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longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives
Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn was born in Roane County, Tennessee, on January 6, 1882; his family moved to Fannin County, Texas, in 1887. Entering East Texas Normal College in 1900, he alternately attended classes and taught school but still completed the three-year-normal-school course in two years. He then taught school for two years before deciding to pursue a career as a lawyer and politician.
In 1906 Rayburn won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. He attended the University of Texas Law School between sessions and was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1908. He was re-elected to the State Legislature in 1908 and 1910, serving as Speaker of the House during his third term.
First elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1912, Rayburn would not have any Republican opposition for the next 48 years, making him the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives in U.S. history. He became Majority Leader in 1937, and was elected Speaker of the House in 1940. He continued as Speaker in every Democratic-controlled Congress throughout his House career; he served as Minority Leader during the two periods of Republican majorities, 1947-1949 and 1953-1955.
During his first term in Congress he served on the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, where he specialized in railroad legislation. During that same term he introduced a measure for increasing the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission. During World War I he sponsored the War Risk Insurance Act. As chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee (1931-1937), he was instrumental in the passage of the Truth in Securities Act, the bills that established the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, and the Rural Electrification Act. During World War II he helped ensure the legislative base and financial support for the war effort.
In addition to his duties in Congress, Rayburn managed John Nance Garner's campaign for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination. During the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, he worked closely with Lyndon B. Johnson, who was then Majority Leader of the Senate, and in 1960 was pivotal in Johnson's decision to run for Vice President with John F. Kennedy.
Rayburn's personal integrity as a Congressman was legendary. He accepted no money from lobbyists, went on only one congressional junket (he paid his own way), and refused travel expenses on speaking tours. Within his district he was known as a politician who kept in close touch with his constituents.
In 1949, Rayburn was awarded the $10,000 Collier's Award for Distinguished Service to the Nation, and this award became the basis for establishing and maintaining the Sam Rayburn Library at Bonham, Texas. Opened in 1957, the library continues to operate as a study center for problems in contemporary American politics and government.
Congressman Sam Rayburn died of cancer on November 16, 1961, and was buried in Bonham.
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This page was last updated on April 13, 2017.