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Mr Smith Goes To Washington Speech Analysis Essay

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a 1939 film about a naive and idealistic man who is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.

Directed by Frank Capra. Written by Sidney Buchman.
Capra at his greatest!Taglines

Jefferson Smith[edit]

  • [After reading the Declaration of Independence] Now, you're not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven't got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. [The Senate applauds] It's a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some of these Senators were boys once. And that's why it seemed like a pretty good idea for me to get boys out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a couple of months out of the year. And build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job, because those boys are gonna be behind these desks some of these days. And it seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living. Getting them together. Let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do. Because I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a - a little lookin' out for the other fella, too...That's pretty important, all that. It's just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that's all. But of course, if you've got to build a dam where that boys camp ought to be, to get some graft to pay off some political army or something, well that's a different thing. Oh no! If you think I'm going back there and tell those boys in my state and say: 'Look. Now fellas. Forget about it. Forget all this stuff I've been tellin' you about this land you live in is a lot of hooey. This isn't your country. It belongs to a lot of James Taylors.' Oh no! Not me! And anybody here that thinks I'm gonna do that, they've got another thing comin'. [He whistles loudly with his fingers in his mouth, startling Senators who are dozing or reading other materials] That's all right. I just wanted to find out if you still had faces. I'm sorry gentlemen. I-I know I'm being disrespectful to this honorable body, I know that. I- A guy like me should never be allowed to get in here in the first place. I know that! And I hate to stand here and try your patience like this, but EITHER I'M DEAD RIGHT OR I'M CRAZY.
  • [His voice very hoarse, from his filibuster] 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 something. 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. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so's 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, uh, if that's what the grownups 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!
  • [His voice very hoarse] 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 any man ever fights for them: Because of 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 know, 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! [takes a handful of the letters in the basket and throws them on the floor]. When the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place, somebody'll listen to me! Some--- [Faints from exhaustion]

Jim Taylor[edit]

  • Our steam-roller methods are getting too hard for your sensitive soul. Is that it? The Silver Knight is getting too big for us. My methods have been all right for the past twenty years, Joe. Since I picked you out of a fly-specked hole in the wall and blew you up to look like a Senator. And now you can't stand it.

Others[edit]

  • H.V. Kaltenborn: [Announcing on the radio] Half of official Washington is here to see democracy's finest show, the filibuster, the right to talk your head off, the American privilege of free speech in its most dramatic form. The least man in that chamber, once he gets and holds that floor by the rules, can hold it and talk as long as he can stand on his feet providing always, first, that he does not sit down, second, that he does not leave the chamber or stop talking. The galleries are packed. In the diplomatic gallery are the envoys of two dictator powers. They have come here to see what they can't see at home. DEMOCRACY IN ACTION.

Dialogue[edit]

Jefferson Smith: Did you ever have so much to say about something, you just couldn't say it?
Clarissa Saunders: Try sitting down.
Jefferson Smith: I did - I got right back up again.
Clarissa Saunders: Now look. Let's get down to particulars. How big is this thing? Where's it gonna be? How many boys will it accommodate? You've got to have all of that in it, you know.
Jefferson Smith: Yeah, yeah, and something else, Miss Saunders. The uh, the spirit of it. The idea - the - '[[He snaps his fingers] How do ya say it? [He walks to the window in which the lighted Capitol Dome is seen. He points out at the Dome] That's what's got to be in it!
Clarissa Saunders: What?
Jefferson Smith: The Capitol Dome.
Clarissa Saunders: On paper? [She lifts her eyebrows a little]
Jefferson Smith: I want to make that come to life for every boy in this land. Yes, and all lighted up like that too! You see, you see, boys forget what their country means by just reading 'the land of the free' in history books. And they get to be men - they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: 'I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't. I can. And my children will.' Boys want to grow up remembering that.

Clarissa Saunders: I see. When you get home, what are you gonna tell those kids?
Jefferson Smith: I'll tell 'em the truth. Might as well find it out now as later.
Clarissa Saunders: I don't think they'll believe you, Jeff. You know, they're liable to look up at you with hurt faces and say, 'Jeff, what did you do? Quit? Didn't you do something about it?'
Jefferson Smith: Well, what do you expect me to do? An honorary stooge like me against the Taylors and Paines and machines and lies...
Clarissa Saunders: Your friend Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man whoever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against 'em didn't stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You know that Jeff. You can't quit now. Not you! They aren't all Taylors and Paines in Washington. Their kind just throw big shadows, that's all. You didn't just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain, decent, every day, common rightness. And this country could use some of that. Yeah - so could the whole cock-eyed world. A lot of it. Remember the first day you got here? Remember what you said about Mr. Lincoln? You said he was sitting up there waiting for someone to come along. You were right! He was waiting for a man who could see his job and sail into it. That's what he was waiting for. A man who could tear into the Taylors and root 'em out into the open. I think he was waiting for you Jeff. He knows you can do it. So do I.
Jefferson Smith: What? Do what, Saunders?
Clarissa Saunders: You just make up your mind you're not gonna quit and I'll tell you what. I've been thinkin' about it all the way back here. It's a forty foot dive into a tub of water, but I think you can do it.
Jefferson Smith: Clarissa, where can we get a drink?
Clarissa Saunders: [slapping his knee] Now you're talkin'!

Senator Joseph Paine: I wish to ask my distinguished colleague, has he one scrap of evidence to add now to the defense he did not give and could not give at that same hearing?
Jefferson Smith: I have no defense against forged papers!
Senator Joseph Paine: The Committee ruled otherwise! The gentleman stands guilty, as charged. And I believe I speak for every member when I say that no one cares to hear what a man of his condemned character has to say about any section of any legislation before this House.
President of Senate: Order, order, gentlemen.
Jefferson Smith: Mr. President, I stand guilty as FRAMED! Because section 40 is graft! And I was ready to say so, I was ready to tell you that a certain man in my state, a Mr. James Taylor, wanted to put through this dam for his own profit and greed. A man who controls a political machine! And controls everything else worth controlling in my state. Yes, and a man even powerful enough to control Congressmen, likely though blackmail or some kind of coercion - and I saw three of them in his room the day I went up to see him!
Senator Joseph Paine: Will the Senator yield?
Jefferson Smith: No, sir, I will not yield! And this same man, Mr. James Taylor, came down here and offered me a seat in this Senate for the next 20 years if I voted for a dam that he knew, and I knew, was a fraud. But if I dared to open my mouth against that dam, he promised to break me in two and ruin my life, hurt my family, brand me as a Communist!

Diz Moore: [dictating into phone] In protest, the whole Senate body rose and walked out.
Clarissa Saunders: No! No, not that straight stuff. Now listen, kick it up, get on his side, fight for him! Understand?
Diz Moore: You love this monkey - don't you?
Clarissa Saunders: What do you think? Now listen, go to work. Do as I tell you, you do know that, don't you?
Diz Moore: [into phone] Throw out that last, take this. This is the most titanic battle of modern times. A David without even a slingshot rises to do battle against the mighty Goliath, the Taylor machine, allegedly crooked inside and out. Yeah, and for my money and an extra bonus prize, you can cut out the "allegedly."

Taglines[edit]

  • Stirring - In the seeing! Precious - In the remembering!
  • Capra's Greatest Hit --- The Screen At Its Most Inspired!
  • Entertainment As Powerful As the Strength of the People! As Great As the Genius of Capra!
  • Romance, drama, laughter and heartbreak ... created out of the very heart and soil of America ... by a great director and cast!

Cast[edit]

External links[edit]

You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked, and I'm gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause...

Produced and distributed just as the nation was recovering from the effects of the Great Depression, with the economy somewhat stabilized following Roosevelt's New Deal, and with the looming 2nd world war, Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) is an important document not only in terms of the state of affairs as it was at the time of its production, but also in terms of what led up to it and what was about to follow. To better understand how the film accomplishes this, one must first examine the idea of freedom and its changing meaning in the period leading up to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Following that, the ways in which this idea is used in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and to what end, will be explored. Finally, the film's role as an active agent in the reality that is to ensue with the outbreak of the 2nd World War, as relating to the past/present reality of the time and Capra's manipulation of this reality, shall be considered.

During the depression and its aftermath, the idea of freedom took several meanings as different issues were at the forefront of the American socioeconomic reality. Foner explores depression-era ideas of freedom, concluding that the socioeconomic freedom (to work and be able to earn one's living) became of greater importance than the political freedom (as expressed in the constitution). But this idea soon came to change as the conditions improved following 's New Deal. Following the labour union disputes and the more militant activism of organizations like the CIO and the Popular Front on the side of the workers, civil liberties and the freedom of speech took an increasingly central role as the decade was nearing its end. The creation of the Department of Justice's Civil Liberties Unit in 1939, established civil liberties as an issue with "a central place in the New Deal understanding of freedom".

It is exactly this idea of freedom that Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonbuilds on to convey Capra's message. While Capra's film conveyed the nation's self image as it was at the time (perhaps more "than one has any right to expect" according to Bergman), it also used this self image in order to make its message heard by his listeners. Qualifying Capra's way of manipulating images as genius and referring to the way that he "understood enough of what people wanted…to help create a consciousness, and to build himself into the system", renders the work not only as one of a reactive nature, but also as an active protagonist. As Muscio notes, Capra was not simply a witness or narrator, but rather a key protagonist in the relationship between communications and politics. As Capra explains: "For two hours you've got 'em. Hitler can't keep 'em that long. You eventually reach more people than does on the radio".

Capra's film then, was in fact a cry to fight for the freedom of civil liberties and the freedom of speech, employing such rhetoric as: "Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books…Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak" or "Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so's he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent". But while such a fight was being fought at home by the CIO and protected by the Civil Liberties Unit, Capra points to the looming fight to keep these liberties overseas with his mention of Hitler (and his inability to captivate his audience) and the CBS reporter in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reporting: "In the diplomatic gallery are the envoys of two dictator powers. They have come here to see what they can't see at home ...democracy in action". Bergman points to the relationship between "the machine [Jim Taylor's dictator-like control of the media and politics] and the politics of these diplomats". The nation, according to Bergman, was being "girded for war" in its movie theaters.

In conclusion, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a document important not only in the way it represents the past and the present at the time of its production, but also one indicative of the media's power and role in the eve of the 2nd World War in priming the American people for the fight for their freedom and for democracy. The question of "how much did Capra create and how much he responded to" then becomes moot in the eyes of history - Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonwas as much a part of America as America was part of it, as such, Capra is neither reactive nor catalyst, but simply, a part of history.




Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom, (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 96-98.

Andrew Bergman, We're in the Money: Depression America and Its Films, (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 147.

Giuliana Muscio, "Roosevelt, , and Capra, (or) The Federalist-Populist Paradox." Frank Capra: authorship and the studio system, Robert Sklar and Vito Zagarrio, eds., (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), 182.

Joseph McBride, Frank Capra, The Catastrophe of Success, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 432.

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