Wednesday, March 8, 2017


JFK+50:  Volume 7, No. 2242


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 100 years ago today, March 8, 1917, the United States Senate passed the first cloture rule* ever enacted by that body.  The vote followed a successful filibuster which killed President Woodrow Wilson's Armed Ships Bill which would have given him the power to arm American merchant ships.

Senator Albert B. Cummins** of Iowa, a Republican, said he voted for cloture, not because the President 'demanded it,' but because the Senator had supported the cloture rule 'ever since (he) arrived in the Senate.'

Senators Sherman and Townsend "excoriated" the President for his statement assailing the Senate in which "a portion of the truth was deliberately omitted to arouse greater resentment against the few senators who stood against the armed neutrality bill."

Senator Sherman opposed cloture on the grounds that "it meant the gagging of the Senate."

President Wilson called the senators participating in the filibuster "a little group of willful men representing no opinion but their own."  Thomas W. Ryley argues in his 1976 book that the senators were "dedicated persons...who...felt it necessary to oppose Wilson's steamroller tactics."

*Cloture Rule, a procedure for ending debate & taking a vote in a legislative body.  It is used to break a filibuster.  The 1917 Senate Cloture Rule provided that when 16 senators wanted a vote, they made a motion & if 2/3 of the Senate ordered a vote, one would be taken.

**Albert Baird Cummins (1850-1926) was born in Carmichaels, PA & studied at Waynesburg College. He studied law in Chicago & opened his practice in Des Moines, Iowa.  

After serving as governor of Iowa, ABC represented his state in the US Senate 1908 to 1926.  He was president pro tempore of the USS from 1919-1925.  ABC voted for the war declaration of 1917 but opposed Wilson on the armed ships issue and US membership in the League of Nations. 


"A Little Group of Willful Men:  A Study of Congressional-Presidential Authority," by Thomas W. Ryley, Indiana Magazine of History, September 1976,

"Senate Reforms Itself, Cloture Rule Wins 76-3, Score Wilson," The Chicago Daily Tribune, March 9, 1917,

Senator Albert Baird Cummins
Harris & Ewing Collection (1911)
Library of Congress Photo