Carl Albert

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Carl Albert
Speaker Albert - portrait (cropped).jpg
Portrait of Carl Albert as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
46th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 21, 1971 – January 3, 1977
Preceded byJohn W. McCormack
Succeeded byTip O'Neill
House Majority Leader
In office
January 10, 1962 – January 3, 1971
DeputyHale Boggs
Preceded byJohn W. McCormack
Succeeded byHale Boggs
House Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 10, 1962
LeaderSam Rayburn
Preceded byLeslie C. Arends
Succeeded byHale Boggs
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oklahoma's 3rd district
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1977
Preceded byPaul Stewart
Succeeded byWes Watkins
Personal details
Carl Bert Albert

(1908-05-10)May 10, 1908
McAlester, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 2000(2000-02-04) (aged 91)
McAlester, Oklahoma, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Mary Sue Harmon (m. 1942)
RelativesCharles W. Vursell (cousin)
EducationUniversity of Oklahoma (BA)
St Peter's College, Oxford (BA, BCL)
AwardsBronze Star Medal
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Forces
Army Reserve
Years of service1941–1946 (Air Forces)
1946-1968 (Reserve)
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel (Air Forces)
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel (Reserve)
UnitFar East Air Service Command
Battles/warsWorld War II

Carl Bert Albert (May 10, 1908 – February 4, 2000) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 46th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1971 to 1977, representing Oklahoma's 3rd congressional district as a Democrat from 1947 to 1977.

Albert represented a southeastern Oklahoma Congressional district as a Democrat for 30 years, starting in 1947. He is best known for his service as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1971 to 1977. At 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 metres) tall, Albert was often affectionately known as the "Little Giant from Little Dixie", and held the highest political office of any Oklahoman in American history.

Early years, education[edit]

Albert was born in McAlester, Oklahoma. Shortly after his birth his family moved to a small town just north of McAlester called Bugtussle. He was the son of a coal miner and farmer and grew up in a log cabin on his father's farm. In high school he excelled in debate, was student body president, and won the national high school oratorical contest, earning a trip to Europe. During this time he was an active member of his local Order of DeMolay chapter and is an inductee of the Order of DeMolay Hall of Fame.[1] Albert later petitioned his local Masonic Lodge and became an active Freemason. He entered the University of Oklahoma in 1927. There, he majored in political science and won the National Oratorical Championship in 1928, receiving an all-expense-paid trip to Europe. He earned enough money to fund the rest of his undergraduate education through working in the college registrar's office and participating in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. While at Oklahoma, he was an accomplished amateur wrestler, a member of the Kappa Alpha Order Greek letter fraternity, and a member of the all-male spirit club. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1931, was the top male student, then studied at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Jurisprudence and Bachelor of Civil Laws from St Peter's College before returning to the United States in 1934. He opened a law practice in Oklahoma City in 1935. He worked for a series of oil companies in leasing work, until the start of World War II.

War years[edit]

Albert joined the United States Army as a private in 1941. He served briefly with the 3rd Armored Division, but was soon commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces. While in the army, Albert married Mary Harmon on August 20, 1942, in Columbia, South Carolina, just before he was sent to the South Pacific.[2] The couple had two children, Mary Frances and David.[3] Albert served in the Judge Advocate General Corps as a prosecutor assigned to the Far East Air Service Command. He earned a Bronze Star Medal and other decorations and left the Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1946.[4] He remained in the Army Reserve after the war, and retired in 1968 with the rank of colonel.[5]

Enters Congress[edit]

Albert was elected to Congress for the first time in 1946. He was a Cold War liberal, and supported President Harry S Truman's containment of Soviet expansionism and domestic measures like public housing, federal aid to education, and farm price supports. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn noticed his diligence as a legislator and began inviting him to informal meetings in the speaker's office. Rayburn also advised Albert to seek the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee in 1949. Albert was appointed House Majority Whip in 1955 and was elected House Majority Leader after Rayburn's death in 1961.[2]

However, Albert seemed to describe himself as a political moderate. He said, he "... very much disliked doctrinaire liberals – they want to own your minds. And I don’t like reactionary conservatives. I like to face issues in terms of conditions and not in terms of someone's inborn political philosophy."[6]

Albert was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957.[7]

Majority Congressional Leader[edit]

Carl Albert (at far left) with the Democratic Congressional leadership in 1965

As Majority Leader, Albert was a key figure in advancing the Democratic legislative agenda in the House, particularly with health care legislation. Medicare, the federal program of hospital insurance for persons 65 and older, was initially proposed by the Kennedy Administration as an amendment to the Social Security program. Albert knew the bill had insufficient Congressional support for passage due to the opposition of ten key Republicans and eight key southern Democrats. He advised President Kennedy to seek Senate passage of the measure first. Albert calculated that the Senate should bring it to the House as a conference committee report on their own welfare bill, instead of trying direct introduction into the House.

Majority Leader Albert with President Lyndon B. Johnson

Although well-planned, Albert's efforts on behalf of the Medicare bill were not successful at that time. After the Kennedy assassination, Albert worked to change House rules so that the majority Democrats would have greater influence on the final decisions of Congress under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The changes included more majority leverage over the House Rules Committee, and stronger majority membership influence in the House Ways and Means Committee. With these changes in place, Albert was able to push through the Medicare bill, known as the Social Security Act of 1965, and he shepherded other pieces of Johnson's Great Society program through Congress.

Albert also chaired the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The convention was one of the most chaotic conventions in American history. Riots and protests raged outside the convention venue, and disorder reigned among convention delegates tasked with leading the party after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the increasing casualties of the Vietnam War, and Johnson's decision to withdraw from the race for his party's presidential nomination after a bruising and humiliating New Hampshire primary.

Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

When Speaker John W. McCormack retired in January 1971, during the second half of Richard Nixon's first term as president, Albert was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

As the Watergate scandal developed in 1973, Albert, as Speaker, referred some two dozen impeachment resolutions to the House Judiciary Committee for debate and study.[8] Also in 1973 Albert appointed Felda Looper as the first female page in the House of Representatives.[9]

In 1973, during Albert's second term as Speaker and Nixon's second term as president, Vice President Spiro Agnew was investigated for tax evasion and money laundering for a series of bribes he took while he was Governor of Maryland. Agnew resigned as Vice President and eventually pleaded nolo contendere to the charges. This event put Albert next in line to assume the presidential powers and duties, should that office become vacant.

Speaker Albert (seated at right) behind President Gerald Ford during the 1975 State of the Union

Under the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Nixon nominated Republican House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford to succeed Agnew as Vice President in October 1973. As the Watergate crisis began to unfold and the impeachment process against Richard Nixon began, it quickly became apparent that if Nixon resigned or was impeached from office before Ford was confirmed by both houses, Albert would become Acting President under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. Albert would have been forced to resign from the office of Speaker as well as the House.

This was the first occasion since the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in which it was possible for a member of one party to assume the presidency after a member of the opposing party vacated the office. As Speaker of the House, Albert presided over the only body with the authority to impeach Nixon and had the ability to prevent any Vice Presidential confirmation vote from taking place in the House. This meant Albert could have theoretically maneuvered to make himself Acting President. However, Albert concluded that, as a Democrat, he had no right to inherit a Presidency that had been won by a Republican ticket in 1972. He later stated that if he had become Acting President by succession that it would be in the national interest to resign immediately after the House and Senate had confirmed a Republican Vice President. The Vice Presidency was vacant for about seven weeks; Ford was confirmed and sworn in as Vice President in December 1973.

Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, and the office of Vice President was once more left vacant when Ford succeeded Nixon that day. After former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was nominated by Ford, then confirmed and sworn into office as Vice President in December, any issue of presidential succession was moot.

A different issue arose during Albert's last term in office when he was confronted with the Tongsun Park scandal. He was accused of accepting gifts and bribes from a lobbyist who was also a member of South Korean intelligence. Albert denied having accepted bribes and admitted to have received only token gifts, which he disclosed. He decided to retire at the end of the 94th Congress in January 1977, and after leaving the House he turned the gifts over to the General Services Administration as required by law. Albert was never charged with a crime.[10][11][12][13]


After he left Washington, Albert returned to McAlester, turning down many lucrative financial offers from corporate concerns. Albert published his memoirs, with help from university professor Danney Goble, entitled Little Giant (University of Oklahoma Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8061-2250-1). A post-retirement editorial in the New York Times said he was, "... a conciliator and seeker of consensus, a patient persuader . . . trusted for his fairness and integrity."[6]

After retiring from Congress, he went home to Bugtussle, although he maintained an office in McAlester. He lectured at the University of Oklahoma and made speeches both in the United States and abroad.[6]

Death and legacy[edit]

Albert died at the age of 91 on February 4, 2000.[4]

The Carl Albert Center at the University of Oklahoma in Norman was established in 1979 for the general purpose of studying Congress and the particular purpose of researching Albert's life and political career. The Center holds the archive of Albert's Congressional papers along with those of Robert S. Kerr, Helen Gahagan Douglas, Millicent Fenwick, Ernest Istook, Fred R. Harris, Percy Gassaway, and many others. The Congressional Archives hold material from the Civil War era to the present, but the largest portion covers the 1930s to the 1970s. Carl Albert Indian Health Facility in Ada is part of the Public Health Service and is administered by the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Durant named its Carl Albert Park for him, and a monument to Albert resides at his birthplace in McAlester. Several institutions and buildings in Oklahoma bear Albert's name. Carl B. Albert Middle School and Carl B. Albert High School in Midwest City and Carl Albert State College in Poteau are named for him,[6] as well as the Carl Albert Federal Building in McAlester.

The University of Oxford established a monument to Albert in the Eunomia Chambers of the St Peter's College Law Library.

Personal life[edit]

Carl Albert married Mary Harmon in 1942; they had a son and a daughter. His cousin Charles W. Vursell served as a member of Congress representing Illinois from 1943 to 1959.


  1. ^ Hall of Fame Archived September 5, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., DeMolay International (accessed April 12, 2014).
  2. ^ a b Erin M. Sloan, Albert, Carl Bert (1908-2000), Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed April 24, 2015.
  3. ^ Little Giant, by Carl Albert with Danney Goble, Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1990, pp. 132 and 188.
  4. ^ a b Glass, Andrew. Ex-House Speaker Carl Albert dies, Feb. 4, 2000,, February 4, 2011 (accessed April 12, 2014).
  5. ^ "'Little Giant' dies at age 91 Carl Albert served 30 years in House". The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City, OK. February 6, 2000.
  6. ^ a b c d "The man from Bugtussle made national impact." The Norman Transcript. June 1, 2007. Retrieved May 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "Oklahoma Hall of Fame". Retrieved November 16, 2012.
  8. ^ Little Giant, by Carl Albert, with Danney Goble, Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
  9. ^ "Lincoln Evening Journal from Lincoln, Nebraska · Page 103". 1973-06-17. Retrieved 2015-02-15.
  10. ^ Newspaper article, Albert Queried on Involvement in Korea Case, by United Press International, published in Eugene (Oregon), Register-Guard, December 15, 1977
  11. ^ Newspaper article, Foreign Gifts Gathering Dust, by Associated Press, published in Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World, February 14, 1978
  12. ^ Newspaper article, Park Never Paid O'Neill, Albert, by Richard E. Lerner, United Press International, published in the Nashua Telegraph, March 8, 1978
  13. ^ Obituary, Carl Albert, New York Times, February 6, 2000

Further reading[edit]

  • Albert, Carl. Little Giant: The Life and Times of Speaker Carl Albert (1990), autobiography, with Danney Goble.
  • Clark, David W. "Carl Albert: Little Giant of Native America" Chronicles of Oklahoma 93#3 (2015) PP 290–311.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Paul Stewart
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oklahoma's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Wes Watkins
Preceded by
Leslie C. Arends
House Majority Whip
Succeeded by
Hale Boggs
Preceded by
John W. McCormack
House Majority Leader
Party political offices
Preceded by
John W. McCormack
House Democratic Deputy Leader
Succeeded by
Hale Boggs
Permanent Chair of the Democratic National Convention
Succeeded by
Larry O'Brien
House Democratic Leader
Succeeded by
Hale Boggs
Preceded by
Mike Mansfield
Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Lloyd Bentsen, John Brademas, Hale Boggs, Frank Church, Thomas Eagleton, Martha Griffiths, John Melcher, Ralph Metcalfe, William Proxmire, Leonor Sullivan
Title next held by
Mike Mansfield
Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Hubert Humphrey
Succeeded by
Edmund Muskie
Political offices
Preceded by
John W. McCormack
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Tip O'Neill