February 17, 1967
Senate Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen's theatrical talents entertained many 1960s audiences, including those in the Senate chamber. A particularly memorable example of Dirksen at his best occurred in a 1967 floor debate over a proposal to abolish one of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittees. More than a decade earlier, the full committee had agreed to a plan under which its most senior minority member would gain additional staff and office space by chairing the Subcommittee on Federal Charters, Holidays, and Celebrations. In 1967, in a Democratic-controlled Senate, that member was Everett McKinley Dirksen, Republican of Illinois.
Early that year, Senator Allen Ellender, a conservative Louisiana Democrat and member of the Joint Committee on Reduction of Nonessential Federal Expenditures, recommended elimination of this two-member panel, with its $7,500-a-year clerk. He noted that the full committee had sixteen subcommittees and 198 employees. Surely, they could get by with one less subcommittee and employee.
On February 17, 1967, Dirksen launched his counterattack. He began, "Mr. President, I rise in vehement opposition to the proposal to do violence to this little subcommittee. The most important reason that I can assign is that I am chairman. You are not going to do that to me, are you, and destroy my one and only chairmanship? I want the Senate to know that this subcommittee deals with holidays and if you can think of anything more important in the American calendar than that, then I give up. So do not decimate this little subcommittee, because with it you destroy the chairman, and at this moment I am in no mood to be destroyed."
Dirksen acknowledged that his own calendar showed a holiday or celebration for nearly every day of the year. "But we still have a few days left, and there is going to be work for this subcommittee. That little subcommittee keeps me so busy, sometimes I think I do not have adequate time to fully discharge the responsibilities of the minority leadership." Dirksen promised, however, to find the time. Lest anyone doubt his dedication to the subcommittee, he recited the familiar poem:
Woodsman spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
Dirksen saved his little subcommittee, which continued even after his death, under minority chairmanship, until its elimination in 1977.