Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site Transcript

Eight-year-old Sam Rayburn was picking cotton in 1890 when he decided to pursue a life in law and politics. He remembered, "After I made that decision, it was settled. I never worried a minute after that about what I ought to do or was going to do."

For Texans and all Americans this decision spawned one of the most impressive and influential careers in American public service—three terms in the Texas legislature followed by 48 continuous years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives—from 1913 to 1961—under eight presidents during some of America’s most turbulent times. He served as Speaker of the House for 17 years, the longest tenure ever held in that position.

His sense of fairness and honesty became his trademark. Even as he rose to the highest ranks of power, he lived simply. He said, “Any fellow that will cheat for you will cheat against you.” He famously refused fees for public speaking and travel expenses. 

Rayburn protected what he called “the little guy”—helping farmers survive the Great Depression, while he established a deep relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt in support of the New Deal. Throughout it all, he kept in close touch with his constituents, bringing key projects to his district.

During World War II, Rayburn helped pass several pieces of legislation that were critical to the success of the U.S. military including the Selective Service Act of 1941, extending the duty time of draftees. He was also an influential voice in garnering funding for the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb.

His journey from Texas “cotton patch to capitol” was guided by the principle, as he expressed it, “Without vision, nations perish.”