Today, we look at Jefferson Smith’s explanation for why lost causes are the ones most worth fighting for in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
This is To Quote a Phrase, a spotlight on notable pop culture quotes.
October is a Month of To Quote a Phrase, both here and at Comics Should Be Good!
I talked a few months ago about how my favorite U.S. patriotic film is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which is a great 1939 Frank Capra film (with a screenplay by Sidney Buchman) about a young man, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), who runs a group of scouts. He is appointed as interim Senator in his home state (as a compromise candidate between a crooked politician and a reformer), and he is thrilled to be a Senator. However, he soon learns that his hero, the senior Senator from his state, Senator Paine (Claude Rains), is really a crook, and not only that, but Jefferson is caught up in a scheme in which he is framed for wrongdoing and is going to be expelled from the Senate.
He tries to filibuster the last vote before his expulsion (the vote would also mess up the home for the young boys that he had planned), and he’s on his feet for over 24 hours, just reading various things to pass the time, but also mixing in eloquent speeches like:
There’s no compromise with truth. That’s all I got up on this floor to say. When was it? A year ago, it seems like….
Just get up off the ground. That’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady, that’s up on top of this Capitol Dome. That lady that stands for Liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see somethin’. And you won’t just see scenery. You’ll see the whole parade of what man’s carved out for himself after centuries of fighting. And fighting for something better than just jungle law. Fighting so as he can stand on his own two feet free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft or greed or lies! Or compromise with human liberties! And if that’s what the grown-ups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late. Because this country is bigger than the Taylors or you or me or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here. You just have to see them again…
As I’ve noted before, one of the things that I love about the movie is that the system IS too powerful in many ways. Smith really fails, as the bad guys control the media and popular sentiment is turned against him. Luckily, his heroic filibuster breaks through the hard exterior of his crooked mentor, and Senator Paine confesses to the whole scheme and clears Smith’s name.
Here is the speech that finally gets through, after Smith grabs some letters that Paine was using to show Smith that the people were against him, “I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule: ‘Love thy neighbor.’ And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine. And I loved you for it, just as my father did. And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any others. Yes, you even die for them. Like a man we both knew, Mr. Paine.
You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well, I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause, even if this room gets filled with lies like these. And the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me. Some…”
He then passes out, but that speech was enough to get Paine to confess the truth. That bit about lost causes is so beautiful.
Okay, folks, if you have suggestions for cool pop culture quotes, drop me a line at email@example.com!