Jimmy Stewart lobbied for national boys camp in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a classic 1939 American political comedy-drama starring James Stewart as wide eyed scout leader Jefferson Smith, who ends up being chosen as the replacement for a recently deceased U.S. Senator.

In over his head when he arrives at the capital, the earnest head of the Boy Rangers is expected by the corrupt leaders of his state to be an easy mark but when Mr. Smith’s first order of business is to open a national boys camp in his home state, he unknowingly stumbles into a political machine bent on using the same land for nefarious purposes.

Smith’s proposal is simple: to create a national boys camp on 200 acres in the unnamed western state he represents:

“For the purpose of bringing together boys of all walks of life from various parts of the country, boys of all creeds, kinds and positions to educate them in American ideals and to promote mutual understanding and to bring about a healthful life to the growing youth of this great and beautiful land,” Smith tells the Senate.


To pay for the camp, Smith proposes that the government lend the money for the camp and boys pay it back by sending pennies, nickels and dimes. Donations pour in, but once the political machine learns of the proposed location for the camp, on the site of a dam-building graft scheme included in an appropriations bill, Smith’s whole plan is held up to scrutiny and his name smeared in the process.

In order to fight the machine and keep the hope for the camp alive, Smith launches a filibuster attempt of epic proportions with the help of his Boy Rangers spreading a campaign of their own to clear his name back home that ends with a dramatic 1930s cinema flair accented by Jimmy Stewart’s passionate delivery and charm.

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Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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