Woodrow Wilson was no fan of Senate filibusters:
“The Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” Woodrow Wilson, March 4, 1917.
The Democrats controlled the Senate from 1913-1919 and Wilson hated the way that Republicans could bottle up his proposed legislation through the filibuster. To mollify him, the Senate Democrats passed a rule change one hundred years ago that allowed the termination of debate on a two-thirds vote to invoke cloture. Even after cloture each Senator could speak for an additional hour on the matter under consideration before a vote was taken. Cloture existed more in theory than in practice. Over the next 46 years the Senate would vote for cloture only five times. There are several reasons why this was the case.
Filibusters added a touch of drama and comedy to otherwise dry proceedings. The public generally enjoyed them as did more than a few Senators. Many Senators prided themselves upon belonging to what they called the greatest deliberative body, and thought that the filibuster played an essential role in what made the Senate the Senate. Southern Democrats, relying on the filibuster to stop civil rights legislation, were fervent supporters of the filibuster. Many Senators realized that shifting political fortunes could turn a majority into a minority over night, and that the filibuster was the strongest tool of a minority. Continue Reading