The governor of an unnamed American state, Hubert Hopper, has to replace a recently deceased
His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (pictured right), wants him to appoint one of his
supporters. But he goes for Jefferson Smith , head of the Boy Rangers (similar to boy scouts) and
heroic extinguisher of a recent forest fire.
Hopper thinks that his clean image and political naivety will make him easier to manipulate.
Smith is helped by the state’s other senator, Joseph Paine (pictured right), whom he greatly
admires because of his friendship with Smith’s dead father. He doesn’t know that Paine is also a corrupt
supporter of Taylor.
When Smith arrives in Washington, he stares in awe at its monuments and government buildings including the:
a) Supreme Court (where he reflects on its inscription “equal
Smith’s ideals of freedom, democracy and morality win over his cynical secretary, Clarissa
Saunders (known as Saunders, below).
She (pictured right) is captivated by his bill (proposed new law) to create a national boys’
camp in 200 acres of countryside in his state, where they can learn the American ideals of liberty and
justice for all.
But it is on the same site as a useless dam project that will greatly profit
Taylor and Paine. So Paine produces evidence that Smith:
owns the land.
will make lots of money from its sale.
Smith is so shocked by Paine’s betrayal that he starts to go home.
Saunders finds him at the Lincoln Memorial, where he reads the last sentence of President Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address:
“And that government by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth”.
Saunders re-kindles his belief in these words, persuading him to launch a filibuster (a long speech) to
the votes for the dam project.
his expulsion from the Senate.
This speech gradually wins over the other senators, despite Paine’s ploy of bringing in bins of
letters and telegrams from Smith’s state demanding his expulsion (all written by Taylor’s supporters) - pictured
After an exhilarating and idealistic twenty four hour speech (pictured right), Smith collapses.
Paine is overcome by guilt, and his suicide attempt is thwarted by some other senators.
goes back into the Senate (where the senators debate and make laws).
confirms Smith’s innocence
Smith is now a hero.
Lessons for life and work
1. People and the individual first
Smith successfully battles against the evils of:
abuse of power.
It is no coincidence that his name is Jefferson, who enshrined in the American Constitution everyone’s
right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Like in Frank Capra’s other films (such as It’s A
Wonderful Life), Smith shows how one individual can defeat the rich, corrupt and powerful.
In 1982 Frank Capra said his films were based
upon three ideals:
the love of
the equal importance of each
the freedom of each
Smith (pictured right) says that politics would be useless, if it wasn’t kind to
In contrast Paine and Taylor’s lucrative dam project doesn’t provide water to the people who really need it.
2. Ideals inspire
Inspired by President Lincoln (pictured
right), the hearts of Clarissa Saunders and people everywhere are won by Smith’s ideals of:
3. Never give up hope
Smith is inspired by:
Saunders (who lovingly admires and encourages him).
his father (who, as a newspaper publisher, fought for lost causes like a miner’s just
claim against a big mining company).
4. Character boosts your confidence
Smith stands up to Paine and Taylor, because he believes his principles are worth fighting for.
This gives him confidence, resolution and energy.
“Boy, I feel like a house on fire”, he says, even though he has been speaking for many
5. Power and money corrupt
Taylor is ruthlessly determined to destroy Smith, and Paine sacrifices his principles for money.
6. Honesty is the best policy
Smith finally shames Paine into telling the truth.
8. Save the planet
Smith loves the countryside and wants to protect it from unnecessary government building (like the dam
Key quote on
“Liberty is 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”, Smith.
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,
Saunders (to Smith when he's thinking of going home).
Key quote on ethics
Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again,
Smith (in his long speech).
Key quote on management
I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules, if behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of
ordinary, everyday human kindness – and a little looking out for the other fella, too,
Key quote on influence
Dad always used to say the only causes worth fighting for were the lost causes, Smith (to
Key quote on health
Every time I think of exercise, I have to lie right down till the feeling leaves me, Diz
Moore (Saunders’ journalist friend, pictured right).