Sam Rayburn

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For the football player, see Sam Rayburn (American football). For the community in Texas, see Sam Rayburn, Texas.
Sam Rayburn
Sam Rayburn2.jpg
48th, 50th and 52nd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1955 – November 16, 1961
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Preceded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
Succeeded by John William McCormack
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
Succeeded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
In office
September 16, 1940 – January 3, 1947
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Preceded by William B. Bankhead
Succeeded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
Dean of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 5, 1953 – November 16, 1961
Preceded by Robert L. Doughton
Succeeded by Carl Vinson
House Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1955
Deputy John William McCormack
Preceded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
Succeeded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1949
Deputy John William McCormack
Preceded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
Succeeded by Joseph William Martin, Jr.
House Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1937 – September 16, 1940
Deputy Patrick J. Boland
Preceded by William B. Bankhead
Succeeded by John William McCormack
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1913 – November 16, 1961
Preceded by Choice B. Randell
Succeeded by Ray Roberts
Personal details
Born Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn
(1882-01-06)January 6, 1882
Kingston, Tennessee, U.S.
Died November 16, 1961(1961-11-16) (aged 79)
Bonham, Texas, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Texas A&M University–Commerce
Profession Law
Religion Primitive Baptist

Samuel Taliaferro "Sam" Rayburn (January 6, 1882 – November 16, 1961) was a Democratic lawmaker from Bonham, Texas, who served as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years, the longest tenure in U.S. history. He is also one of only two Speakers to serve more than one non-consecutive term, and the only Democrat to do so; the other being Joseph William Martin, Jr. He is also the only one to serve three different terms as Speaker.

Early life[edit]

Rayburn was born in Roane County, Tennessee, on January 6, 1882, 24 days before Franklin D. Roosevelt, a fact noted by the news media while Roosevelt was President and Rayburn was Speaker.[1] In 1956 Rayburn was baptized by Elder H.G. Ball in the Primitive Baptist Church, also known as Old Line Baptist or Hard Shell Baptist Church. Rayburn graduated from Mayo College (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) in Commerce, which was located in northeast Texas.

Career[edit]

He won election to the Texas House of Representatives, beginning his first term in 1907. He attended the University of Texas School of Law while a state representative, and was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1908. During his third two-year term in the Texas House, he was elected Speaker of the House at the age of twenty-nine. The next year, he won election to the United States House of Representatives in District 4. He entered Congress in 1913 at the beginning of Woodrow Wilson's presidency and served in office for almost 49 years (more than 24 terms), until the beginning of John F. Kennedy's presidency.

Speaker of the House[edit]

A statue of Rayburn in the Rayburn House Office Building

On September 16, 1940 at the age of 58, and while serving as Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, Rayburn became Speaker of the House upon the sudden death of Speaker William Bankhead. Rayburn's career as Speaker was interrupted twice: 1947–1949 and 1953–1955, when Republicans controlled the House. During those periods of Republican rule, Rayburn served as Minority Leader. However, he so disliked the term "minority leader" that he asked to be referred to as the "Democratic Leader" during those interim four years when the office of Speaker was held by the Republican Joseph W. Martin, Jr. of Massachusetts, actually a close personal friend of Rayburn's.[2]

Himself a protege of Vice President of the United States John Nance Garner, Rayburn was a close friend and mentor of Lyndon B. Johnson and knew Johnson's father Sam from their days in the Texas Legislature. Rayburn was instrumental to Lyndon Johnson's ascent to power, particularly his rapid rise to the position of Minority Leader; Johnson had been in the Senate for a mere four years when he assumed the role. Johnson also owed his subsequent elevation to Majority Leader to Rayburn. Like Johnson, Rayburn did not sign the Southern Manifesto.[3]

Also, as Speaker of the House, Rayburn forged close friendships and partnerships with legislatures of emerging independent countries and democracies on the continent of Africa, especially Nigeria, a rising political power on that continent. Rayburn was a good friend of The Honorable Jaja Wachuku, who was the first indigenous Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, from 1959 to 1960.

Personal integrity[edit]

Although many Texas legislators were on the payroll of public service corporations, Rayburn refused to do so. As he recounted in a speech during his congressional campaign:

"When I became a member of the law firm of Steger, Thurmond and Rayburn, Messrs. Thurmond and Steger were representing the Santa Fe Railroad Company, receiving pay monthly. When the first check came after I entered the firm, Mr. Thurmond brought to my desk one-third of the amount of the check, explaining what it was for. I said to him that I was a member of the Legislature, representing the people of Fannin County, and that my experience had taught me that men who represent the people should be as far removed as possible from concerns whose interests he was liable to be called on to legislate concerning, and that on that ground I would not accept a dollar of the railroad's money, though I was legally entitled to it. I never did take a dollar of it. I have been guided by the principle in all my dealings."[4]

This practice of refusing to accept fees from clients who had interests before the Legislature was "virtually unheard-of" at the time.[5] Later, while serving in Congress, a wealthy oil man had a very expensive horse delivered to Rayburn's farm in Bonham. No one apparently knew the oil man delivered the horse except him, Rayburn, and a Rayburn staffer. Rayburn returned the horse.[6]

Legacy[edit]

Sam Rayburn

In shaping legislation, Rayburn preferred working quietly in the background to being in the public spotlight. As Speaker, he won a reputation for fairness and integrity. In his years in Congress, Rayburn always insisted on paying his own expenses, even going so far as to pay for his own travel expenses when inspecting the Panama Canal when his committee was considering legislation concerning it, rather than exercising his right to have the government pay for it. After he died his estate was valued at just under $300,000, which was mostly land he owned, and the amount of cash he had in various checking accounts was just over $26,000.[7]

Rayburn was well known among his colleagues for his after business hours "Board of Education" meetings in hideaway offices in the House. During these off-the-record sessions, the Speaker and powerful committee chairmen would gather for poker, bourbon, and a frank discussion of politics. Rayburn alone determined who received an invitation to these gatherings; to be invited to even one was a high honor. On April 12, 1945 Vice President Harry Truman, a regular attendee since his Senate days, had just arrived at the "Board of Education" when he received a phone call telling him to immediately come to the White House, where he learned that Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead and he was now President of the United States.

He coined the term "Sun Belt" while strongly supporting the construction of Route 66. It originally ran south from Chicago, through Oklahoma, and then turned westward from Texas to New Mexico and Arizona before ending at the beach in Santa Monica, California. Arguing in favor of the project, he stated famously that America absolutely must connect "the Frost Belt with the Sun Belt."

Rayburn also had a knack for dressing to suit his occasion. While in Washington, D.C., he would sport expensive suits, starched shirts, and perfectly shined shoes. However, while back in his poorer district in Texas, Rayburn would wear simple shirts, blue jeans, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats. Several politicians have imitated this pattern, including Ronald Reagan's famous example of clearing brush when at home in California, while wearing fine suits in Washington.

The phrase "A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one," is attributed to Rayburn.[8]

James Roosevelt, a U.S. representative from California and a son of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, once called Rayburn "the most impressive person in Congress." Rayburn had urged James not to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Representative Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., of New York, whom Rayburn considered not to have taken seriously his duties of office. Thomas Abernethy of Mississippi said that Rayburn was the most influential Speaker in history because he could "work with liberals and conservatives, ran the House with a firm hand but was generous."[2] William Colmer, another Mississippian and the mentor of later Representative and U.S. Senator Trent Lott, described Rayburn as a "very strong parliamentarian" who was far more effective than his successor, John McCormack of Massachusetts, whom Colmer found "wanted to be liked" by his colleagues.[2]

Speaker Rayburn is seated at right behind President John F. Kennedy in this May 25, 1961 photograph showing Kennedy announcing the Apollo program.

Asked why he never sought the presidency, Rayburn said that he was "born in the wrong place at the wrong time" to undertake a national campaign.[2] Rayburn was Speaker at a time that the greater power in the House rested with committee chairmen. He was himself readily accessible to members; historian Anthony Champagne of the University of Texas at Dallas, a Rayburn scholar, views the Speaker as a "bridge between the northern and southern members" of the Democratic Party. Champagne recalled a report that Rayburn so understood the House that he was "married" to the body and could "feel the sentiment of the members" by merely being in their presence. He was careful to fight his own battles, Champagne said. Rayburn was a mentor to such younger members as Richard Bolling of Missouri, Wilbur D. Mills of Arkansas, Carl Albert of Oklahoma, and Homer Thornberry and Jack Brooks, both of Texas.[2] He was also readily accessible to constituents, who were invited to come to his home in Bonham and visit without prior notice.[2]

His home in Texas, now known as the Sam Rayburn House Museum, was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Personal life and death[edit]

Rayburn had married once, to Metze Jones (1897–1982),[9] sister of Texas Congressman Marvin Jones and Rayburn's colleague, but the marriage ended quickly. Biographers D.B. Hardeman and Donald C. Bacon guessed that Rayburn's work schedule and long bachelorhood, combined with the couple's differing views on alcohol, contributed to the rift. The court's divorce file in Bonham, Texas, has never been located, and Rayburn avoided speaking of his brief marriage. In 2014 the Associated Press reported the existence of a letter Rayburn wrote to Metze after her father died in June 1926.[10]

One of his greatest, most painful regrets was that he did not have a son, or as he put it in The Path to Power, Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, "a towheaded boy to take fishing."[11]

Rayburn died of cancer in 1961 at the age of 79 and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. By the time of his death, he had served as Speaker for twice as long as any of his predecessors.

Rayburn was a descendant of George Waller, a Revolutionary War militia officer from Henry County, Virginia, and was an honorary president of the Colonel George Waller Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Tributes[edit]

Stamp issued by the United States Post Office Department commemorating Sam Rayburn.

Named in honor of Rayburn[edit]

Portrayals[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Time Magazine, Jan. 18, 1943.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Anthony Champagne, University of Texas at Dallas, "Sam Rayburn", West Texas Historical Association joint meeting with the East Texas Historical Association in Fort Worth, February 26, 2010
  3. ^ Badger, Tony (1999). "Southerners Who Refused to Sign the Southern Manifesto". The Historical Journal 42 (2): 517–534. doi:10.1017/s0018246x98008346. 
  4. ^ H.G. Dulaney & Edward Hake Phillips, Speak, Mr. Speaker 20 (1978)
  5. ^ Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn 32 (1984)
  6. ^ Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn 31 (1984)
  7. ^ Inventory & Appraisement of the Estate of Sam Rayburn, Fannin County Clerk's Office
  8. ^ Time - The Prelude of the 83rd
  9. ^ https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V9NS-4M8
  10. ^ [1] Associated Press - Letter provides peek at personal Sam Rayburn (August 16, 2014)
  11. ^ The Path to Power, Page. 333
  12. ^ [2]

Further reading[edit]

  • Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1982).
  • Champagne, Anthony. and Floyd F. Ewing, "RAYBURN, SAMUEL TALIAFERRO (1882-1961)." Handbook of Texas Online (2005) online version
  • Champagne, Anthony. Congressman Sam Rayburn (Rutgers University Press, 1984).
  • Champagne, Anthony. Sam Rayburn: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood, 1988).
  • Dorough,C. Dwight Mr. Sam (1962).
  • Gould, Lewis L., and Nancy Beck Young, "The Speaker and the Presidents: Sam Rayburn, the White House, and the Legislative Process, 1941–1961" in Raymond W. Smock and Susan W. Hammond, eds. Masters of the House: Congressional Leadership Over Two Centuries (1998). online version
  • Hardeman, D. B., and Donald C. Bacon, Rayburn: A Biography (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987).
  • McWhorter, William, “Together They Won: Sam T. Rayburn and the Fourth Congressional District during World War II,” East Texas Historical Journal 49 (Fall 2011), 82–93.
  • Alfred Steinberg, Sam Rayburn (Hawthorn, 1975)

External links[edit]

Texas House of Representatives
Preceded by
Rosser Thomas
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 34 (Bonham)

1907–1913
Succeeded by
Robert R. Williams
Political offices
Preceded by
William B. Bankhead
Alabama
House Majority Leader
1937–1940
Succeeded by
John William McCormack
Massachusetts
Preceded by
John Wesley Marshall
Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives
1911–1913
Succeeded by
Chester H. Terrell
Preceded by
William B. Bankhead
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
September 16, 1940 – January 3, 1947
Succeeded by
Joseph W. Martin, Jr.
Preceded by
Joseph W. Martin, Jr.
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
January 5, 1955 – November 16, 1961
Succeeded by
John W. McCormack
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Choice B. Randell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 4th congressional district

1913–1961
Succeeded by
Ray Roberts
Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur G. DeWalt
Democratic Caucus Chairman of the United States House of Representatives
1923 - 1925
Succeeded by
Henry T. Rainey
Preceded by
Samuel D. Jackson
Permanent Chairman of the Democratic National Convention
1948, 1952, 1956
Succeeded by
John W. McCormack
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Robert L. Doughton
Dean of the United States House of Representatives
January 5, 1953 – November 16, 1961
Succeeded by
Carl Vinson