicing his displeasure over an amendment to a military bill that was going to cut funding for a jet trainer plane scheduled to be built by a company in his home state of New York.

D’Amato spent a good portion of his nearly day-long filibuster reading out of the District of Columbia phone book in an effort to stall.

The filibuster did have an effect, as a compromise was reached in the bill -- in which the plane built in New York would have a fly-off competition with a plane made by a company in Kansas.


1. Strom Thurmond (24 hours, 18 minutes)

Weary after his record one man filibuster against the Civil Rights Bill, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, is kissed by his wife after talking for 24 hours and 18 minutes. (Getty Images)

A senator from South Carolina, Thurmond opposed the Civil Rights Act in 1957. From 8:54 p.m. on Aug. 28 until 9:12 p.m. on Aug. 29, 1957, Thurmond pleaded his case against the bill.

It was all for naught, as the bill easily passed.

To prepare for his speech, Thurmond took steam baths every day to dehydrate his body so it could absorb fluids, all in an effort to avoid having to leave the floor and use the bathroom, according to NPR.

That didn’t work.

During the speech, Thurmond was asked by Barry Goldwater to yield the floor to him for an insertion in the Congressional Record, something Thurmond was thrilled to do because it allowed him to take the brief time to use the bathroom.

Thurmond quickly returned to the floor, but concerned that nature would call again, his staff came up with an idea.

They set up a bucket in the nearby cloakroom, where Thurmond could relieve himself while keeping a foot on the senate floor, according to NPR.

Ultimately, Thurmond stopped, despite keeping the speech going while drinking orange juice and eating diced pumpernickel and hamburger bits.


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