(Article changed on January 16, 2013 at 14:40)
This is the third installment of our mini-series, "How The Filibuster Happened By Accident," titled "Pirates of the Constitution." In the first two parts we reviewed how the founding fathers would never have agreed to a procedure requiring a supermajority to pass basic legislation (absent a presidential veto) or approve appointments.
An odd word, filibuster. What does it come from and what does it mean?
It was not until at least 50 years after the Constitutional Convention that some perverse senators had the evil idea of exploiting an inadvertent defect in the rules to hijack the process . . . pirates of the Constitution. And that is exactly how they were viewed at the time.
The middle of the nineteenth century was the heyday for rogue military adventurers from the United States, organizing their own freelance invasions of Cuba, parts of Mexico, and other countries in Central and South America. In the early 1850s a new word entered the English lexicon to describe their activities. They were called "filibusterers," adopted from the Spanish word "filibustero" for pirates of the 16th and 17th centuries, that word itself derived from the Dutch word "vrijbuiter," for privateer, plunderer or freebooter.
And virtually no sooner than the word filibuster had been coined to mean military pirates, it was immediately applied to also describe the activity of any Senator who would dare to steal the voting rights of the People by unilaterally and spitefully obstructing legislation.
According to Merriam-Webster, the very first use of the word filibuster dates from 1851. On February 11, 1853 an entry in The Congressional Record states that, "A filibuster was indulged in which lasted for nine continuous calendar days," demonstrating it was already in common usage in the Senate context. So even though filibusters were rare at first, they were considered wholly disreputable from the beginning.
So we are not interested at all in assertions that the filibuster is now part of some proud Senate tradition. It was always and will remain a shameful and criminal practice, which is now being so outrageously abused that is must be finally abolished.
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