Everett Dirksen: “An Idea Whose Time Has Come”

(1964)

As Senate minority leader through the tempestuous 1960s, the Republican Everett Dirksen played a key role in the politics of the civil rights era, helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the spring of 1964, as Southern Democratics staged a nearly two-month-long filibuster to block passage of the Civil Rights Act, Dirksen and three of his colleagues—Thomas Kuchel, Hubert Humphrey, and Mike Mansfield—introduced a slightly weaker version of the bill that they hoped would sway the Senate Republicans and end the filibuster. In support of this bill, Dirksen delivered a speech on June 10, 1964, in which he quoted the French nineteenth-century writer Victor Hugo, who is said to have written in his diary, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” The speech thus gained the title “An Idea Whose Time Has Come.”