Phillip Burton

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For other people with similar names, see Philip Burton (disambiguation).
Phillip Burton
Philip Burton.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 5th district
In office
February 18, 1964 – April 10, 1983
Preceded by John Shelley
Succeeded by Sala Burton
Personal details
Born (1926-06-01)June 1, 1926
Cincinnati, Ohio
Died April 10, 1983(1983-04-10) (aged 56)
San Francisco, California
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sala Burton

Phillip Burton (June 1, 1926 – April 10, 1983) was a United States Representative from California. A Democrat, he was instrumental in creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Burton was one of the first members of Congress to acknowledge the need for AIDS research and introduce an AIDS bill. He was the brother of California State Senator and Congressman John L. Burton.

Early years and education[edit]

Burton was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, attended Washington High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and graduated from George Washington High School in the Richmond District of San Francisco, in 1944. He earned a B.A. from the University of Southern California in 1947 and an LL.B. from Golden Gate College School of Law in 1952.

Career prior to Congress[edit]

Burton worked as a lawyer and was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1956. He was a member of the United States Air Force during both World War II and the Korean War.

Burton was elected to the California State Assembly in November 1956, and served there from 1957 to 1964. In 1959 he represented the United States at the Atlantic Treaty Association Conference in France.

U.S. Congress[edit]

Burton, as Democrat, won a special election in February 1964 to fill the U.S. House of Representatives vacancy caused by the resignation of United States Representative John F. Shelley, who was elected mayor of San Francisco. Burton was reelected to the 10 succeeding Congresses (February 18, 1964 – April 10, 1983). In 1965, Burton was one of only 3 members of the House to vote against appropriations that President Lyndon Johnson requested for the Vietnam War.

Burton was a delegate to the California State Democratic convention from 1968 to 1982. He was also a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and 1972. At the 1968 convention, he was a part of the delegation pledged to Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated after winning the California Democratic Primary in June.

In 1973, Burton allowed a bill to go to the floor without a "closed rule"—a stipulation that there could be no amendments proposed to it—for the first time since the 1920s.[1] The ending of the closed rule created an infusion of federal lobbyists at the Capitol building; the lobbyists targeted members of Congress to add funding for lobbyists' favorite projects into bills.[1] For this reason, David Frum wrote that Burton "created the modern Congress" more than anyone else.[1]

After the Democrats gained a strong majority in 1974, he was successful in getting the House to abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities.[2] Burton was supported by labor unions[1] and championed union activists, supporting the activities of the farm workers union and the coal miners union.[3]

When President Gerald Ford appeared before Congress in 1975 to request aid during a refugee crisis in the Vietnamese and Cambodian capitals, Burton became so upset with Ford's request that he called it "an outrage" and left halfway through the speech.[4] In December 1976, Burton narrowly lost a bid for House Majority Leader to Jim Wright of Fort Worth, Texas.

He was the author of the bill that created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and legislation setting up wilderness areas across the country. The Point Reyes National Seashore includes the Phillip Burton Wilderness, named for the congressman in 1985. In the early 1980s, he worked with gay liaison Bill Kraus to create legislation and funding for AIDS research in the San Francisco area.

Death, succession, and honors[edit]

Burton died on April 10, 1983, in San Francisco at age 56, of an aneurysm.[5] He was cremated, and the ashes were interred in the National Cemetery of the Presidio of San Francisco. His wife Sala Burton won a special election in June 1983 to serve the remainder of his term;[5] she was reelected in November 1984 and November 1986. Burton's House seat is currently held by Nancy Pelosi, who won a special election in 1987, following Sala Burton's death.

There is a statue of Burton at the Great Meadow at Fort Mason, in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. San Francisco's federal building is named for Burton.[1] Phillip & Sala Burton High School, on the site of the former Woodrow Wilson High School in San Francisco is named for Phillip and his wife.


  1. ^ a b c d e Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. pp. 278–279. ISBN 0-465-04195-7. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 306. ISBN 0-465-04195-7. 
  5. ^ a b "Widow elected to fill seat of Phil Burton". Ocala Star-Banner (Associated Press). June 22, 1983. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jacobs, John. A Rage for Justice: The Passion and Politics of Phillip Burton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Robinson, Judith. You're in Your Mother's Arms: The Life and Legacy of Congressman Phil Burton. San Francisco, CA: M.J. Robinson, 1994.

External links[edit]

California Assembly
Preceded by
Thomas A. Maloney
California State Assemblyman, 20th District
Succeeded by
John L. Burton
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Shelley (resigned January 7, 1964, to serve as Mayor of San Francisco)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 5th congressional district

February 18, 1964–1975
Succeeded by
John L. Burton
Preceded by
John L. Burton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 6th congressional district

February 18, 1975–January 3, 1983
Succeeded by
Barbara Boxer
Preceded by
John L. Burton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 5th congressional district

January 3, 1983–April 10, 1983
Succeeded by
Sala Burton