John W. McCormack

Birch Bayh, One Of The Best Senators Of Late 20th Century Dead At Age 91, A Truly Creative Legislator Who Should Have Been President

Former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, who served in the Senate from 1963-1981, passed away this week at age 91.

Birch Bayh was one of the best United States Senators of the late 20th century, a truly creative legislator who should have been President.

He competed in 1976 for the Democratic Presidential nomination against Jimmy Carter and many others, and he was the favorite of this blogger and author.

This is a man who promoted the passage of the 25th Amendment, providing for an Acting President if the President was incapacitated, and of the appointment and approval of a Vice Presidential replacement when there was a vacancy in that office.

This was the reaction of Bayh and others after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and with Lyndon B. Johnson having had a serious heart attack in 1955, and with potential successors being House Speaker John W. McCormack (age 73), and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Carl Hayden (age 86).

Bayh also promoted the 26th Amendment, giving 18 years olds the right to vote, and he also sponsored the unsuccessful Equal Rights Amendment, which failed of passage by enough states.

He also sponsored Title 9 of the amended Civil Rights Act in 1972, ending quotas for women in higher education and giving women equal opportunity to participate in sports.

Additionally, Bayh saved Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy when they were both in a small plane crash in 1964.

Bayh was the father of Indiana Governor and Senator Evan Bayh. He won three close races in Indiana, and then was defeated by future Vice President Dan Quayle in 1980.

Two Speakers Of The House Who Could Have Become President Due To Presidential Assassination Issues

In 1947, the Presidential Succession Act was changed from cabinet members to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate being right behind the Vice President of the United States.

Since then, as a result of the change of the law, there have been two circumstances involving Presidential assassinations and threats, which provided for the possibility of the Speaker of the House of Representatives becoming President.

The first was Republican Speaker Joseph W. Martin, Jr of Massachusetts in late 1947.  The Zionist Stern Gang group, terrorists fighting for the creation of an Israeli nation, had been engaged in violence and assassinations against the British and their control of Palestine.

Margaret Truman, the President’s daughter, claimed her father, President Harry Truman, was threatened with death by letter bombs sent by the Stern Gang to Washington, DC, which were intercepted without harm by the Postal Service, with the assistance of the Secret Service.  Had Truman been harmed, however, we would have a switch of parties in the White House, and the second Speaker to become President, with the first being President James K. Polk in the Presidential Election of 1844.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963,  Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had suffered a massive heart attack in 1955, became President, and had he died in office over the next 14 months, Democratic Speaker of the House John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, who was 73 years old, would have become President.

A Secret Service revelation in recent years was that President Johnson was in danger of being shot by an agent overnight after the Kennedy assassination, when he walked out of his home after midnight, leading to an agent, who thought there was an intruder on the property, to withdraw his firearm and aim it until he realized it was the President.  The story is that Johnson backed up in shock, but imagine if he had been killed about ten hours after becoming President!  And then we would have had the oldest President in American history, Speaker McCormack, an unwilling heir apparent!

These incidents make one wish that the Presidential Succession Act  be returned to the 1886 law, making the cabinet members of the President, starting with the Secretary of State, next in line after the Vice President.  But that is unlikely to happen, particularly while the Republican Party controls Congress!

The Ten Longest Serving Speakers Of The House Of Representatives

Paul Ryan is the 54th Speaker of the House, but the top ten longest serving have dominated in the 226 years of history of Congress.

The ten longest serving have been in the Speakership for 81 of the 226 years, more than one third of the time!

They are, in order,with time rounded off:

Sam Rayburn  17 years

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill   10 years

John W. McCormack  9 years

Dennis Hastert  8 years

Champ Clark  7 years

Henry Clay  7 years

Carl Albert   6 years

Joseph Cannon  6 years

Thomas Foley   6 years

James G. Blaine  5 years

Six of these ten (Rayburn, O’Neill, McCormack, Clark, Albert, and Foley) were Democrats for a total of 55 years.

Three of these ten (Hastert, Cannon, and Blaine) were Republicans for a total of 19 years.

One of these ten (Henry Clay) was a Democratic Republican for a total of 7 years, later becoming a Whig as a United States Senator.

Clay, Blaine and Cannon were in the years from 1811-1911; Clark and Rayburn were in the years from 1911-1961, and McCormack, Albert, O’Neill, Foley and Hastert in the years from 1962-2007!

So modern Speakers on the average have served much longer periods than earlier Speakers!

Three Speakers Of The House Who Were “A Heartbeat Away” From The Presidency!

The Presidential Succession Act was changed in 1947 from what it had been in the earlier law of 1886.

Instead of the cabinet officers being next in line after the Vice President, the new law, in effect now for 68 years, has the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a Congressman elected by one Congressional district, as next in line.

So therefore, three Speakers of the House have been “a heartbeat away” from the Presidency, in mid 1947-1948, November 1963 to January 1965, and October to December 1973 and August to December 1974.

Joseph W.  Martin Jr. was the first Republican Speaker in 16 years, when the law changed, and when threats against Harry Truman by the Zionist Stern Gang in 1947, as reported by Margaret Truman, occurred, and Martin was a heartbeat away.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who had suffered a heart attack in 1955 became President, 73 year John W. McCormack was next in line for 14 months, and the recognition of this fact and his advanced age, led to the passage and ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, providing for an appointed Vice President to fill a vacancy after hearings by the House of Representatives and Senate.

Carl Albert was the third Speaker to be next in line when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in October 1973, and Albert remained so for two months until Gerald Ford was selected and confirmed as the the first Vice President under the 25th Amendment.

Again, Albert was first in line from August 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became President, until December 1974 when Nelson Rockefeller was selected and confirmed as the second Vice President under the 25th Amendment.

So for a total of about two years, we have had Speakers of the House, and all three of the opposition party to boot, as “a heartbeat away” from the Presidency.

And although no President or Vice President has left office since 1974, the odds of such an event occurring at some point in the future is mounting, and worrisome, with three out of four years since 1947 having the opposition party in the Speakership as two heartbeats away from the Presidency!

21 Significant Speakers Of The House In American History

With the election of Paul Ryan as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives this week, it makes one focus on  the 54 House Speakers in American history, and recognition of the fact that twenty one of them were quite significant figures in the American past.

Probably the most prominent of all was one of the earliest Speakers, Henry Clay of Kentucky, who became Speaker as a freshman in 1811, and served three different times as House Speaker, from 1811-1814, 1815-1820, and 1823-1825. a total of more than six and a half years, as Congress did not meet back then for many months in any years, but sixth longest serving.  Clay is considered the most famous Congressional figure in American history in both houses of Congress, and was an unsuccessful Presidential nominee three times, in 1824, 1832, and 1844.  He was a giant figure in American political history and American politics.

John Bell was Speaker in 1834-1835, and was also a Presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union party in the Presidential Election of 1860, trying to prevent the Civil War by running as an alternative to the three other candidates that year—Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John C. Breckinridge.  He won three states and 39 electoral votes, carrying Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the Electoral College.

James K. Polk became the only Speaker so far to become President of the United States, in the Presidential Election of 1844, after having served as House Speaker from 1835-1839.  He is considered the most successful one term President, deciding due to ill health to refuse to run f0r reelection in 1848, but gaining the whole American Southwest in war with Mexico, and arranging the peaceful acquisition of the Pacific Northwest by treaty with Great Britain.  His retirement from the Presidency was the shortest in American history, only 105 days.

Robert M. T. Hunter was the youngest Speaker of the House at the age of 30, serving from 1839-1841, and later as Confederate Secretary of State in 1861-1862 during the Civil War.

Howell Cobb served as Speaker from 1849-1851, being 34 when elected, and served as one of the founders of the Confederate States of America in 1861.

Schuyler Colfax served as Speaker from 1863-1869, and as Vice President in the first term of President Ulysses S. Grant from 1869-1873, being the first of two Speakers to serve in the Vice Presidency, the other being John Nance Garner under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

James G. Blaine served as Speaker from 1869-1875, 10th longest serving with a little over five years, and later was the Republican nominee for President in the Presidential Election of 1884.  He also served as Secretary of State under James A. Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison, and was present at the site of the Garfield assassination in 1881.

Thomas B. Reed served as Speaker from 1889-1891 and 1895-1899, and was nicknamed “Czar Reed”, because he wielded great power in the Speakership, which added to the stature and influence of the Speakers after him.

Joseph Cannon served as House Speaker from 1903-1911, added the most power to the Speakership, more than Reed, but then saw a “revolution” of progressive Republicans led by George Norris of Nebraska, which stripped him and future Speakers of the absolute power that Reed and Cannon had waged, and was pushed out of the Speakership when the opposition Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 1910.  He was eighth longest serving Speaker, nearly six years, and had a House office building named after him despite his fall from power in 1910.

His successor, Champ Clark, served as House Speaker from 1911-1919, fifth longest serving at seven  years, and nearly won the 1912 Democratic Presidential nomination, but lost to Woodrow Wilson.

Nicholas Longworth served as Speaker from 1925-1931, punished progressive Republicans and restored much of the power of the Speaker under Joseph Cannon, and was married to Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice.  Later, a House office building would be named after him.

John Nance Garner served 15 months as House Speaker from 1931-1933, and then became Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and served two terms in that office. He became famous for his statement that the Vice Presidency was not worth  “a bucket of warm piss!”  He opposed much of the New Deal, and tried to win the nomination against his boss when FDR sought a third term in 1940.  On his 95th birthday, President John F. Kennedy wished him “Happy Birthday” just hours before his assassination on November 22, 1963. Garner died at age 98 in 1967, the longest lived Vice President or President, and just 15 days before his 99th birthday!

Sam Rayburn was the most prominent, and longest serving Speaker of the House in American history, serving a total of 17 years in three rounds as Speaker, from 1941=1947, 1949-1953, and from 1955 to near the end of 1961, when he died in office.  A House Office Building is named after him, and only he and Henry Clay served three separate terms as Speaker.  He was one of the most prominent members in the entire history of the House of Representatives, engendering great respect and admiration, and served under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

John W. McCormack was the third longest serving House Speaker, a total of nine years from 1962-1971, and served as House Majority Leader all of the years that Sam Rayburn was Speaker.  He presided over the New Frontier and Great Society legislative package under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Carl Albert served as Speaker from 1971-1977, seventh longest serving in the office, and a heartbeat away when Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President in 1973, until Gerald Ford was confirmed as Vice President under the 25th Amendment in 1973, and again when Ford became President in 1974 until Nelson Rockefeller was confirmed as Vice President at the end of that year.

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was the second longest serving House Speaker, a total of ten years from 1977-1987, serving under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  He served the longest consecutive years as Speaker, and was an unabashed liberal, but negotiated a Social Security compromise agreement with Ronald Reagan in 1983, which became the mark of bipartisanship.

Thomas Foley served six years as Speaker from 1989-1995, and became the first Speaker since 1862 to be defeated for his House seat in 1994, retiring him from the House of Representatives, but he served as Ambassador to Japan for President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001.  He was ninth longest serving Speaker.

Newt Gingrich served as Speaker for four years from 1995-1999, having been the leader of the “Republican Revolution”, where the GOP took back control of the House of Representatives after 40 years in “the wilderness”.  Highly controversial and combative, Gingrich led the fight against President Bill Clinton, and moved for his impeachment in 1998, but then was forced out by an internal rebellion in his own party at the end of 1998.  He sought the Presidency in 2012, but fell short of the nomination, and remains an outspoken active commentator on politics.

Dennis Hastert became the longest serving Republican Speaker in American history, serving eight years from 1999-2007, fourth longest serving, seen as non controversial after Gingrich, and being Speaker under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  He became involved in a sex and financial scandal dating back to before he was in Congress, and faces prison time as this article is being written, having pleaded guilty.

Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker, serving four years from 2007-2011, and remains Minority Leader today, and her two Congresses under George W. Bush and Barack Obama accomplished more legislation, particularly under Obama, than any Congress since the 1960s.

John Boehner served almost five years as Speaker from 2011 until this past week, facing highly contentious opponents in his own party, the Tea Party Movement, now known as the Freedom or Liberty Caucus, a group of about 40 Republicans, who made his life miserable, and finally, he resigned, and has handed over authority to Paul Ryan, who was Vice Presidential running mate of Mitt Romney in the Presidential Election of 2012, and had been Chair of the House Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, before becoming Speaker this week.