freedom riders

freedom riders

Freedom riders were northerners who took interstate buses down to the south in order to protest Jim Crow and segregation policies.

Most of the freedom riders were college students; about half of them were black and about half were white. Most of them (an estimated 75 percent) were men. The first freedom ride took place in the summer of 1961 ; other rides followed.

Freedom riders held sit-ins at lunch counters, waiting rooms, and restrooms in interstate bus stations throughout the deep south. Their goal was to put to the test a recent Supreme Court ruling which had declared that segregation on interstate bus and rail stations was unconstitutional. 

The freedom rides were organized by the Congress on Racial Equality, or CORE. The first bus set off from Washington DC on March 4, 1961, carrying seven black and six white protesters to the deep south. The initiative was modeled after CORE’s “Journey of Reconciliation,” which took place in 1947. The Journey of Reconciliation had groups of black and white volunteers ride buses in the south to  test out a Supreme Court decision (Morgan v. Virginia, 1946) which declared that segregated bus seating was unconstitutional. 

The Freedom Riders soon encountered violent opposition. The historian Raymond Arsenault recounted some of them in his book, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Arsenault described the experience of a group of freedom riders in the little town of Anniston, Alabama:

“As the crowd of about fifty surrounded the bus, an eighteen-year-old Klansman and ex-convict named Roger Couch stretched out on the pavement in front of the bus to block any attempt to leave, while the rest — carrying metal pipes, clubs, and chains — milled around menacingly, some screaming, “Dirty Communists” and “Sieg heil!” There was no sign of any police, even though Herman Glass, the manager of the Anniston Greyhound station, had warned local officials earlier in the day that a potentially violent mob had gathered around the station.”

That angry mob beat the northern protesters viciously; one man threw a firebomb threw a bus window. The mob also slashed the bus tires so that the freedom riders had to abandon their burning bus and carry out the next stage of their trip by plane.

Many northerners were horrified by the response of southern police to the attacks on the freedom fighters. Police largely stood by and did nothing to protect the freedom riders against violent mobs. In Jackson, Mississippi, police arrested hundreds of the freedom riders and charged them with breach of the peace. Convicted, they spent up to six weeks in what the New York Times called “sweltering, filthy and vermin infested cells.”

Accounts of the violence spread around the country and helped to raise awareness of the freedom riders and their goals; this also inspired other people to join the movement, and put pressure of President Kennedy to take action. Eventually, Robert Kennedy ordered federal marshals to protect the freedom riders, and the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation on interstate travel.

forty acres and a mule

40 acres and a mule

“Forty acres and a mule” is a popular name for an order which promised freed slave that every family would be given a plot of land, measuring up to 40 acres. The land was to be seized from southern plantation owners and divided up among the men and women who had formerly worked it as slaves.

On January 16, 1865, the Union general William Tecumseh Sherman issued an order – Special Field Order 15 – to seize 400,000 acres of land and redistribute them to the newly freed black families, after parceling the land out into 40-acre units. This order, which had been approved by President Lincoln, eventually came to be known as “40 acres and a mule,” although the idea of loaning out government mules to help work the land came later.

Sherman did not come up with the idea of redistributing land; neither did the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. In fact, the idea came out of a meeting which Sherman and Stanton held with a group of black ministers in the days following Sherman’s famous March to the Sea. The meeting took place in Savannah, Georgia; Stanton preserved a transcript of it and sent it to the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, boasting that “for the first time in the history of this nation, the representatives of the government had gone to these poor debased people to ask them what they wanted for themselves.” The transcript was later published in the New York Daily Tribune.

PBS notes that Stanton and Sherman met with 20 black ministers, mostly Baptist and Methodist. 11 of the ministers had been born free; the other nine had lived as slaves. The ministers’ spokesman was a 67 year old former slave named Garrison Frazier  who had purchased his own freedom and the freedom of his wife. 

Stanton and Sherman asked the group of ministers what it was that they wanted for the black community. The men said, unanimously, that they wanted land of their own. Frazier said, “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor … and we can soon maintain ourselves and have something to spare … We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own.” Sherman and Stanton then asked whether the freed slaves “would rather live — whether scattered among the whites or in colonies by themselves.” Frazier replied, “I would prefer to live by ourselves, for there is a prejudice against us in the South that will take years to get over … ” The others agreed, and just four days later, Sherman issued his order.

In the event, the order was reversed within just a few months. After Lincoln’s assassination, his Democratic vice president, Andrew Johnson, came into office and reversed Sherman’s order. The land was handed back to its former Confederate owners. WEB Dubois later said that “the vision of forty acres and a mule…was destined in most cases to bitter disappointment.” 

forgotten man

forgotten man

In politics, a phrase invoking the average American citizen. The implication is usually that the forgotten man has suffered some major economic hardship and has been neglected by the federal government. 

The phrase was first popularized in 1932 by Franklin Roosevelt during his first presidential campaign. FDR delivered a radio address setting out his argument against the Hoover administration. FDR called for an end to “the illusions of economic magic” and urged, instead, policies that would rebuild the economy “from the bottom up” and would focus on the real needs of ordinary Americans – the “forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid,” as he put it.

But FDR didn’t invent the phrase. Writing at the end of the 19th century, the sociologist William Sumner wrote about the plight of the “forgotten man.” Sumner’s forgotten man had a very different connotation from FDR’s. For Sumner, the forgotten man wasn’t someone who needed help from the government. Rather, he was the victim of an over-reaching government.

Sumner was looking out for hard-working Americans who, as he saw it, were being over-taxed so that idealistic social programs could be put into place. The forgotten man himself never saw any benefit from those programs. Sumner wrote,

It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention…Their [the reformers’] law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. …what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist.

Decades later, Richard Nixon returned to the idea of the “forgotten man.” Nixon argued that American politics was being dominated by a few, outspoken voices on the extreme ends of the political spectrum. He said that instead of listening to the loud voices of activists and anti-war protesters, he wanted to listen to “another voice. It is the quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting. It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans — the non-shouters; the non-demonstrators. They are not racists or sick; they are not guilty of the crime that plagues the land. They are black and they are white — they’re native born and foreign born — they’re young and they’re old…They give drive to the spirit of America.”

In 2017, President Trump referred again to the forgotten man during his inaugural address. The president vowed that during his presidency, the “forgotten men and women of this country” would be treated fairly:

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

floor fight

floor fight

A floor fight is an argument that threatens to derail either a convention or a congressional proceeding. Most of the time, floor fights are non-violent; the fighting is verbal. However, American history also includes some memorable incidents in which floor fights became physical. 

In the past, when brokered conventions were the norm, floor fights often broke out in the midst of a party convention; typically, they arose when delegates disagreed over the contents of the party’s platform. However, it has now been 70 years since the United States saw a brokered convention.

Today, “floor fight” usually refers to a fight on the Senate or House floor. In theory, of course, there should never be any fights at all in Congress, especially in the Senate. Thomas Jefferson wrote a “Manual of Parliamentary Practice” in which he explained the importance of decorum in the Senate:

“No one is to disturb another in his speech by hissing, coughing, spitting, speaking or whispering to another; nor to stand up or interrupt him; nor to pass between the Speaker and the speaking member; nor to go across the [Senate chamber], or to walk up and down it, or to take books or papers from the [clerk’s] table, or write there.”

In reality, of course, Congress members have not always lived up to Jefferson’s ideal. In 1902, a physical fight broke out between the junior and senior senators from South Carolina. The junior senator, John McLaurin, accused the senior senator, Ben Tillman, of “a willful, malicious, and deliberate lie,” which led Tilman to punch him in the jaw. Senators rushed to separate the men.  The fight did not last long, but remains part of Senate lore. 

The House of Representatives has a rowdier history. On February 6, 1858, a huge brawl broke out during a debate of the Lecompton Constitution, a pro-slavery document which had been proposed as the new constitution for the Kansas Territory. The debate lasted late into the night; at about 2AM, Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow and South Carolina Democrat Laurence Keitt first flung words at each other, and then began to fight with their fists. Dozens of other representatives waded into the fray, with Republicans taking sides against Democrats. At one high point in the fight, two Wisconsin Republicans ripped off the wig of a Democrat from Mississippi.

Most of the time, of course, a “floor fight” amounts to little more than a series of dramatic speeches and a tightly contested vote. In 2019, for example, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. The vote took place almost entirely on party lines and was accompanied by impassioned speeches from both sides. As NBC reported:

As a technical matter, the resolution was a dry set of rules for the public phase of an investigation into President Donald Trump that has been under way informally almost since Democrats took control of the House in January. But on a political level, the floor fight over it was nasty, brutish and relatively short — just over an hour — ending in a nearly perfect party-line vote.

fireside chat

fireside chat

A series of radio addresses which President Franklin Roosevelt carried out over the course of his presidency. Roosevelt delivered a total of 30 such addresses between 1933 and 1944. They were known as “fireside chats” because they were delivered in an informal, relatively intimate style, as though the audience were sitting around the fireside chatting with the president.

FDR’s first fireside chat was delivered on March 12, 1933. The president used the address to explain the ongoing “bank holiday” and ask Americans for their cooperation in the midst of America’s banking crisis. The country had recently experienced a month-long run on the banks, which prompted FDR to announce a Bank Holiday, shutting down the banking system for a week.

In his first fireside chat, FDR explained the, in straightforward language, the way the banking system worked, and set out his reasons for shutting down the banks. He urged Americans to put their faith in the system instead of, as he put it, keeping their money under a mattress. The chat appears to have worked; within two weeks after the bank holiday ended, Americans returned more than half of their money to the banks.

Over the years, FDR delivered “chats” about his economic policies, unemployment figures, military initiatives, and a range of other topics. He used the chats to appeal directly to the American people, building up popular support for his policies and bypassing the media entirely. This also gave him the opportunity to address criticism against him.

In his fifth fireside chat, delivered on June 28, 1934, FDR acknowledged that there had been some problems with his New Deal, but insisted that those hurt by his programs were the greedy and the self-interested:

“In the working out of a great national program which seeks the primary good of the greater number, it is true that the toes of some people are being stepped on and are going to be stepped on. But these toes belong to the comparative few who seek to retain or to gain position or riches or both by some short cut which is harmful to the greater good.”

FDR also used that speech to take on his critics, depicting them as “complicated” and positioning himself as a plain-spoken American:

“A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it ” Fascism”, sometimes “Communism”, sometimes “Regimentation”, sometimes “Socialism”. But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical. I believe in practical explanations and in practical policies.”

Decades later, FDR continued to have his critics. In 1964, the New York Times published an editorial titled “The Case Against The ‘Fireside Chat.” The piece urged President Lyndon Johnson to stop appealing directly to “the people” to support his civil rights programs. The Times warned that FDR shouldn’t be used as a role model, explaining:

There are dangers in passionate appeals by the President for popular support. Ours is a constitutional society. Hopefully, that means that we govern ourselves through representatives even while restraining ourselves — and our representatives — within the confines of an elaborate structure of laws, institutions, rules, procedures and customs that collectively comprise our constitutional order. Government by popular referendum is the antithesis of constitutional government.

finger on the button

finger on the button

The person who has his “finger on the button” has the power to launch a nuclear weapon. The expression is used to evoke the possibility of nuclear war and to imply that the president of the United States – or his counterpart in other nuclear-powered states – has the power to set off an atomic war at any moment.

There is, of course, no actual nuclear “button” which can be pressed to launch a nuclear missile. However, it is true that in the United States, the president has the sole authority to decide when to launch the nuclear weapon. He is not required to consult with his advisors before making that decision, and nobody can legally prevent the use of nuclear weapons once the president has issued an order.

This unique power may be why the “finger on the button” phrase has been used again and again over the years by politicians, especially in the heat of a presidential race. 

President Lyndon Johnson, for example, told his Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater, that the president had to “do anything that is honorable to avoid pulling that trigger, mashing that button that will blow up the world. For his part, President Richard Nixon talked about exploiting the threat of nuclear weapons. He told his staff that he wanted the North Vietnamese leadership to believe that he was a “madman” who could not be held back “when he’s angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button.”

The phrase is most often thrown around ahead of a presidential election, especially when one politician wants to attack another.  In 2008, a US Representative from Hebron, Kentucky called then-candidate Barack Obama a “snake oil salesman” and warned that he should not be trusted with the “button.” Davis told his audience, “I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button,” Davis said. “He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country.”

A few years later, Hillary Clinton told her supporters that Donald Trump shouldn’t be trusted with his own finger on the button. Clinton went beyond simply being concerned about nuclear weapons, to suggest that, more broadly, Donald Trump should not be trusted. Clinton said, “The bottom line is that just like Trump shouldn’t have his finger on the button or his hands on our economy, he should not have anything to do with our children’s education and our public schools.”

Of course, activists and pundits also use the phrase. In 2016, the former editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote an editorial for the Chicago Tribune titled “Nuclear weapons: Whose finger do you want on the button?” The piece said, in part:

Putin is something of a chest-thumper. The two leading GOP candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are also chest-thumpers. Given that, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the world’s two leading nuclear weapon states are led by presidents who lack the temperament to handle a rapidly deteriorating confrontation…That’s a reality that we need to consider when we finally enter the voting booth in November.

Final Solution

The Final Solution was a euphemistic name used by Nazi leaders for their plan to exterminate all of the Jews in Europe. The plan’s full name was the “final solution to the Jewish question.” The plan led to the murder of six million Jews during the period from 1941 until 1945, when Allied forces liberated Europe from the Nazis.

Anti-semitism was a key part of Nazi policy from the time the party came into power, but during the early years, the party did not explicitly talk about extermination. However, Hitler himself had talked about his genocidal plans well before he ever came into power. In 1922, he told the journalist Josef Heil:

If I am ever really in power, the destruction of the Jews will be my first and most important job. As soon as I have power, I shall have gallows after gallows erected, for example, in Munich on the Marienplatz-as many of them as traffic allows.

When the Nazi party did come into power, in 1933, the party’s anti-Semitism took the form of anti-Jewish legislation and the violent Kristallnacht pogroms. Later, after the onset of World War II, the Nazis began to set up ghettos to contain the Jewish populations in countries under Hitler’s control. Conditions in these ghettos were unsanitary and dangerous; residents faced overcrowding and severe food shortages. 

The Nazi leadership considered deporting Germany’s Jewish population, instead of murdering them. In fact, until at least the end of the 1930s Hitler thought that mass deportation was the best way to achieve his dream of eliminating Germany’s Jewish population. The goal behind all of the Nazi party’s anti-Jewish violence and legislation was to convince as many Jews as possible to emigrate. In 1939, Hitler delivered a speech to the German parliament in which he criticized western governments for failing to give asylum to Jewish immigrants. Hitler warned that if there was a war, he would bring about the “annihilation” of European Jews.

However, the leadership’s thinking apparently changed after the invasion of Russia. During the invasion, which the Germans called “Operation Barbarossa,” members of Hitler’s special forces showed that they were willing to carry out mass murders, leading Hitler to believe that his forces would be willing to carry out a genocide. Hitler had picked 3,000 men to serve in the special force, known as the Einsatzgruppen. Their orders were to find and murder all Jews – men, women, and children. Heinrich Himmler later wrote in October of 1943:

We were faced with the question: what about the women and children? – I have decided on a solution to this problem. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men only – in other words, to kill them or have them killed while allowing the avengers, in the form of their children, to grow up in the midst of our sons and grandsons. The difficult decision had to be made to have this people disappear from the earth.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic violence in Germany was leading to an outbreak of anti-Semitism across the western world. In France, a group calling themselves the Cagoulards, or “hooded men,” espoused fascist and anti-Semitic views. Fascist and anti-semitic groups also formed in the UK, where they were known as the British Union of Fascists, and in the United States, where they were called the German-American Bund.

fifth column

A “fifth column” is a group which operates in secret, usually within enemy lines, in order to help further a cause which they secretly support. 

The term originated with Emilio Mola Vidal, a Nationalist general who served under Franco during the Spanish Civil War. As Mola Vidal was marching on Madrid with four columns of his own army, he announced that he also had a “fifth column” of supporters who were working to help him from within the capital.

Classically, a fifth column works by infiltrating a nation, introducing its supporters into positions of trust, and gradually influencing public policy and military issues. Fifth column workers can also influence the people of a nation by spreading rumors and fear.

However, the notion of the “fifth column” can also be used to create fear and distrust among the people of a nation. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, for example, the New York Post warned darkly that there was a “fifth column” operating in the United States and working to bring down the country:

The FBI is looking for hundreds of men inside the United States suspected of playing a role in Osama bin Laden’s terror network. The support network that made last week’s attacks possible is right here, burrowed inside Arab and Muslim communities in American neighborhoods. For the first time in American history, we have irrefutable evidence that there is a dangerous and functional foreign-born “fifth column” at work on American soil.

The Post was hardly the first to issue warnings about a fifth column operating in the United States. Decades earlier, Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned that there was a “fifth column” of Nazi sympathizers working within the United States where, he said, they were plotting to carry out espionage and sabotage.

In modern times, some on the left have been warning that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is setting up a “fifth column” throughout Europe:

 Putin…has formed an alliance with many European far-right political parties and their leaders, who have delivered consistent adherence to Russian interests even when it contradicts some of their past positions…These far-right parties are capitalizing on economic and security crises in Europe to build popular support and now operate as a fifth column that is undermining the Western liberal order from within. President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for Putin and his pursuit of policies that advance Russia’s goals show disturbing similarities to the European far right that are equally difficult to rationalize.”

It’s worth noting that the Cato Institute has argued that the true danger of the fifth column isn’t the danger posed by the saboteurs and secret agents – it’s the fear which they cause among the general population. In Spain, for example,

“The city [Madrid] never fell to the nationalists, but fear of this “fifth column” caused the Republican government under Francisco Caballero to abandon Madrid for Valencia and it led to a massacre of nationalist prisoners in Madrid during the ensuing battle. So a “fifth column” is not so much an insidious group of spies or traitors as it is the threat of such a group which causes the incumbent power to miscalculate and overreact.”

on the fence

To be”on the fence” is to be hesitant about taking a political stance. Someone who is “on the fence” resists joining one side or the other of an argument, especially when taking a side could be politically risky.

On a literal level, of course, fences define the boundaries between properties. Sitting astride of a fence indicates that you have one foot in each of two properties. Metaphorically, sitting on the fence means that you have one foot in each of two opposing positions.

“Fence sitting” tends to be used as an insult, but the phrase can also be flipped on its head. A more positive term for a fence sitter is a moderate – and the world is full of praise for moderates. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Akst looked at some recent definitions of the moderate:

A true moderate…rather than seeking “safe spaces,” welcomes opposing views. Moderates know that nobody has a monopoly on the truth and are willing to appear inconsistent in order to follow the facts, moving (deliberately) first to one side and then the other like human ballast in the interests of keeping the ship of state on an even keel.

Moderates are increasingly rare in the US today. Americans are more and more divided on political, economic, and social issues. The Pew Center calls political polarization a “defining feature of American politics today” and notes that there is a widening gap between conservatives and liberals on issues like gender equality, the environment, and a host of other issues. 

The gap between Democrats and Republicans has widened since the onset of COVID-19, the Pew Center has found. In a survey carried out in late June, the group found that 61 percent of Republicans believed that the US had “turned a corner” when it came to dealing with the coronavirus. In contrast, just 23 percent of Democrats said the same; 76 percent of Democrats surveyed agreed with the statement that “the worst is still to come” in terms of the coronavirus.

With the country increasingly polarized, some marketing experts say nobody can afford to sit on the fence any longer. Even corporations must now take a stand, some say, aligning themselves with one political position or another. A panel hosted by the Business Marketing Association at the Wall Street Journal found that

“In the Trump era, the longtime practice of sitting on the fence is over for brands who must not only know their political values, but openly share them. But that’s not to say brands must take strong stances on every issue. Instead, they should speak in broader terms about issues tied to their values and avoid calling out any specific political figures or voter blocks.”

For what it’s worth, Britain’s national health service has reported that there may be health benefits to political extremism. The NHS summarized what it called a “tongue in cheek” study published in the Mail Online which found that people who identify with extreme political positions tend to get more exercise than self-described moderates. In other words, the NHS wrote, “People who sit on the fence, it seems, spend too much time sitting on the couch as well. “

fat cat

In politics, a “fat cat” is a rich and influential person, usually one who donates generously to political campaigns. 

Typically, “fat cat” refers to an executive whose earnings vastly exceed those of the average American. The expression suggests that the person is bloated and slightly grotesque, like a cat who’s been over-eating for years and has become grossly overweight. 

The phrase “fat cat” was in use by the 1920s in America; Merriam Webster claims that the term was first used in 1928. However, others claim that an article in the Baltimore Sun in 1925 grumbled about “fat cats” as early as 1925. The article read, in part,

“It ought perhaps to be explained that Fat Cat is the significant and revealing name in political circles for the sleek, rich fellows who enter politics for one reason or another and depend for their standing and success upon the liberality with which they shell out the dollars.”

The term “fat cat” often gets thrown around by politicians and pundits who are looking for a way to rebuke their political enemies. In 2009, then-president Obama used the term to describe bankers who were opposed to his proposed financial regulations. 

“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” Obama told 60 Minutes. He added, “the people on Wall Street still don’t get it. They’re still puzzled why it is that people are mad at the banks. Well, let’s see. You guys are drawing down $10 (million), $20 million dollar bonuses after America went through the worst economic year in decades and you guys caused the problem.”

Just a few years later, though, Obama himself was being described as a “fat cat.” Headlines pointed out that after leaving office, Obama had charged as much as $400,000 for a single speaking engagement. He was speaking at a Wall Street conference organized by the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Eventually, Obama seemed to apologize for calling bankers fat cats, telling the New York Times, “it hurt their feelings. I would have some of them say to me, ‘You know, my son came home and asked me, ‘Am I a fat cat?”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly slammed Hillary Clinton as a “fat cat.” Trump told NBC’s Meet the Press that Clinton was going overboard in her fundraising effort and that she had sold out to Wall Street: “[Clinton] is selling herself to Wall Street, and the Wall Street fat cats are putting up a lot of money for her,” Trump said, pointing out that his campaign had no such need to fundraise.

A few years later, of course, critics of President Trump mocked him as a “fat cat.” This was a popular theme with political cartoonists and columnists. One cartoonist drew the president as a portly orange cat wearing a yellow hairpiece. Another created merchandise satirizing Dr Seuss’s famous “cat in the hat;” the president was depicted as a fat cat in a blue suit and a MAGA hat.

Fair Deal

The Fair Deal was a package of economic and social reforms put forward by President Harry Truman, with the stated purpose of giving all Americans access to education, healthcare, and good jobs.

Truman began talking about reform almost as soon as he came into office. In 1945, he asked Congress to create legislation that would expand social security, create new public housing, and enact civil rights legislation, including a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act. Congress did pass an Employment Act, which made it the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans could find work. But Truman’s other reforms didn’t get any traction.

In 1949, fresh after winning re-election, Truman made the Fair Deal the focus of his State of the Union address.  “Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair deal,” Truman told Congress. He named his proposal the “fair deal” in a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; Truman’s proposal was intended to take the New Deal into the present.  His goal was to increase the nation’s prosperity and to spread out the wealth, since, he said, we “cannot maintain prosperity unless we have a fair distribution of opportunity and a widespread consumption of the products of our factories and farms.” 

Truman told Congress:

We must spare no effort to raise the general level of health in this country. In a nation as rich as ours, it is a shocking fact that tens of millions lack adequate medical care. We are short of doctors, hospitals, nurses. We must remedy these shortages. Moreover, we need–and we must have without further delay–a system of prepaid medical insurance which will enable every American to afford good medical care.

It is equally shocking that millions of our children are not receiving a good education. Millions of them are in overcrowded, obsolete buildings. We are short of teachers, because teachers’ salaries are too low to attract new teachers, or to hold the ones we have. All these school problems will become much more acute as a result of the tremendous increase in the enrollment in our elementary schools in the next few years. I cannot repeat too strongly my desire for prompt Federal financial aid to the States to help them operate and maintain their school systems.

However, the United States had moved to the right since the period of the Great Depression, when FDR’s New Deal passed through Congress. Truman turned out to have a greater hurdle to clear than his predecessor had; the president had misjudged the direction the country was taking. His Fair Deal was popular with liberals in Congress, but it ran into stiff opposition from conservative Democrats and Republicans. Southern Democrats carried out a filibuster and blocked Truman’s civil rights legislation. An agricultural program geared at family farmers also failed. Congress did, however, pass legislation to increase the minimum wage, and it established a Housing Act to create new houses for the poor. Congress also expanded social security benefits. 

five o’clock follies

“Five o’clock follies” is a familiar and derogatory nickname for the daily press briefings that the U.S. military held for American reporters during the Vietnam War. In modern times, the phrase has been used to refer to any establishment effort to control the news about a given topic.

The original five o’clock follies took place over the course of eight years in a bar on the roof of Saigon’s Rex Hotel; they were conducted by a string of US military officials.

American journalists were widely critical of the briefings, which were seen as a way for the US military to use half-truths and carefully selected facts to make it look like America was winning the war when it was obviously becoming a quagmire. Richard Pyle, who served as Saigon bureau chief for the Associated Press, famously called the press conferences “the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia’s theater of the absurd.”

Even members of the military accepted that the briefings were the frequent butt of jokes. In an acknowledgement of the briefing’s reputation, Army Major Jere Forbus, the last man to run the briefings before they ended, said, “well, we may not have been perfect, but we outlasted Fiddler on the Roof.”

During the first Gulf war, in 1991, journalists dubbed the regular press briefings the “four o’clock follies.” Reporters claimed that the briefings were full of pointless facts but that they failed to answer real questions about the war itself. Later, in 2019, some members of the media compared the press briefings in Hong Kong to the five o’clock follies.

The expression “five o’clock follies” is sometimes stretched to mean any effort at all to control the news cycle. In 2016, the Daily Kos ran a piece arguing that the New York Times and the Washington Post were effectively running their own five o’clock follies. The piece claimed that the “elite media” was trying to control popular perception of the Democratic primaries, in particular that they were trying to play down the popularity of Bernie Sanders.

More recently, the New Yorker has claimed that President Trump was running his very own five o’clock follies. Like the original five o’clock follies in Saigon, Trump’s briefings on the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic took place at 5:00 every day. The Trump administration was widely criticized for its failure to stop the disease from spreading; his critics claimed that he had failed to take the pandemic seriously. Trump claimed early on that he had the epidemic “very much under control” – later, he pledged that the US would reopen in time for Easter, so that the church pews could be “packed.”

The New Yorker argued that  “just as the Vietnam briefings became a standard by which the erosion of government credibility could be measured then, historians of the future will consult the record of Trump’s mendacious, misleading press conferences as an example of a tragic failure of leadership at such a critical moment.”

Fancy Farm

An annual picnic in Fancy Farm, Kentucky that has come to represent the traditional starting point of the fall campaign season in Kentucky. The gathering attracts statewide and occasionally national candidates and is held on the first Saturday in August.

The picnic was mainly a local affair until A. B. “Happy” Chandler began making appearances, going for the first time in 1931 while running for Lieutenant Governor. So many Kentucky politicians now attend that it tends to only be news when a major politician decides not to make an appearance.

Said Chandler in an interview: “I guess I was one of the first candidates for statewide office to ever go to Fancy Farm. I ended my 1931 campaign for lieutenant governor down there. I won that election and thought Fancy Farm was good luck, so I kept going back.”

Sam Youngman: “Politically speaking, there are two main attractions at Fancy Farm: The specter of a career-ending gaffe hanging over every politician who takes the stage, and the crowd, half of which is trying to will that gaffe to happen through endless heckling and occasional chants.”

The Louisville Courier Journal has a good video explainer of the event.

firehouse primary

fire house primary

A firehouse primary is a candidate nominating contest funded and overseen by a local party organization rather than public election officials.

A standard primary is operated by county and state election officials who are not affiliated with any party. Firehouse primaries are used to determine local, county, and state candidates for general elections in lieu of standard primaries and party conventions. Parties use this primary method to handle nominations without convention floor votes or debates. A firehouse primary allows the sponsoring party to experiment with voting methods and ensure compliance with party rules.

The firehouse primary is sometimes referred to as a mass canvass, a party canvass, or a firehouse caucus. This primary form takes place in a variety of locations including schools, fire stations, and churches.

William Safire detailed the origins of firehouse primary in a 2008 On Language article for the New York Times. Safire found a secondhand reference to the phrase dating to a 1975 article in The Washington Post. This reference mentioned the open aspect of this primary with voters casting ballots at tables instead of booths. Safire’s firsthand research discovered firehouse primary’s print debut in a Washington Times article from 1990.

The firehouse primary is most often associated with the state of Virginia. Google Trends shows that Virginia was the lone state to show search interest in the term between 2004 and 2020. The Republican Party of Virginia includes firehouse primaries as one of several nominating options in its Handbook for Mass Meetings, Conventions and Party Canvasses. The Democratic Party of Virginia featured sample rules for a firehouse primary in its 2016 local elections handbook including the following:

  • A four-hour window for votes starting at noon
  • Certification by each voter of voter and party registration along with a promise not to vote for a candidate outside of the party
  • Using a coin flip to resolve tied votes after canvassing

Virginia may have popularized firehouse primaries but at least one state adopted this method for its 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The rules for the firehouse caucus held by the North Dakota Democratic Party included a pledge of support for the party’s candidates. This caucus represented a significant switch from the 2016 caucuses that required multiple rounds of preference votes. State parties in Alaska and Kansas also adopted the firehouse caucus format for their 2020 presidential nominating contests.


Virginia Mercury (June 6, 2019): “The local Republican committee in Hanover decided to cancel a party convention in favor of a mass canvass, or firehouse primary.”

The Harrisonburg Citizen (April 27, 2019): “The firehouse primary finished off an eight-week sprint of a campaign for the trio of Republicans since Landes announced March 5 that he wouldn’t run.”

NBC 4 Washington (January 24, 2014): “Northern Virginia Republicans opted to run a firehouse primary to choose a nominee in the 10th Congressional District, where Republican Frank Wolf is retiring after 34 years.”

Friday news dump

Releasing bad news or documents on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny is often called a “Friday news dump” by members of the media.

NPR: “Often, the White House sets the release of bad news and unflattering documents to late Friday afternoon. The Pentagon and other agencies also use the practice, a legacy of earlier administrations.”

The television show The West Wing had an episode on the technique called, “Take Out the Trash Day.”

Donna: What’s take out the trash day?

Josh: Friday.

Donna: I mean, what is it?

Josh: Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about, we give all in a lump on Friday.

Donna: Why do you do it in a lump?

Josh: Instead of one at a time?

Donna: I’d think you’d want to spread them out.

Josh: They’ve got X column inches to fill, right? They’re going to fill them no matter what.

Donna: Yes.

Josh: So if we give them one story, that story’s X column inches.

Donna: And if we give them five stories …

Josh: They’re a fifth the size.

Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?

Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

Donna: You guys are real populists, aren’t you?

front-porch campaign

front-porch campaign

A front-porch campaign is one in which the candidate stays close to home throughout the campaign. Instead of crisscrossing the country to woo voters, the candidate connects with supporters locally (by making speeches from his front porch, for example).

The term is often associated with William McKinley, who ran a successful front-porch campaign in 1896. McKinley, a Republican, won the presidency in spite of the fact that he spent almost the entire campaign at his home in Canton, Ohio. McKinley outspent his opponent, and he also had the benefit of working with one of the great political strategists of the time, an Ohio businessman named Marcus Hanna. Hanna acted as McKinley’s press agent, publicist, and reputation manager.

McKinley’s Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was an unusually active campaigner who traveled around the country calling for America to abandon the gold standard. Bryan’s speech at the Democratic national convention, in which he warned that America’s poor farmers were being “crucified on a cross of gold,” remains one of the most famous speeches in US politics, and Bryan delivered the speech in campaign stops around the country. Bryan made an estimated 600 campaign stop. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to win the presidential election.

McKinley wasn’t the first presidential candidate to conduct a front-porch campaign. In 1880 another Republican, James A. Garfield, ran a successful campaign from the spacious front porch of his home in Mentor, Ohio. The railroad companies agreed to build a spur line right up to Garfield’s house, and they offered a discount for crowds going to visit the candidate. Members of the press were invited to pitch their tents on Garfield’s lawn and listen to him speaking from his porch.

Visitors were also treated to scenes of the Garfield family’s domestic life: Garfield playing with his children on the front lawn; the whole family eating dinner together; Garfield’s mother pitting cherries in her rocking chair. The overall effect was of a strong, traditional family unit, an image which resonated with the country, especially in the aftermath of the troubled presidency of Ulysses S Grant.

Eight years later, Benjamin Harrison ran another successful presidential campaign from his front porch. Harrison, a Civil War general, addressed crowds of supports and curiosity-seekers at his home in  Indianapolis. Harrison carefully avoided the mudslinging and harsh rhetoric that had characterized earlier campaigns; giving speeches from his front porch allowed him to seem wholesome and to stay above the fray. Meanwhile, his political campaign ran a fiercer battle against the incumbent, Grover Cleveland.

In 1920, Warren G Harding conducted a successful front-porch campaign of his own. Harding’s victory is all the more interesting because his opponent, James Cox, carried out a very energetic campaign. Cox traveled from town to town and made full use of the newly-invented microphone to address large crowds. Harding, on the other hand, stayed in his home in Marion, Ohio, delivering speeches to admirers from his round front porch. Harding won the election by a landslide.

fifth column

The “fifth column” is a treasonous group who secretly undermine a nation from within.

The term was coined by the Nationalist General Emilio Mola Vidal during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). As four of his army columns moved on Madrid, he referred to his militant supporters within the capital as a “fifth column,” who weakened the loyalist government with a campaign of sabotage and uprisings.


A “flip-flop” is a sudden reversal of opinion or policy by a politician, usually running for office.

NPR notes the term “has been a fixture in popular American parlance at least since the 1880s. A New York Tribune writer in 1888 called out President Grover Cleveland for his ‘Fisheries flip-flop,’ presumably referring to Cleveland’s handling of the fishery treaty that governed waters shared by American and Canadian vessels and perhaps making wordplay on the way fish flop and flip on a boat deck. And in 1892, the New York Times pointed to the ‘flip-flop antics’ of John Boyd Thacher, the once-and-future mayor of Albany.”

Matthew Cooper: “Somewhere along the way, the charge of flip-flopping became one of the deadliest in politics—the shorthand for a lack of character. By contrast, a politician who didn’t change his or her mind, or who vowed to be uninterested in polls, was considered to be of a higher caliber. But there is a case for flip-flopping, or what might be called being human. After all, almost anyone with common sense has probably evolved on some position or another.”


“Frugging” is an unethical fundraising tactic where a telemarketer falsely claims to be a researcher conducting a poll, when in reality the “researcher” is attempting to solicit a donation.

The Washington Post cites Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions advocacy group as example: “According to complaints on consumer-focused Web sites, some American Solutions calls begin with slanted polling questions before proceeding to a request for money. The tactic, known as ‘fundraising under the guise of research,’ or frugging, is discouraged as unethical by trade groups such as the Marketing Research Association.”

filling the tree

“Filling the tree” is a procedure used by the Senate Majority Leader to offer a sufficient number of amendments on legislation to “fill the tree” so that no other senator can offer an amendment.

Congressional Institute: “By tradition, the Majority Leader is recognized first at the start of a debate. This enables the Leader, from time to time, to block the minority from offering any changes to a bill. To accomplish this, the Majority Leader fills the amendment tree with extraneous or meaningless amendments thereby blocking the introduction of any legitimate amendments by any other Senator (including those in his own party). It is a form of parliamentary obstruction used by the majority.”

flake rate

“Flake rate” is a calculation of people who sign up to volunteer for political canvassing or events but do not participate.

Flake rate is presented as a percentage of volunteers who initially sign up for campaign activities but ultimately decline to attend. The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment suggests that 50% of volunteers recruited for an event will not participate.

A low flake rate shows strong buy-in by volunteers in a campaign’s message and structure. A high flake rate can be attributed to superficial campaign development or lack of engagement with supporters beyond their initial sign-up. A negative flake rate occurs when more volunteers show up for a campaign action compared to the original sign-up list.

The Campaign Workshop provides a representative sample of suggestions for campaigns seeking to reduce their flake rates. These suggestions include frequent confirmations with volunteers and encouraging participation as part of daily routines. Recognition for volunteer performances and a variety of work can also encourage higher participation rates.

This term is largely used by political operatives, nonprofit leaders, and other experts. Google’s Ngram Viewer does not register the term in English texts to 2012. The Google Trends interest chart shows brief spikes around presidential elections but relative interest below 50%. Recent usage of the term comes from the dating app scene with users calculating flake rates based on planned dates that do not occur.


The Daily Beast (February 25, 2020): “‘We had a 75 percent flake rate,’ Leo said. ‘A good field plan can add on the margins but it can’t do it for you all by itself. You’ve got to be in the conversation, you’ve got to be on people’s minds.’”

Slate (September 6, 2012): “The metric of the day for Barack Obama’s field team is ‘flake rate’: the percentage of supporters who had registered to attend his open-air stadium speech but won’t show up for one of the replacement events the campaign is scrambling to arrange in its place after moving tonight’s convention session indoors.”


favorite son

A favorite son candidate is one who draws their support from the home state or from the broader region. Sometimes the term is also used for someone with little to no support outside of their own region. 

In the past, state delegations sometimes nominated “favorite son” candidates as a bargaining tactic. After nominating their own local candidate, state leaders were in a position to make deals with the leading candidates, trading their support for whatever privilege they wanted for the state. The process was described in detail in a piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 1928. The Post-Gazette described the “favorite son” procedure as a way for “professional politicians” can be sure of “securing what they want at a national convention.” 

The term “favorite son” kept its original and negative connotation for many years. In 1968, for example, the New York Times wrote about Ronald Reagan’s decision to run for president: “Another declared opponent entered the field against Mr. Nixon when Gov. Ronald Reagan of California announced he was a real, rather than a favorite-son, candidate.”

In the same electoral cycle, Spiro Agnew started out as a “favorite son” candidate but agreed to drop out of the running; he later became Nixon’s running mate.

In modern times, brokered conventions have been replaced by primary elections, which means that the kind of explicit deal-making described in the Post-Gazette no longer takes place. Today, “favorite son” is most often used to mean “hometown hero.” (Female politicians are sometimes called “favorite daughters.”)

An article written after George H.W. Bush passed away, for example, was headlined “Connecticut mourns the death of favorite son, George H.W. Bush.” The piece cited Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei, who called Bush a “hometown boy.”

“The Town of Greenwich, like the nation and the world, mourns the loss of one of its own — a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Tesei said. “President George H.W. Bush was a true hometown boy, that regardless of his position in the global sphere of political power, he remained forever tied to his family roots here in Greenwich.”

Similarly, Barack Obama was often described as “Chicago’s favorite son,” or as “Illinois’ favorite son.” After his election, many in Chicago held out hope that their “favorite son” would thank them for their support by doing more to help the troubled city. 

A favorite son or daughter can also help put a location on the map, when it might otherwise be overlooked. That was the hope when Grace Meng, a member of the New York State legislature, decided to run for Congress. As WNYC said, a win for Meng would be also be a win for her whole community:

“Besides winning the straw poll for political Ms. Congeniality, Meng’s immigrant family and political do-it-yourself background has positioned her as the aspirational candidate in the race. She represents that classic New York political storyline of a rising community that, through the success of its favored daughter or son, can say it’s finally made it, even as questions linger about her readiness for a promotion to Congress.”

Farley file

A Farley file is a log kept by politicians on people they have met previously.

It’s named for James Aloysius Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley kept a file on anyone Roosevelt met allowing him to “remember” key personal details such as the name of their spouse and children or anything useful which might have come out of earlier meetings.

Farley files are now commonly kept by politicians.

full Ginsburg

The “full Ginsburg” refers to an appearance by one person on all five major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, State of the Union on CNN and Fox News Sunday.

The term is named for William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer during the Clinton scandal, who was the first person to accomplish this feat, on February 1, 1998.

Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” refers to the news media, especially with regards to their role in the political process.

The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates. The media was first called the fourth estate in 1821 by an essayist who wanted to point out the press’ power. The term is now somewhat dated, but is used to stress journalists’ importance to politics.

fusion voting

fusion voting

Fusion voting allows a candidate’s name to appear on multiple parties’ ballot lines, and to combine his or her votes from those lines.

The practice was widespread in the 19th century, as Democrats benefited from fusion tickets with populist parties, but now remains legal in only eight states. In those states, minor parties will often agree to cross-endorse a major party’s candidate in exchange for influence on the candidate’s platform.

franking privileges

Franking privileges allow lawmakers to send mail to constituents without having to pay postage. A copy of the member’s signature replaces the stamp on the envelope. Authentic signatures of famous individuals are valuable collectors’ items.

Franking privileges in Congress date from the First Continental Congress of 1775. Opportunity for abuse exists and has prompted calls for reform. According to “CRS Report: Franking Privilege: Historical Development and Options for Change”:

“… [S]trong criticism of the franking privilege developed regarding the use of the frank as an influence in congressional elections and the perceived advantage it gives incumbent Members running for reelection. Contemporary opponents of the franking privilege continue to express concerns about both its cost and its effect on congressional elections.”

Limits on and oversight of franking exist today. The House has appointed a Franking Commission t0:

“(1)  issue regulations governing the proper use of the franking privilege; (2) provide guidance in connection with mailings; (3) act as a quasi-judicial body for the disposition of formal complaints against Members of Congress who have allegedly violated franking laws or regulations.”

fence mending

fence mending

In politics, fence mending means making an effort to repair a political relationship after it has been damaged.

The term was first used in 1879 by John Sherman. Sherman, the younger brother of the Civil War hero William Tecumseh Sherman, was a politician in his own right; he served six years in the House of Representatives and six terms in Congress. Today, when he is remembered at all, it’s for a speech in which he declared, “I have come home to look after my fences.”

Sherman, a farmer, may have literally intended to mend the fences on his own land. However, the phrase quickly came to mean mending relationships with people after a rift.

In 2019, President Donald Trump was on the outs with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The fight started back in 2018 as a disagreement over tariffs and then turned personal, with Trump publicly calling Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”

In a fence mending effort, the Trump administration lifted tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. Vice president Mike Pence also paid a visit to Ottowa during which he praised Trudeau’s negotiating skills.

Closer to home, President Trump mended fences with Senator Ted Cruz after a bitter rivalry between the two men during the 2016 presidential election. During the primary elections, Donald Trump dubbed the senator “Lyin’ Ted.” He also insulted Cruz’s wife and implied that his father was involved in the plot to assassinate president John F. Kennedy. For his part, Cruz said publicly that Trump was a “pathological liar” and a “coward.”

The two men mended fences in 2018, when Cruz was running for re-election. President Trump stumped for Ted Cruz and attacked Cruz’s rival, Beto O’Rourke. At the same time, Cruz became one of the president’s trusted allies in Congress. During one rally in Houston, Trump referred to the old rivalry between himself and Cruz:

“We had our little difficulties,” Trump said. “It got nasty, and then it ended. And I’ll tell you what — nobody has helped me more with your tax cuts, with your regulations, all of the things we’ve been doing with your military and your vets, than Sen. Ted Cruz.”

President Trump also had to mend fences with Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski in 2018. The two had a falling-out after Murkowski decided not to support Trump’s plans to end Obamacare. That led to a least one angry phone call; the president also denounced Murkowski on Twitter. Later, in an apparent attempt to mend fences, Trump invited Murkowski to a private lunch. She praised the gesture as “kind” and said that there was “no sourness” between herself and the president.

Mending fences isn’t just for politicians. Psychologists say that after a divisive election, it’s important for ordinary people to mend fences with their own friends and family. Elections, especially presidential elections, can be full of rancor and can rouse strong feelings. That’s why psychologists stress the importance of mending fences — by apologizing if you’ve made hurtful statements, and by trying to understand opposing points of view.

fishing expedition

In politics, a fishing expedition is a pejorative phrase to describe an investigation that lacks a clear scope and defined purpose. Fishing expeditions are usually carried out by members of one political party looking for damaging information about members of the opposing party. 

On a literal level a fishing expedition involves casting out a line and then reeling in whatever you can; on a metaphorical level, a fishing expedition involves casting about for information that you may be able to use. Merriam Webster notes that the phrase was first used in 1874. 

Nobody ever admits to being on a fishing expedition, of course; instead, the phrase gets flung around as an insult, usually by the person being investigated, or by their allies. 

In March 2019, for example, House Democrats were investigating President Trump for alleged obstruction of justice and abuse of power. After the House requested documents from some of the president’s allies, President Trump tweeted that the investigation was:

The greatest overreach in the history of our Country. The Dems are obstructing justice and will not get anything done. A big, fat, fishing expedition desperately in search of a crime, when in fact the real crime is what the Dems are doing, and have done!

One year earlier, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway promised that the White House would not carry out a “fishing expedition” against the then-nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. Conway told CNN that the White House was investigating allegations of sexual assault and misconduct which had been brought against Kavanaugh, but she pledged that the investigation “will be limited in scope, it’s meant to last one week, and … it’s not meant to be a fishing expedition.”

A few years earlier, Democrats were the ones railing against a “fishing expedition,” which is how many on the left referred to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of the 2012 Benghazi attack. “It is time, and it is time now, for Republicans to end this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition,” asserted Representative Elijah Cummings, during Clinton’s testimony to the Benghazi panel. 

The “fishing expedition” hit an ironic peak in 2017, when Kenneth Starr told CNN that he was concerned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be overreaching in his investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Starr is best-known for his role as an independent investigator charged with looking into President Bill Clinton’s alleged crimes, from Whitewater to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. At the time, Starr was widely accused of overreaching his own authority as an investigator.

Decades later, when CNN asked him for his reaction to the news that Mueller’s investigation had impaneled a grand jury, Starr said, “I do think it is a, certainly a serious matter when a special counsel is accused—and I was accused of that—of exceeding his or her authority. That’s a serious matter because we do not want investigators and prosecutors out on a fishing expedition.”


An informal term for any attempt to block or delay U.S. 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.

From the Senate Historical Office: “Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning ‘pirate’ — became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.

In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.”

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) holds the record for the longest filibuster in his attempt to block the 1957 Civil Rights bill. Though he held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes, the bill passed just two hours after he stopped talking.