January 6, 1882 – Samuel Taliferro Rayburn was born in Roane County, Tennessee. He was the 8th of 11 children (8 boys & 3 girls) born to William and Martha Rayburn.
1887 – The Rayburns moved to Flag Springs, TX and took up cotton farming.
1897 – A 15 year old Sam heard his Congressman, Joseph Weldon Bailey, speak for the first time and was inspired to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
1900 – With $25 given to him by his father, Sam left the family farm to attend Mayo Normal College (teacher’s college) in nearby Commerce, TX.
1903 – Sam graduated from Mayo College.
1906 – A 24 year old Sam won his first election to as Representative in the Texas House of Representatives.
1907 – Rayburn was sworn in as a Representative in the Texas Legislature.
1911 – A 29 year old Rayburn was elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He was the youngest in history at the time.
1912 – At 30 years old Rayburn won the first of 25 elections to represent the 4th district of Texas in the United States House of Representatives.
1913 – Rayburn was sworn in for the first time as a Congressman, and Woodrow Wilson became President of the United States. An ardent Democrat, Rayburn supported the drive to enact progressive legislation proposed by President Wilson, which he called the New Freedom.
1914 – World War 1 began in Europe.
1916 – Rayburn’s father dies. Construction on Rayburn’s new home in Bonham, TX is completed, and he lives there for the rest of his life.
1917 – Woodrow Wilson sought from Congress a declaration of war. Rayburn like many other Congressmen votes in favor of U.S. involvement in World War 1. Ineligible for the draft, Rayburn instead supported enactment of the War Risk Insurance Act, which aided military veterans.
November 1918 – World War 1 ended, the Democrats lost control of Congress, and Rayburn and the rest of the Democrats are relegated to the minority.
1921 – Republican Warren G. Harding becomes President.
1923 – President Harding dies. Vice President Calvin Coolidge becomes President.
November 1924 – Coolidge was elected President.
October 15th, 1927 – A few months after his mother dies a 45 year old Sam Rayburn married 30 year old Metze Jones (sister of fellow Texas Congressman Marvin Jones).
1928 – Metze and Rayburn separated and divorced. Their marriage lasted about 3 months.
1929 – Republican Herbert Hoover was sworn in as President.
1929 – Black Tuesday. Wall street crashed and burn, and a variety of maladies sent the country into the dustbin of the Great Depression.
1931 – The Democrats regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rayburn’s mentor John Nance Garner was elected Speaker, and Rayburn became chairman of the House Interstate & Foreign Commerce Committee.
1932 – Rayburn worked as campaign manager for John Nance Garner’s Presidential campaign at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and served as a go between on the deal that guaranteed to New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt the Presidential nomination. In return John Nance Garner got the Vice Presidential nomination.
1933 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as President and said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Roosevelt called Congress into special session, and Rayburn stood ready as a work horse of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative program. Rayburn and his committee primarily focused on legislation to reform Wall Street.
May 27, 1933 – After numerous rewrites and Congressional hearings the Rayburn sponsored Securities Act was signed into law.
June 16th, 1933 – FDR signed the Rayburn sponsored Emergency Railroad Transportation Act into law.
June 6th, 1934 – FDR signed the Rayburn sponsored Securities & Exchange Act into law, which created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). William O. Douglas, one time chairman of the SEC called it the “Rayburn” Commission since he had fathered it.
June 19th, 1934 – FDR signed the Rayburn sponsored Communications Act, which created the Federal Communications Commission.
August 19, 1934 – Speaker of the House Henry T. Rainey of Illinois died, and Rayburn sought the Speakership. Rayburn failed in his bid, and the House Majority Leader Joe Byrns of Tennessee was elected Speaker.
August 26, 1935 – After months of the most grueling and difficult fight of Rayburn’s career FDR signed into law the Rayburn sponsored Public Utility Holding Company Act into law. At the time FDR called it his “greatest legislative victory”.
May 21, 1936 – FDR signed the Rayburn sponsored Rural Electrification Act into law. In 1930 10 percent of U.S. farms had electricity. By 1955 90 percent of U.S. farms had electricity.
Rayburn said at the time, “The REA…will take some of the harsh labor off the backs of the farm men and women. Can you imagine what it will mean to a farm wife to have a pump in the well and lights in the house?” Rayburn biographer Anthony Champagne said for this documentary, “I think the Rural Electrification Act was the piece of legislation Rayburn was most proud of because it really helped the America that he knew and loved, which was the American small farmers.”
November 1936 – FDR won reelection in a landslide, and the Democrats increased their majority in the House to 334 seats.
January 4th 1937 – Rayburn was elected House Majority Leader over New York Congressman John O’Connor 184-127. By this time Rayburn accepted the Majority Leader post as a necessary stepping stone to the Speaker’s chair.
1937 – Early in his second term Roosevelt surprised Congress with a bill designed to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with Justices more sympathetic to his political persuasion. House Judiciary Committee chairman, Hatton Sumners of Texas, told Rayburn and other Congressional leaders, “Boys. Here’s where I cash in my chips”. A rebellion among Congressional Democrats torpedoed FDR’s court packing bill and exposed a rift between Southern conservative Democrats and Northern liberal Democrats. At this time the conservative coalition was formed between Republicans and Southern Democrats.
1938 – FDR engaged in a “purge” to oust conservative Democrats across the country in their respective primary elections. It mostly fails and backfires. Rayburn said, “I think the two greatest mistakes Roosevelt made were the Court packing plan of 1937 and the purge of 1938. Officially I had nothing to do with either”. Rayburn’s tenure has House Majority Leader was not a successful one.
September 1939 – Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Soon after Great Britain and France declared war on Germany.
June 22, 1940 – France surrendered to Germany leaving Great Britain alone to fight the Nazis.
September 15, 1940 – After many illnesses and ailments Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives William Bankhead of Alabama died.
September 16, 1940 – The House, unable to conduct any business until a new Speaker was chosen, conducted an election for a new Speaker. The Democrats nominated Sam Rayburn. The Republican leader, Joe Martin of Massachusetts, declined to nominate anyone for the job. By a unanimous vote Rayburn, after twenty seven years in Congress, became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. On the same day legislation that created a military draft for one year of service was signed into law by Roosevelt.
November 1940 – Roosevelt is reelected President for an unprecedented third term.
June 1941 – Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
August 12, 1941 – Rayburn presided over the House on a bill to extend the military draft for an additional 18 months. Isolationism divided the House and the country. The prospects for passage were bleak, but Rayburn through a dexterous parliamentary maneuver locked in the vote for passage by one vote (203-202).
December 7, 1941 – The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.
December 8, 1941 – Standing before a joint session of Congress President Franklin Roosevelt described the day before as “a date which will live in infamy”, and asked Congress for a declaration of war on Japan. The same day the House with one vote of opposition passed it, and the Senate passed it unanimously. The United States was now a combatant in World War 2.
February 1944 – At a secret meeting at the Capitol Roosevelt administration officials (Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, and a government scientist) disclosed to the leaders of the House (Rayburn, House Majority John McCormack (MA-D), House Minority Leader Joe Martin (MA-R)) the existence of a top secret program to build a nuclear bomb (The Manhattan Project). Rayburn and other Congressional leaders agreed to fund the project in secret.
July 1944 – After the most difficult primary election in Rayburn’s life he was reelected by his constituents. The Democrats nominated Roosevelt for President again and the Vice Presidential spot went to Rayburn’s friend Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri.
November 1944 – Roosevelt won reelection for a fourth term as President.
January 20th, 1945 – Roosevelt was inaugurated.
April 12, 1945 – President Roosevelt died, and Vice President Harry Truman became President.
May 8, 1945 – The Germans surrendered, which ended World War 2 in Europe.
August 6, 1945 – The U.S. dropped the 1st atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
August 9, 1945 – The U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
September 2, 1945 – The Japanese officially surrendered ending World War 2.
November 1946 – Voters gave Republicans their first majorities in Congress in nearly 16 years.
January 1947 – Rayburn, now no longer Speaker, was chosen as the House Minority Leader by the House Democrats.
March 12, 1947 – President Truman sought from the Republican controlled Congress $400 million dollars to aid Greece and Turkey in their fight against communism. Rayburn and Congress led by Republicans agreed to go along, and the Truman Doctrine was enacted.
1948 – President Truman became the first President since Reconstruction to propose sweeping civil rights legislation to alleviate the harsh treatment of African Americans. Rayburn, a segregationist, along with other Congressmen (especially from the South) blocked Truman’s civil rights proposals.
April 3, 1948 – After months of congressional haggling Truman signed a bill creating the Marshall Plan (named for Secretary of State George Marshall), which granted $15 billion dollars in economic aid to war torn Europe.
July 1948 – At the Democratic National Convention (the first in which Rayburn presides as chairman) the Democratic party was split three ways, and Truman’s chances for election were given poor forecasts from pundits.
November 1948 – In an election that floored pundits and political observers Harry Truman won the Presidential election, and the Democrats regained control of Congress.
January 1949 – Rayburn was elected Speaker of the House again. In a push for his Fair Deal program Truman again urged Congress to enact sweeping liberal legislation on issues like education, housing, and civil rights. Rayburn in dealing with conservative coalition was able to help secure a minimum wage increase, social security expansion, and federal aid to housing.
June 24, 1950 – Communist North Korea invaded the Western friendly nation of South Korea. Truman without a congressional declaration of war sent U.S. troops to Korea as part of a United Nations military force.
January 30, 1951 – Sam Rayburn became the longest serving Speaker of the House of Representatives (Henry Clay of Kentucky previously held that record). In a ceremony at the White House many of his close friends as well as his sister Miss Lou were there to help celebrate this milestone.
March 1952 – With the Korean War still dragging on with no end in sight President Truman announced he would not seek another term as President.
July 1952 – Rayburn again served as chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Former Governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson received the Democratic Presidential nomination. At the Republican National Convention the Republicans nominated World War 2 hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
November 1952 – Eisenhower won the Presidential election, and the Republicans regained control of Congress.
January 1953 – Rayburn again became House Minority Leader. His fellow Texan Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson became Senate Minority Leader.
May 17, 1954 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown vs. Board of Education that separate but equal is inherently unequal, which outlawed segregation in public schools.
November 1954 – The mid term elections gave control of Congress back to the Democrats.
January 1955 – Rayburn was chosen Speaker again, and Lyndon Johnson became Senate Majority Leader. The two Texans made quite a team leading Congress. Despite their political differences the Democratic Congress and the Republican President were able to work together to pass legislation on certain issues like highway construction funding.
1956 – Rayburn’s sister Lucinda who he was really close to died. Around this time he was also afflicted with a hemorrhage in one of his eyes, and he began to lose his eyesight.
August 1956 – Rayburn again presided as chairman of the Democratic National Convention. Again, Adlai Stevenson received the Democratic Presidential nomination.
November 1956 – Eisenhower was reelected President and the Democrats retained control of Congress.
August 1957 – The Civil Rights Act of 1957 (the first in 82 years since Reconstruction) passed Congress (in part with Rayburn’s help behind the scenes) and was signed into law by President Eisenhower.
November 1958 – The mid term elections increased the number of House Democrats to 283, which delivered to them their biggest House majority since the 1936 election.
1959 – Liberal House Democrats formed the Democratic Study Group and conveyed their frustrations to Rayburn about the roadblocks to liberal legislation put up by the conservative coalition and one of its leaders, the Chairman of the House Rules Committee Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia. A self described reactionary Smith (except for Sam Rayburn, “Howard Smith was the smartest man and the most able legislator that I ever saw in Congress” – former House Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma) used the powers of the Rules Committee to inhibit efforts to pass liberal legislation.
July 1960 – Rayburn declined to preside as chairman of the Democratic National Convention so he could support Lyndon Johnson’s bid for the Presidential nomination. Also his eyesight was very poor at this time, and he would have had great difficulty presiding. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was chosen as the Presidential nominee and selects Johnson as his Vice Presidential nominee. Rayburn’s first reaction was for Johnson to decline, but the next day changes his mind and helps persuade Johnson to accept it.
November 1960 – John F. Kennedy was elected President and the Democrats retained control of Congress.
January 1961 – Kennedy is sworn in as President and Rayburn again was elected Speaker. Kennedy and Rayburn both realized Kennedy’s liberal New Frontier program was in danger of being DOA (Dead On Arrival) in the House unless something was done to curtail Howard Smith’s power on the House Rules Committee. Rayburn hatched a plan to expand the Rules Committee from 12 to 15 members so two more Kennedy administration friendly Democrats could be appointed to outnumber Smith and his allies.
January 31, 1961 – On the day after President Kennedy’s State of the Union address Rayburn presided over the House vote to expand the House Rules Committee. The biggest fight in the House in 51 years was decided in Rayburn’s favor by 217-212 votes.
June 12, 1961 – Sam Rayburn doubled his previous record of service as Speaker of the House at 16 years and 273 days.
November 16, 1961 – After several months of health problems Sam Rayburn finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer and died. At the time of his death Rayburn served 17 years, 2 months, and two days as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Longer than anyone else in U.S. history.