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Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (January 6, 1882 – November 16, 1961), often called "Mr. Sam," was a Democratic lawmaker from Bonham, Texasmarker, who served as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for seventeen years, the longest tenure in U.S. history.


Rayburn was born in Roane County, Tennesseemarker, and graduated from Mayo College (now Texas A&M University-Commercemarker) in Commercemarker in North/ Northeast Texas. After a year of teaching school, he won election to the Texas Legislature. During his third two-year term in the Legislature, 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 more than forty-eight years. Rayburn was baptized in the Primitive Baptist Church (which is also known as Old Line Baptist or Hardshell Baptist) by Elder H.G. Ball.

Personal life

Though a menacing and powerful presence on the House floor, Rayburn was incredibly shy outside of work.

He had married once, to Metze Jones (1897-1982), sister of Texas Congressman Marvin Jones and Rayburn's colleague, but the marriage ended quickly and no one really ever knew why. Biographer D.B. Hardeman 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, Texasmarker has never been located, and Rayburn avoided speaking of his brief marriage. One of his greatest, most painful regrets was that he did not have a son, or as he put it in Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, "a towheaded boy to take fishing."

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. Rayburn's career as Speaker was interrupted only twice: 1947–1948 and 1953–1954, when Republicans controlled the House. During those periods of Republican rule, Rayburn served as Minority Leader.

Rayburn grew up in abject poverty, and would champion the interests of the poor once in office. He 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 LBJ's ascent to power, particularly his unusual and rapid rise to the position of Minority Leader even though at the time, Johnson had been in the Senate for a mere four years. Johnson also owed his subsequent elevation to Majority Leader to Rayburn. Like Johnson, Rayburn did not sign the Southern Manifesto.

Personal integrity

Early in his political career, Rayburn demonstrated the depth of his personal integrity. For example, although many Texas legislators were on the payroll of public service corporations, Rayburn refused to do so. 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 who had 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.

Legendary reputation

Sam Rayburn
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 Canalmarker when his committee was considering legislation concerning it, rather than exercising his right to have the government pay for it. When he died, his personal savings only totaled $15,000 and most of his holdings were in his family ranch.

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 a "Board of Education" gathering was a high honor.

He coined the term "Sun Beltmarker" while strongly supporting the construction of Route 66. It originally ran south from Chicagomarker, through Oklahomamarker, and then turned westward from Texas to New Mexicomarker and Arizonamarker before ending at the beach in Santa Monica, Californiamarker. Arguing in favor of the project, he stated famously that America absolutely must connect "the Frost Belt with the Sun Belt."

Rayburn also held 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 of Texas, Rayburn would wear simple shirts, blue jeans, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats. Several politicians have imitated this pattern, including Ronald Reagan's famous examples of clearing brush while outside Washington, D.C., while wearing fine suits inside Washington.

The phrase "A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one," is attributed to Rayburn.

Rayburn died of pancreatic 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 twice as long as any of his predecessors.

His home in Texas, now known as the Samuel T.marker Rayburn Housemarker, was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark.


  • The Rayburn House Office Buildingmarker, which contains offices of House members adjacent to the United States Capitolmarker.
  • The ballistic missile submarine USS Sam Rayburn.
  • The Sam Rayburn Reservoirmarker in East Texas was named after him in 1963, and is a popular destination for bass fishing and professional fishing tournaments.
  • Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texasmarker, also bears his name and houses the desk he used as Speaker of the House.
  • The Sam Rayburn Independent School District was named for him in 1964.
  • A documentary tentatively titled "Rayburn: Mr. Speaker" is currently in production from filmmaker Reed Penney, according to a report by the Texas A&M University-Commercemarker campus newspaper The East Texan.
  • Sam Rayburn Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University-Commercemarker is named after Mr. Rayburn.
  • Sam Rayburn Middle School in Bryan, Texas is named in his honor.
  • Sam Rayburn Middle School in San Antonio, Texas was named in his honor.
  • Sam Rayburn Parkway is a portion of U.S. Highway 75 that runs through Sherman, TX.
  • Sam Rayburn Tollway is a toll road that goes through Dallasmarker, Dentonmarker, and Collinmarker counties in north Texasmarker.
  • 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, was named in his honor.
  • Sam Rayburn Elementary School in McAllen, Texas.
  • Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center in Bonham, Texas was named in his honor.
  • The Rayburn room at The Greenbriermarker was named in his honor, as he was Speaker of the House during the decision to build the Bunker.


Pat Hingle played Rayburn in LBJ: The Early Years while James Gammon portrayed the Speaker in Truman.

Further reading

  • Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1982).
  • Anthony Champagne and Floyd F. Ewing, "RAYBURN, SAMUEL TALIAFERRO (1882-1961)." Handbook of Texas Online (2005) online version
  • Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn (Rutgers University Press, 1984).
  • Anthony Champagne, Sam Rayburn: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood, 1988).
  • C. Dwight Dorough, Mr. Sam (1962).
  • Lewis L. Gould 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
  • D. B. Hardeman and Donald C. Bacon, Rayburn: A Biography (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987).
  • Alfred Steinberg, Sam Rayburn (Hawthorn, 1975


  2. H.G. Dulaney & Edward Hake Phillips, Speak, Mr. Speaker 20 (1978)
  3. Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn 32 (1984)
  4. Anthony Champagne, Congressman Sam Rayburn 31 (1984)
  5. Time - The Prelude of the 83rd
  6. [1]

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