Sam Rayburn: Achieving Party Leadership
SAM RAYBURN SERVED FROM 1937 UNTIL 1940 AS MAJORITY LEADER OF
the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1940, Speaker of the House
William B. Bankhead died. His death opened the speakership for Ray-
burn, who by that time was the undisputed claimant to the office.
Rayburn then served as Speaker, with the exception of four years when
Republicans controlled the House, from 1940 until his death in 1961.
His tenure constituted the longest speakership and one of the most
effective in United States history.
The problem for Rayburn in obtaining the speakership was not win-
ning election to that post in 1940; it was gaining position for that office
by winning the job of majority leader in 1937. The past six Speakers,
beginning with Champ Clark, had all served as floor leader for their
party. Becoming majority leader was one of Rayburn's greatest political
achievements. To win the job Rayburn had to overcome the strong
North-South division in the Democratic party that had often led to
efforts to provide regional balance in presidential tickets and in con-
gressional leadership positions. John Nance Garner, a Texan, was vice-
president and a recent Speaker, and William Bankhead, an Alabamian,
was Speaker. Rayburn's selection as majority leader would give the
leadership in Congress a strong southern tinge. Additionally, there
is a natural tendency in Congress to keep any particular state from
dominating key leadership positions. Not only did Texas have the vice-
presidency, but Texans chaired the Appropriations, Judiciary, Agricul-
ture, Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Rivers and Harbors, and Pub-
lic Buildings and Grounds committees of the House.
Rayburn fought the arguments for regional balance and the anti-
Texan sentiments in a variety of ways. Because his district was only
* Anthony Champagne is acting dean of the School of Social Sciences and professor of politi-
cal economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is author of Congressman Sam Rayburn (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1984). The author is indebted to Professor Robert Pea-
body for commenting on this paper and for his valuable suggestions.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117152/. Accessed March 2, 2015.