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Everett Dirksen
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Everett Dirksen

Everett McKinley Dirksen (January 4, 1896 - September 7, 1969) was a Republican U.S. Congressman and Senator from Illinois. His personal conviction and political courage helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, raising civil rights legislation above the state level, where it had remained blocked for decades. Pragmatic and broadly non-partisan, he shifted from being a major Republican critic of Truman and confidant of Eisenhower to become an ardent Republican supporter of LBJ.

Dirksen was born in Pekin, Illinois - about 120 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois - where he grew up on a small farm. He served in the United States Army during World War I. His political career began in 1927, when he was elected to the Pekin city council.

After an unsuccessful first run for the House of Representatives 1929, he was elected to that body in 1932. He served until 1946 when he left due to a series of medical problems.

After recovering, he was elected to the Senate in 1950 when he unseated the Senate Democratic majority leader in a bitter Illinois contest. During World War II, he lobbied successfully for an expansion of congressional staff resources to eliminate the practice under which House and Senate committees borrowed executive branch personnel to accomplish legislative work. His canny political skill, rumpled appearance, and convincing, if sometimes flowery, overblown oratory, made his national reputation, and eventually brought him to the position of assistant Republican leader in 1957 minority floor leader two years later. He held that position until his death following cancer surgery on September 7, 1969 at Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC.

He is most often remembered for the quote: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money". Unfortunately, hard evidence that he actually ever made this remark has yet to be found.

At the vote for closure on the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, Dirksen had this to say

"Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment, 'Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.' The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."

On March 22, 1966, Dirksen also introduced a Constitutional amendment that would permit public school administrators to provide for organized prayer by students. This amendment was seen by many to violate the principle of separation of church and state, and was defeated in the Senate with only 49 affirmative votes, falling short of the 67 votes required for a Constitutional amendment.

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