The plot makes Smith a replacement United States Senator who discovers, to his shame, that he had been appointed to be a stooge. When he decides not to be a stooge, the political machine responsible for his appointment makes an effort to destroy his reputation and have him expelled from the Senate, in order to protect a graft operation two years in the planning. But Smith's dogged perseverance, combined with the not-yet-seared conscience of his colleague and chief adversary in the Senate, enables him to prevail, or at least to hold out long enough for good to prevail over evil.
- 1 Probable associations
- 2 Background
- 3 The Senator
- 4 Washington
- 5 Swearing In
- 6 Writing a bill
- 7 The presentation
- 8 Party time
- 9 The revelations
- 10 Threat of expulsion
- 11 Saunders Returns
- 12 The filibuster
- 13 Aftermath
- 14 Typology
The State where Jefferson Smith was born and raised is never named. The almost certain candidate is Colorado. Colorado is along the most direct flight line that a carrier pigeon might fly from Washington, DC through Kentucky. It lies along the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountains and is well known for its forests. The State involved must have had a mountainous region that included a creek and its valley that would be suitable for camping and have a rich population of wildlife.
Colorado is also mineral-rich. This is important because a key part of Jefferson Smith's background involves a crooked syndicate of mining companies.
Furthermore, Colorado has at least one Senate position in United States Senate Class II, the members of which were elected to the Senate in 1918. Senator Mark Udall(D-CO) is the current Senator from Colorado belonging to Class II. Senator Joseph Paine, had he been a real person, would have been elected to the Senate from Colorado as a member of that Class. Wyoming, the State to the immediate north of Colorado and the only other likely candidate, does not have a Senator who is a member of Class II.
Finally, though Wyoming is entitled to only one Representative, Colorado currently fields seven. This is important because Smith pesters three members of his State's House delegation about a project that he suspects is a scheme for graft.
The other Senate position in Colorado is in Class III, which would have had an election in 1938.
The party to which Jefferson Smith belonged was most likely the Democratic Party, for two reasons:
- Smith's colleague, Senator Joseph Paine, had White House aspirations, and those would have been totally unrealistic had Smith and Paine been members of the Republican Party. (In real life, of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt chagrined many of his fellow Democrats by running for an unprecedented third term.)
- Smith and Paine both sat to the left of the center aisle, as one faces the well of the Senate. This is the side taken by the Democratic Caucus of the Senate.
Jefferson Smith was born on or before 1909, the son of newspaper publisher Clayton Smith and his wife. Smith grew up in a rural part of Colorado, in Ambrose County (a fictitious name), and cultivated a love of forestry and wildlife.
His earliest memories were of his father describing his struggles against political corruption, and heaping effusive praise on his friend and ally, one Joseph Paine, attorney-at-law. He would learn only much later the nature of that struggle, and of Clayton Smith's enemies.
A father murdered
When young Jeff Smith was about nine years old, his father was murdered. The circumstances, which Smith would not fully learn until he had long been an adult, were these: Joseph Paine had agreed to represent an independent miner who had a claim dispute with a powerful and corrupt mining syndicate. As Paine continued to press for pretrial discovery, Clayton Smith published story after story about the syndicate and its deplorable conduct in the case involving the miner. The syndicate tried every means within the law to stop the elder Smith from publishing. When this failed, they sent in an unknown assassin to kill the publisher as he sat at his desk. Jeff Smith's mother, sadly, was the one to discover the body.
How the miner's case was finally settled, adjudicated, or otherwise disposed of, the story never explains. Shortly after Clayton Smith's murder, Joseph Paine gave up his law practice, ran for the Senate, and won. The Smiths would not associate with Joseph Paine again until twenty years later.
The Boy Rangers
Jefferson Smith probably felt the loss of his father very deeply. The name of the adult man who came into his life at that point and provided at least some measure of fatherly leadership was never revealed, but that some such man, most likely his pastor, entered his life is almost certain. (It was not Joseph Paine, or else Smith would have remembered him for that.)
When Smith became an adult, he was determined to return the favor that this unheralded man granted him, by becoming a father figure to other boys. So he started his own youth group, which he named the Boy Rangers. The Boy Rangers organized clubs throughout the length and breadth of Colorado, but at least annually would meet for a massive camping trip near Willett Creek, in Terrell Canyon in Ambrose County. On such trips, Jeff taught the boys woodsmanship (including authentic Native American methods of woodcraft, including how to start a campfire with a spinning stick) and appreciation of nature and wildlife.
Jeff Smith did more than teach woodcraft, however. Perhaps using his late father's old office and printing press, he established his own newspaper, called Boys' Stuff. He staffed it entirely with his Boy Rangers, and sold subscriptions to his Rangers and to other boys throughout the State. In 1939, the year of the pivotal events in his life, Boys' Stuff had a million subscribers.
In 1939 came an event that would thrust upon him his first taste of publicity. Fire broke out in the forest near Sweetwater. Jeff was on hand, and by all accounts he singlehandedly fought the blaze to containment and complete extinction. For that he was established as a hero.
His role in containing and extinguishing the Sweetwater forest fire brought him a lot of publicity that he was much too shy to appreciate. The only appreciation he sought for his act was from his Boy Rangers. When a hastily organized marching band came to his home (which he also decorated as Boy Ranger headquarters) to pay him tribute, he gladly received them.
That evening, however, he received another visitor: Governor Hubert "Happy" Hopper. He expected the Governor to heap upon him yet more praise for extinguishing the fire. But he was totally unprepared for what the Governor actually had to say: that he was offering him an interim appointment to the United States Senate!
The circumstances of that appointment, as Governor Hopper explained it to him, were these: Senator Samuel Foley, who presumably had been re-elected to the Senate only last year, had died suddenly in Washington. How Hopper had settled on Smith as his replacement, Smith did not even try to speculate. Surely his putting out a forest fire did not qualify him to sit in the Senate! But he would not argue with the Governor. He had never before argued with anyone in civil authority, and was not inclined to do so this time.
The next thing he knew, he was sitting at the head table at a banquet organized in his honor. He couldn't decide which was the most moving highlight of the evening: the heartfelt offer to him of a briefcase by a boy who couldn't remember his long speech ("Aw, heck, it's a briefcase, Jeff!" the boy finally said), or the presence, a few seats down from him, of the old family friend, Joseph Paine—now Senator Joseph Paine, who would now be his colleague. Paine, he recalled, had been elected to the Senate first in 1919 and had served in the Senate for the last twenty years. When Jeff was called on to speak, he made a moving speech that was half an expression of gratitude for receiving such an awesome appointment, and half tribute to a man whom he had worshipped from afar, relying as he did on his memory of his father's frequent tributes to Mr. Paine.
Smith and Paine traveled to Washington by rail, together with a rotund man whom Paine introduced as Mr. Chick McGann, who, Smith gathered, was some kind of officer in the local Democratic Party. Smith brought with him a cage of carrier pigeons. He intended to release them, one at a time, with messages for his mother, and enter into a national pigeon race the pigeon who flew back to Colorado in the fastest time.
When he stepped off the train at Union Station, he was shocked and surprised when five of the loveliest young ladies he had ever seen, rushed up to him and kissed him. Women did not do such things back in Colorado, and he had never even thought about women in that way in his life. The leader among these women was introduced to him as Susan Paine, Joseph Paine's daughter.
Suddenly Smith saw a sight that made him forget his pigeons, Susan Paine, and everything and everyone else around him: the Capitol Dome, the most inspiring sight he had ever beheld. Oblivious to everything else, he started walking toward it. Then a tour bus stopped near the railroad station, and Smith got aboard. And so he took a regular tour of Washington, and saw all the sights, including the Capitol lobby (with its statue of Thomas Jefferson holding his quill pen), the courthouse of the United States Supreme Court, Arlington National Cemetary, and finally the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. There he looked up into the eyes of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, and imagined that Lincoln was looking at him, as if to say that he, Lincoln, had sat all these long years in that spot, waiting for someone to come along.
Then he realized that he was not in Washington as a tourist, but had business here, and had abandoned his escorts. Hastily he made his way to the Capitol complex and the Senate Office Building (of which the Senate has three; which building he used, the story never says). When he arrived, he asked a doorman which office was the office of Jefferson Smith, and the doorman told him. He walked up the stairs, knocked on that office, and when a woman's harassed voice said, "Come in!", he walked in. He diffidently asked whether he had reached the offices of Jefferson Smith, and to his surprise, a young woman with an angry look on her face repeatedly said, "No!" So he walked away—and then the young woman came rushing out into the hallway.
"Wait a minute!" she cried. "What's your name?"
"Jefferson Smith," he said.
"Come right in. Come right into this office, and don't move!" the woman said. She then half-led, half-dragged him back into the office, told him to sit down, picked up a telephone, and asked to be connected to Senator Paine.
This woman, he soon learned, was his secretary, and her name was Saunders. The only other man in the room was Mr. "Diz" Moore, a reporter whom she seemed to know very well.
Now that he at least knew where his office was, he felt that he was getting his bearings at last. A few minutes later, Saunders told him that she would drive him to Senator Paine's hotel suite, which she did. He interrupted her several times to point out one sight or another, including the Capitol Dome with its night lights; Saunders would then tell him to save his energy.
The next day, he received several reporters in his office, all of whom wanted to know his impressions of Washington, and any special issues he wanted to propound. He named one: that he had always wanted to have a National Boys' Camp in Colorado, and knew the best spot for it. Then the reporters asked him to sound a few bird calls, and even demonstrate the friction fire-starting method, all of which he was happy to do.
Finally came the day when he appeared before the Senate for the first time. The Senate convened at noon, so first he took a trip to George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation, which struck him as a suitable thing to do to put him into a proper civic mood. He also released the first of his carrier pigeons, which flew once around the Capitol Dome and then headed west.
He got back from that trip in plenty of time, and was in the chamber of the Senate with minutes to spare. A young page boy showed him to his desk—which once had been used by Senator Daniel Webster. The page showed him the Senate Manual and the Senate Calendar, which were kept in the desk, and pointed out a few prominent Senators, the Vice President of the United States who served as the Senate's presiding officer, and the various sections of the Senate galleries, including the tourist section, the press section, and the diplomatic section. Of the foreign dignitaries privileged to sit in that section, the boy said,
|“||They and the page boys are the only class we have in the place!||”|
Jeff thanked the boy profusely, and even gave him a Boy Ranger pin to wear.
Shortly afterward, Joe Paine arrived; Smith might have heard some of the other senators half jokingly say, "See you in the White House, Joe!" as he walked in. Paine asked for Smith's credentials and told Smith to wait for his signal. As Paine took his own seat, the Vice President called the Senate to order, and then had to call the roll, after Senator Milton Agnew, Democratic Party leader, suggested the absence of a quorum. At length, the roll call was completed, and then Paine rose to present Smith's credentials and ask that Smith be sworn in.
As Smith approached the podium, another Senator raised a point of order, saying that Smith had conducted himself in a sensationally improper and comical manner on his arrival in Washington. A baffled Smith tried to defend himself, but the VP reminded him that he was not permitted to speak until sworn in. Paine answered the question, however, saying that Smith had been misquoted. Although one other Senator tried to object, the VP firmly overruled all other objections, and administered to Smith the Constitutional oath.
On his way to his desk, Smith stopped at another Senator's desk, where the Washington Gazette-Journal was on display. There he saw what Senator Agnew had been talking about: it was his interview with all those reporters, and the story made him out to be a total clown!
Directly after the Senate finished for the day, Smith went out onto the streets of Washington, hunted down the reporters in turn, and slugged each one. He chased three into the National Press Club, where Diz Moore, another reporter named Sweeney, and several other reporters tackled him and shoved him into a booth. Then they proceeded to tell him that he had no business being in the Senate, because he didn't even know what a Senator did, or how a bill became a law. "Honorary stooge!" one reporter called him.
Mortified, Smith went to see Joe Paine at his home. He complained that he couldn't answer those reporters' criticisms with any justice, because he had to admit that he was an empty suit decorating a chair. He asked for guidance in understanding the bills, and for reasons that he would understand only later, Paine was evasive and said,
|“||These bills have been put together by some of the greatest legal minds. I don't understand half of them myself, and I used to be a lawyer.||”|
Paine then suggested that if Smith was serious about establishing a National Boys' Camp, then he should get his secretary, Saunders, to help him draft a bill to do just that.
He also met Susan Paine once again. He was still unused to the attentions of a woman, and Susan Paine's glamorous appearance dazzled him. He was so distracted that he couldn't even hold on to his hat, and as he took his leave, he knocked over a table lamp and several items of bric-a-brac, and perhaps never noticed that Susan Paine was doing her best to stifle her giggles.
Writing a bill
An excited Smith rushed back to his own office and breathlessly told Saunders his intention. Saunders at first protested, and then asked if she could "give [Smith] a little idea of what [he was] up against." She then proceeded to give him a detailed lecture on how a bill becomes (or, more likely, does not become) a law, including the drafting of the bill, the committee markup, the role of the Steering Committee, House and Senate Conferences, and the hazard that Congress could adjourn sine die (which is to say, finally end its session) without bringing his bill to a final vote.
Undeterred, Smith began dictating his bill as rapidly as he could. He spoke of putting the "spirit" of his intent into the bill, and cited the nearby Capitol Dome, of which his office gave him a full view, for inspiration. In the middle of his dictation, he pressed Saunders to tell him her first name: Clarissa. At length he gave the location of the camp: two hundred acres of the region of the headwaters of Willett Creek in Ambrose County. Saunders asked him whether he had discussed that with Senator Paine. Distracted, he said he had. Privately, he wondered why Saunders should ask about Willett Creek when she had never been to Colorado in her life.
The next day, Smith appeared in the Senate and, when permitted, jumped to his feet shouting for recognition. The Vice President gently reminded him that he could and should speak in a normal tone of voice, just loud enough to be heard in the chamber. Smith knew he was nervous, and was conscious of the rest of the Senate laughing at him. But he plowed on, reading his bill aloud as the Senate rules call for. When he was finished, several small boys in the galleries shouted for joy, prompting the Vice President to pound his gavel on his desk as Smith handed his bill to the Senate clerk.
In all the excitement, Smith did not notice his colleague, Joe Paine, leaving the Senate floor in the middle of his speech. Nor did he notice Chick McGann at the same moment leaving the section of the gallery reserved for the friends of Senators. The only person in the gallery that he noticed was Saunders, sitting next to the railing dividing the friends' section from the press section—though why she should be so intent in conversation with Diz Moore, he didn't figure out just then.
His mind was too distracted to think of such things. He rushed back to his office at the end of the day, brimming with excitement, and had to run through a gauntlet of constituents, one person trying to get him to sponsor an invention, and several publicity agents trying to sign him as a client. Saunders dragged him in and shut the crowd out, for which he was grateful.
Then he noticed the letters—hundreds of letters already arrived, containing the first of the one- to ten-cent contributions that his bill had specified that boys all over America should make in order to reimburse the government for the expense of acquiring the land and setting up the camp. Saunders had even rigged a large glass jar with a slotted lid that he could use as a bank to collect the contributions. Smith then announced that he would be busy for several more hours, writing letters home, including one to his mother, in which he promised to tell her all about Saunders, who should then expect to receive a jar of fresh fruit preserves as a special present.
At this point his office telephone rang. Saunders answered it. Smith gathered, from listening to Saunders, that Susan Paine was on the line. A minute later, Saunders passed the phone to Smith. Handling it with difficulty, considering who was on the other end of the line, Smith took the call. Susan Paine then dazzled him with an invitation to serve as her escort to a ball that would take place the following day, with several foreign princes as her guests. Of course he accepted the invitation, and then allowed Saunders to drag him to a clothes store, a shoe store, a haberdashery, and a barber shop.
The next scene, in which Smith appeared in the Paine home, clad in the first tuxedo he had ever worn in his life, takes place off-camera. The other guests admired his newfound sartorial splendor, and Susan Paine was, if anything, more beautiful than ever. When the party was concluded, Susan looked him in the eyes, and said, "Thank you, Mr. Smith," and he could have dropped through the floor if a trap door had opened at that moment.
He returned to his office, and to his surprise, Saunders was not present. He took off his dinner jacket, loosened his bow tie, and waited. Then Saunders came in, with Diz Moore in tow. Smith began to tell Saunders about his evening, but then Saunders, in an almost sarcastic tone, anticipated everything that he was going to tell. Then she said a word that shocked him to the core:
Smith was flabbergasted. He could do nothing but watch as Saunders started cleaning out her desk, all the while rambling on about how she was at last quitting. She even reintroduced Diz as the man she was going to marry, a thing that Smith might or might not have been able to believe, because she and Diz simply did not strike one another as a couple in love.
And then Saunders, after saying something to herself about "doing this right," went to the filing cabinet, drew out the draft of what was obviously another bill, and advanced on Smith. She showed him what she had in her hand: a "Deficiency Bill," with several sections discussing "emergency deficiency appropriations." Then she turned to Section Forty: a proposal to build a dam on Willett Creek! Furthermore, she said, that very bill had been read aloud in the Senate that day, while he was at that party—and the very reason for his invitation was to keep him out of the Senate so that he wouldn't hear about it!
Saunders went on, working herself up into a more distressed state with every word she spoke. She spoke of Jim Taylor, whom Smith had met only once, at that banquet held in honor of his appointment, a banquet that now seemed a lifetime ago. Saunders also spoke of graft, and a machine that Taylor controlled. And then she said,
|“||Go home! Go home and stop making people feel sorry for you!||”|
And then, about ready to collapse in tears, she summoned Diz and rushed out of the office, leaving Smith alone.
Smith first called Kenneth Allen, who owned some of the land where he used to take his Boy Rangers camping, and asked him about the proposed Willett Dam. Allen didn't seem to know anything about it. So Smith went directly to Paine's house to ask him about the Deficiency Bill and the proposed Willett Dam. He was mildly surprised to see Chick McGann there, but he didn't care about him, or about how Susan Paine had invited him to be her escort just to divert him from the Senate. His primary concerns, even laying aside the obvious conflict with his own bill, were twofold:
- Colorado had at least a hundred other sites that could better use a dam than could Ambrose County and Terrell Canyon.
- Mr. Kenneth Allen had disavowed any knowledge of any such project.
Smith then said that he would not vote on that bill until he got some answers. Paine told him to stop tilting at windmills, or trying to understand in a moment a bill that had taken months to draft. Then Smith asked, "Who's Taylor?" That caught Chick McGann's attention. Chick wanted to know why Smith was asking, and Smith laid it on the line: that he had been informed that the Willett Dam project was Jim Taylor's idea for graft.
Chick McGann abruptly got out of his sofa, walked out of the room, and closed the folding partition. Paine, meanwhile, protested that Jeff had just insulted him by suggesting that he, Paine, was helping to put forward a scheme for graft.
The next day, Saunders, of course, was gone. But Smith didn't have time to think about hiring another secretary. He sought out three members of the Colorado House delegation, one of whom represented the district that included Ambrose County, and demanded from them everything they knew about the Willett Dam project.
Eventually he received an invitation—actually more like a summons—to appear at the Madison Hotel, this time in a suite newly occupied by Jim Taylor. There he met Taylor for the second time in his life, and also saw the three members of the House delegation whom he had been questioning earlier. Taylor proceeded to tell him that he, Taylor, could guarantee him an executive position in any business in Colorado, or any political office he wished, for as long as he wished to hold it. Taylor even said that those three Representatives, and Senator Paine, all were "smart" and took his "advice." In fact, Taylor said that Paine had been taking his advice for the twenty years that he had been serving in the Senate.
Smith, now thoroughly angry, looked Taylor in the eye, and said,
|“||You're a liar.||”|
Taylor looked back at him smugly and said nothing.
Smith lost no time in going to see Senator Paine in his office. Paine's staff, a much larger staff than Smith had ever had, told Smith that Paine was out of town. Which Smith knew to be impossible, so he barged into Paine's private office. Paine was present, and in a good-natured manner asked whether Smith had had a talk with Jim Taylor.
Smith got right to the point: that Taylor had boasted that he had been telling Paine what to do for twenty years, and he, Smith, had called Taylor a liar. Paine, to Smith's horror, confirmed Taylor's account. He said that twenty years earlier, Paine had had Smith's ideals, but then had had a decision to make, and had compromised. Paine said that as a result of that compromise, he had been able to place Colorado in the enviable position of having the lowest unemployment and the highest Federal grants. Finally he begged Smith not to say anything in the Senate about the Willett Dam project.
Threat of expulsion
Smith did not heed Paine's advice. He was determined to fight Section Forty and get it stricken from the Deficiency Bill. So when the time came for his five-minute alloted time to speak on that section, he rose to speak.
Abruptly, Paine asked Smith to yield the floor to him, and Smith agreed. Then Paine dumbfounded him by accusing him, in front of the whole Senate, of running his own scheme for graft: that he had bought the very land described in his National Boys' Camp bill the day following his appointment to the Senate, and intended to turn a handsome profit on the resale of the land to the government!
Smith could say nothing to this. Visitors in the gallery booed him, and young pages took off their Boy Ranger pins.
The hearings in the Committee on Privileges and Elections (in real life, this is the Senate Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, or "The Ethics Committee") were like something out of that novel by that weird German author, Franz Kafka, titled The Trial (assuming that Jeff Smith ever read anything by Kafka, which he might have done, even to keep up with yet another book that Adolf Hitler had ordered burnt). He saw a deed of record showing him to be the owner of the two-hundred-acre plot that included Willett Creek, and, worse yet, a contract, with his signature on it, saying that he promised Kenneth Allen fifty percent of any profits that he might make on the sale of that land. Three different handwriting experts testified to the committee, and two of the three said that his signature was real. Finally, Joe Paine told the biggest lie of all: that after Smith had presented his bill, Paine had congratulated him, but pointed out the Willett Dam project, which had prompted Smith to say, "Move the dam!" Of course, no such conversation had ever occurred. When Smith had presented his bill, Paine had left the chamber in the middle of its reading—and here Paine was, telling a story made up out of the whole cloth!
When the committee invited him to speak, he found that he couldn't. He walked out of the committee hearing room without saying a word.
Smith packed his bags and prepared to walk to Union Station. But on his way he had to stop to see Abraham Lincoln's statue one last time. As he looked into Lincoln's face, all that he could think of was that Lincoln must think him a traitor. How could he expect Mr. Lincoln to understand that all those men in that Committee, including Governor Hopper, of all people, had paraded in to tell a tissue of lies? But what had actually paralyzed him was not Governor Hopper, whom he didn't know from Adam, but Senator Paine, a man he had worshipped, as his father had.
Then he felt a hand on his arm. It was Clarissa Saunders, who said that she had come back to Washington in spite of herself, and had found a jar of strawberry preserves waiting for her. Clarissa knew all about what had happened, and knew equally that it had to be a lie—because she had known all about Jim Taylor's corrupt, graft-ridden political machine for years. She told Smith something else: that he could fight it, and with her help, he might even win. And if he did not fight it, then Mr. Lincoln (if he were alive) and his Boy Rangers (who were all very much alive) would reproach him, not for being a dishonest politician (which he wasn't,) but for quitting. He agreed to talk to her, and, with one last wave of his hand to Lincoln, he left the Memorial.
Saunders tutored him for several hours that night, in the rules of the Senate, and especially in the unique Senatorial privilege called the filibuster. Under that rule, as long as he refused to yield the floor for anything other than a question, a point of order, or a point of personal privilege, he could hold the floor as long as his physical endurance would allow.
The next morning, he appeared in the Senate and answered to his name in the roll call. He overheard a lot of murmuring, both on the floor and in the galleries (especially the press section), but he paid it no heed. He sat at his desk, gripping it with both hands, and waited for Clarissa's signal to stand.
The Chairman of the P&E Committee delivered his report. At once Senator Agnew rose to call for a vote, but Smith, at Saunders' signal, was already on his feet. Both men shouted for recognition simultaneously.
Senator Agnew protested that Smith could "have nothing further to say." The Vice President gaveled him to silence and sternly said,
|“||He is still a member of this body, and as such has an equal claim on the attention of this chair.||”|
After a few more back-and-forth statements, during which Clarissa shouted to the Vice President to let him speak and had the entire press section shouting in agreement, the Vice President, after reminding the gallery of his independence and authority, recognized Smith.
Smith began to speak. He said that he realized that the Senate was in a hurry to get rid of him, and he could not blame them either, but before he left he would say his peace. Paine asked him to yield, and Smith refused, prompting more murmuring. The Paine proposed to ask a question, and Smith yielded for that. Paine then gave more speech than question, asking whether Smith could add to the defense he had failed to give in Committee, and Smith said, truthfully, that he could have no defense against wholesale forgery. Paine hotly protested that Smith stood guilty as charged, and Smith said that he stood guilty as framed, and explained in detail his meeting with Jim Taylor and the three Representatives.
This prompted Paine to rise to a point of order. (Actually, a point of personal privilege would have been more appropriate.) Paine said that Smith was accusing him falsely, and then told yet another lie: that he had been present in the meeting with Taylor (false), and that the purpose of the meeting was to urge Smith to resign (also false). After that, Smith refused to yield any further, and stated his demand: that the Senate postpone consideration of the Deficiency Bill for one week, while he, Smith, returned to Colorado to gather evidence that Jim Taylor's corrupt political machine had perpetrated a colossal fraud on the P&E Committee that was all in aid of a five-million-dollar fraud called the Willett Dam project.
The entire Senate, except for Smith, walked out at this point, and as they did so, Smith took out a vacuum bottle and several fresh fruits, vegetables, and rolls, saying that he was prepared to speak "all winter." That last emptied the press gallery, but only temporarily. Smith could guess what was happening: the reporters were screaming to their editors that Smith had created the kind of story that reporters covering the Senate loved to see: a filibuster.
Call a quorum
Smith invoked Rule Five, Section Three of the Standing Rules of the Senate, and directed the sergeant-at-arms to compel the attendance of a quorum. The Vice President didn't bother to call a roll that he knew would go unanswered; he issued the quorum call forthwith. Smith continued to speak, mainly about the Willett Dam project, the fraudulent intent behind it, and the forged papers presented at the P&E Committee. He would have lost all track of time, had the Senate chamber not had a great wall clock mounted over the Vice President's head. As he began reading the Declaration of Independence, he noticed some Senators leaving, and others coming in—a tactic he figured out at once to be "maintaining a quorum in relays." He observed,
|“||This must be the night shift coming on.||”|
He continued to recite the Declaration, and to give his own commentary on it, including citing it as part of the lesson plan for his National Boys' Camp.
Later still, he apologized for being disrespectful, but
|“||Either I'm dead right or I'm crazy!||”|
Senator Agnew asked whether he would be willing to put that to a vote, and then another Senator proposed that he allow the Senate to adjourn until morning. Clarissa frantically signaled to him that he must not do this, and to ask the Vice President what would happen. Smith did ask the Vice President what would happen to him in the morning, and the Vice President confirmed that he would have to ask for recognition all over again. Accordingly, Smith kept talking.
Next, the first page boy who had spoken to him on that first day, came to hand him another book from Miss Saunders. The boy made a point of showing Smith that he was wearing his Boy Ranger pin once again. Smith found a bookmark inside that turned out to be a note. The note said that Smith was doing wonderfully, that he had by now won the entire press section to his side, and that he should next read the Constitution of the United States as slowly as he could. The last part of the note made him the happiest: Clarissa declared her love for him.
Senator Agnew again asked whether he was prepared to yield, and Smith said no, that he felt fine, and that he would begin reading the Constitution. Several Senators threw up their hands and sighed when he said that last.
Smith read the Constitution all the way through, with all of its amendments to date. (This would have ended with the Twenty-First Amendment, or the repeal of Prohibition.) He continued by reading from the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles.
In all, Smith spoke for twenty-four hours. At the end of it, he made an impassioned plea that greed and graft and compromise with liberty ought have no place in the chamber of the Senate.
Then Senator Paine once again asked Smith to yield for a question. Paine then had more than a dozen wastepaper baskets, and more than a dozen bundles, brought into the well of the Senate. All of these baskets and bundles contained telegrams, addressed to Smith, from the citizens of Colorado. And all of them said the same thing: that he should yield the floor and stop "holding up needed relief."
Smith was heartbroken. Again and again he searched those baskets to see whether any of those telegrams had any kind words for him; none did.
So he turned to Joe Paine and addressed him directly. He said that this was simply another lost cause, the kind for which a man ought to fight harder than for anything else. He reminded Paine of his association with the late Clayton Smith, and of the love that Paine had earned from Jeff Smith himself.
Then Smith defiantly turned to the rest of the Senate, saying,
|“||You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked! And I'm going to 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'll listen to me...somebody...||”|
Everything went black at that moment. The wooden floor of the Senate chamber rushed up to meet him and clout him in the temple. He then could speak, hear, and think no more.
The rest of the story, one may infer from the last scene in the motion picture. Smith awoke, perhaps to find himself lying on a sofa in the cloakroom. Someone, perhaps Senator Agnew, who was his Party leader, no doubt told him of what had happened following his collapse: that Senator Paine had tried to shoot himself, managing to damage some of the lighting fixtures in the cloakroom, and then had burst into the Senate chamber, shouting almost incoherently that every word that Smith had spoken had been the truth, about Taylor, about Section Forty, and about the "rot and corruption" in Colorado, of which Paine himself was a part. Paine had then and there tendered his resignation from the Senate, after which the Senate had vacated the report from the P&E Committee and had passed a motion to send the Deficiency Bill back to House/Senate conference, with Section Forty excised.
The rest of Smith's story would have been anticlimactic. Smith went back to Colorado, with Clarissa in tow, to find himself called to testify before the Colorado Senate in an impeachment proceeding against the Governor, and to learn some very nasty facts about the treatment (on a level of physical violence, no less) that Jim Taylor's goons had given to some of his Boy Rangers. The story that those boys, and Diz Moore, told him made him thoroughly angry all over again. Apparently, Jim Taylor, who controlled almost every newspaper in Colorado, had prevented any word by Smith, and any story in his favor, from being printed or aired. This explained all those heartbreaking telegrams that had flooded the well of the Senate and prompted his collapse. But what would have made him ready to strangle someone was learning what happened next: Clarissa had dictated some stories to the boys who ran Boys' Stuff and suggested that they print and distribute an extra. They had done this, and then Jim Taylor's men had assaulted those little boys, sacked the press, stolen every issue that the boys hadn't handed out yet, and in one really sick-making case, run several Boy Rangers off the road.
Smith was more determined than ever to prosecute Jim Taylor and his minions, stay in the Senate, and thoroughly crush the Taylor machine. The Colorado government was safely in the hands of a provisional appointee, and the assaults on his boys had taken place before witnesses, all of whom were now more than glad to testify. Smith returned to the Senate, accompanied by Henry Hill, who ironically had been the first choice of a "citizen's committee" to replace Sam Foley, and who now was the replacement for Joe Paine. At the same time, he probably took days to process the thought that, within less than two weeks of joining the Senate, he now had become the senior Senator and was presenting the credentials of yet another colleague.
Jeff and Henry Hill stayed quite busy cleaning up the mess that Taylor and Paine had made. Then, after the Senate adjourned sine die, Jeff proposed to Clarissa and invited her to spend Christmas at his home. They were married before Congress reconvened the next year.
Jeff would, of course, have stood for re-election to a four-year rump term in 1940 and won easily. He would not have attempted to run for President; he was too young for that, and in any event, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would seek a nomination to a third term and get it. And then, more than a year later, Jefferson Smith would be called upon to make another "grown-up world" decision, after President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.
Spoilers end here.
Jefferson Smith is, without question, the hero of the story. Like any hero, he learns some harsh facts about his place in society and politics, suffers a number of disasters, and then takes a desperate measure and emerges in a triumph that he would not fully realize until perhaps ten minutes after the fact.
He also is a type of any average citizen who discovers that something is very wrong with his civic institutions, and is determined to fight, if necessary, to set it right. He is, of course, in an unusual position, because this story asks what would happen if an average citizen were to find himself thrust into the United States Senate, only to discover that all is not as it should be, and not remotely as commonly described in civics textbooks.