Samuel Taliaferro "Sam" Rayburn (January 6, 1882 – November 16, 1961) was an American politician who served as the 43rd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1940 to 1947, 1949 to 1953, and 1955 to 1961, the longest-serving speaker in American history. He represented Texas' 4th congressional district as a Democrat from 1913 to 1961.
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. He was the son of Martha Clementine (Waller) and William Marion Rayburn. In 1887 the Rayburn family moved to a cotton farm near Windom, Texas. Rayburn graduated from East Texas Normal College (now Texas A&M University–Commerce) in Commerce and became a schoolteacher.
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
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.
For the next 21 years, Rayburn was the leader of the House Democrats. His 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.
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.
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 Jaja Wachuku, the first indigenous Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, from 1959 to 1960.
Although many Texas legislators were on the payroll of public service corporations, Rayburn refused to be. 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.
This practice of refusing to accept fees from clients with interests before the legislature was "virtually unheard-of" at the time. 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.
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.
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.
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, who, according to Rayburn, did not take 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". William Colmer, another Mississippian and the mentor of later Representative and U.S. Senator Trent Lott, described Rayburn as a "very strong parliamentarian" and far more effective than his successor, John McCormack of Massachusetts, who, Colmer found, "wanted to be liked" by his colleagues.
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. 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. He was also readily accessible to constituents, who were invited to come to his home in Bonham and visit without prior notice.
Personal life and death
Rayburn married once, to Metze Jones (1897–1982), sister of Texas Congressman and Rayburn friend Marvin Jones. He had corresponded with her for nine years, and at the time of the wedding Rayburn was 45 and Jones was 30. Their 1927 marriage ended after only a few months; 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.
In 2016 the Plano Star Courier published a story about an article in the October 2016 issue of Southwestern Historical Quarterly (a scholarly journal published by the Texas State Historical Association) profiling Sam Rayburn's "lady friend" who was a woman named Margaret Fallon (Peggy) Palmer, the widow of former U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, and her close relationship with Rayburn.
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 nearly 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.
Named in honor of Rayburn
- Rayburn House Office Building, which contains offices of House members and is adjacent to the United States Capitol, completed in 1965.
- Ballistic missile submarine USS Sam Rayburn, launched in 1963 and decommissioned in 1989.
- Sam Rayburn Reservoir in East Texas, constructed beginning in 1956 and renamed after Rayburn in 1963.
- Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texas, opened in 1964.
- Sam Rayburn Independent School District in Ivanhoe, Texas, established in 1964.
- Sam Rayburn Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University–Commerce, built in 1963.
- Sam Rayburn Middle School in Bryan, Texas.
- Sam Rayburn Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.
- Sam Rayburn Parkway is a portion of U.S. Highway 75 that runs through Sherman, Texas.
- Sam Rayburn Tollway is a toll road that goes through Dallas, Denton, and Collin counties in northeast Texas.
- Sam Rayburn Memorial Highway, roughly a forty-mile section of Texas State Highway 121 that begins at Texas State Highway 78, two miles north of Bonham, Texas, and ends at its terminus with the Sam Rayburn Tollway in McKinney, Texas.
- Sam Rayburn Elementary School in McAllen, Texas.
- Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center in Bonham, Texas.
- The Rayburn Room, a meeting room at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The Greenbrier contains the Bunker,
- Time Magazine, January 18, 1943.
- "Marking Time".
- 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.
- Badger, Tony (1999). "Southerners Who Refused to Sign the Southern Manifesto". The Historical Journal. 42 (2): 517–534. doi:10.1017/s0018246x98008346.
- H. G. Dulaney & Edward Hake Phillips, Speak, Mr. Speaker 20 (1978).
- Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn 32 (1984)
- Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn 31 (1984)
- Inventory & Appraisement of the Estate of Sam Rayburn, Fannin County Clerk's Office
- "THE CONGRESS: The Prelude of the 83rd". TIME.com. January 12, 1953. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
- "Person Details for Metze Neely, "United States Social Security Death Index" — FamilySearch.org". familysearch.org. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
- "Letter Provides Peek At Personal Sam Rayburn". CBS-DFW. Associated Press. August 16, 2014.
- "Rayburn's "lady-friend": Local historians to publish former Speaker's personal life". Plano Star Courier. September 29, 2016.
- The Path to Power, p. 333.
- "Sam Taliaferro Rayburn: Who's Who within the Waller Family." www.alleylaw.net. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
- "Sam Rayburn Tollway (SRT)". North Texas Tollway Authority.
- 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)
- Obituary, NY Times, November 16, 1961, Rayburn Is Dead; Served 17 Years As House Speaker
- The leadership of Speaker Sam Rayburn published 1961, hosted by the Portal to Texas History.
- United States Congress. "Sam Rayburn (id: R000082)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Sam Rayburn at Find a Grave
- Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn from the Handbook of Texas Online
- "Mister Speaker", Time Magazine, September 27, 1943
- RAYBURN: MR. SPEAKER (A feature-length documentary about Sam Rayburn's life and career)
- The Friends of Sam Rayburn Website
- Sam Rayburn House Museum Website
- Address Delivered by The Honorable Sam Rayburn at the Dedication of the Marker over the Graves of His Great-Great Grandfather Col. George Waller and his wife Ann Winston Carr, Oakwood Cemetery, Martinsville, Virginia, May 6, 1951
- Associated Press, August 16, 2014 - Letter provides peek at personal Sam Rayburn