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Spanning the early nineteenth to the twenty-first century, the Congressional & Political History Collections document the rich and unique political history of the United States. The collections have a special focus on significant elected officials from Texas, including the Texas Congressional delegation, Texas governors, the Texas legislators, Texas House Speakers and political activists.
The Congressional & Political History Collections contains papers relating to the careers of more than 50 former and present members of Congress, 10 governors, and 11 Texas House Speakers.
The center's resources also have much light to shed on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A guide to these collections is available.
Measuring more than 6,400 linear feet, the center’s Congressional Collection is one of the most extensive and significant in the United States. The collection is particularly strong in its coverage of the 20th century, when the Texas Congressional delegation reached the height of its influence. Leaders in the delegation for half a century were Speaker Sam Rayburn and Vice President John Nance Garner. Having served for forty-seven-years, seventeen as Speaker, Rayburn guided the passage of several pieces of legislation including the Rural Electrification Act, the GI Bill, and the Truth in Securities Act, which established both the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Communications Commission. Garner was critical in gaining Congress's support of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda. Senator Morris Sheppard introduced and steered the passage of the national prohibition amendment and was a champion of women’s suffrage. Senator Ralph Yarborough played a key role during LBJ’s Great Society program, particularly on education issues. Lloyd Bentsen, Jr., served as a Senator, Vice Presidential candidate and Secretary of the Treasury during the first term of the Clinton administration. Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez was the first Mexican-American from Texas elected to the U.S. of Representatives. He helped end the bracero program and was critical in bringing the first International Exposition to the southwest.
Additionally, the center’s documentation of the 10th Congressional District spans nearly seventy years, including the tenures of Albert Sidney Burleson, James P. Buchanan and J.J. “Jake” Pickle. President Woodrow Wilson appointed Burleson Postmaster General, a post he held throughout the First World War. Buchanan chaired the powerful House Appropriations Committee during the New Deal, securing funding for the Buchanan Dam and helping establish the Lower Colorado River Authority. Pickle was one of five Southern Democrats to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and spearheaded the reforms to Social Security in 1983. The papers of former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, extends the collection’s breadth through the first decade of the twenty-first century.
From Sam Houston’s opposition to secession in 1861 to Ann Richards’ election as the second woman to the state’s highest office in 1990, The Briscoe Center’s gubernatorial collections document Texas’ rich but often tumultuous political history. James Stephen Hogg established the Texas Railroad Commission. Oscar Colquitt staved off prohibition efforts. James Ferguson battled with the University of Texas and Texas legislature, becoming the first governor in Texas to be impeached. Allan Shivers’ support of Dwight Eisenhower protected Texas’s Gulf coast oil interests, but exacerbated the feud between the liberal and conservative factions in the state’s Democrat Party. Dolph Briscoe restored Texans’ confidence in government after the Sharpstown stock-fraud scandal with the passage of the Texas Open Meetings and Open Records legislation and increased funding for education and highways. The collection also includes the Ann Richards Oral History Project, which consists of a number of audio interviews with key members of Richards’ gubernatorial, campaign and political staffs.
Texas Legislature and Government
Due to the intent of the framers of the Texas Constitution, the Texas Legislature wields considerable power over the direction of the state. The Briscoe Center has sought to document the efforts of several of those legislators. As a member of the famous “Dirty Thirty,” Frances “Sissy” Farenthold worked to bring transparency and reform to Texas politics. Following in the footsteps of his father, Maury Maverick, Jr., championed labor and civil rights during his three terms in the Texas House, and as a lawyer for the ACLU he represented dozens of conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War. Additionally, several Texas Congressmen began their political careers in the state legislature, including Sam Rayburn, Lloyd Bentsen, Jr., Henry B. Gonzalez, and James P. Buchanan, among others.
Texas House Speakers Oral History Project
The history of Texas has been shaped and influenced by some of the most dynamic, colorful and controversial elected officials. The Speaker of the Texas House, along with the governor and the lieutenant governor, ranks among the three most powerful officeholders in Texas politics, yet Speakers in the Texas House have enjoyed relatively limited visibility. Few Texans are fully aware of the office's significance. The most comprehensive collection on Speakers of the Texas House of Representatives is housed at the Briscoe Center for American History. The collection includes a rich primary archive and oral history collection of the individuals who have served as the presiding officer of the Texas House. From this collection, the conflicts and accomplishments that have faced lawmakers come to life in a firsthand account from House Speakers who have served from the 1950s to the current era. (more)
Related Political Collections
The efforts of political activists and financiers and their relationships with elected officials offers a rich and underutilized research area. For decades, Bernard Rapoport and J.R. Parten were major donors to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party on both the state and national level. Their support largely enabled political figures such as Senator Ralph Yarbrough and Governor Ann Richards to win elected office. In addition to helping found the Texas Observer and the Democrats of Texas, Creekmore Fath served as campaign chairman for Ralph Yarborough and Sissy Farenthold. After his experience being blacklisted, television and radio personality John Henry Faulk became a vocal supporter of civil liberties, particularly the First Amendment.