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Mitch McConnell
  Life and Career of Senator Alben Barkley  CSPAN  July 27, 2014 6:30pm-7:16pm EDT

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way it did. lots of other things had to do with it. but this one little piece of the puzzle i think was very important in timing of the end f the civil war. >> next senate minority leader mitch mcconnell speaks about alben barkley who was majority leader of the u.s. senate between 1937 and 1947 and was minority leader from 1947 to 1949. a democrat alben barkley it was 35th vice president of the united states elected with hair trueman in 1949. this 45 minute program is part of a series of talks by mitch
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mcconnle about former u.s. enators from kentucky. >> thank you very much. it's great to see all of you. i enjoyed my tour of the museum and i recommend you do it. i've been doing a series of speeches over the last couple of years on some of the more significant members of the united states senate from kentucky that we've had a bunch of them because we came into the union in 1792. but honestly some were way more significant than others. and the man i'm going to speak to you about today was by any estimate one of a handful of the most significant senators we've ever sent to washington. i've been pleased to become a friend of his grandson, alvin is sitting here to my left.
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i had an opportunity take he and his wife around the capitol when they were up there a couple of years ago. and he noted that i had in my office in the capitol the leader's office two portraits up on the wall, one of alben barkley and one of john sherman cooper. nd of course barkley was quite bored frankly after serving as vice president and going into private life, didn't like it. and defeated john sherman coop ner 1954. so their careers intersected in a competitive way toward tend of barkley's life. so cooper was my early role model and so those are the two portraits that i have up in my office. some people are surprised i had a democratic majority leader in
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my office. but i thought he was of that significance i was willing to reach across the aisle in a bipartisan gesture and welcome barkley to my office. on these remarks i've done on senators, they are a little bit like a college lecture. this is not about current events. this is about the past. and so whatever your views are of what is going on right now, what i think we allingt to do today is turn off current affairs and go back and talk about one of our most significant figures in kentucky in u.s. history. professor tom appleton and jim have contributed to this as of urse has alben barkley the third who i've already discussed. >> our common wealth has had a
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rich heritage and contributed much to our nation's development. as such, what i'm going to do today is convey a bit of that political history through the lives of some of the distinguished individuals who served as senators from our state. that's what i've been doing over a period of time here. but the subject of today's speech the alben barkley. he affords particular insight into a frequently misunderstood government institution and that is party leadership in the united states senate. barkley was as we all know leader of the democrats in the nate from 1937 until 1949 n. fact, only three men have held hat position longer, joe robinson of arkansas and robert bird of west virginia. barkley enjoyed public speaking, perhaps a bit too much at times.
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once during a speech he lost track of time and was caught quizzically looking at his watch. barkley tried to figure out how long he had been speaking when a listener shouted barkley if your watch has stopped running, there is a calendar on the wall behind you. barkley quickly drew his speech to a close following that remark. hopefully i won't prompt any of you to look at your watch or at least not to look at a calendar. it's entirely fitting of course to have this talk take place here. barkley's long time home. and barkley's name has become synonymous with this city. alben barkley was born literally in a log cabin on his father's tobacco farm in 1877 not far from here. the barkley family was not a
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family of means to put it mildly. young alben grew up chopping wood, harvesting tobacco and plowing fields. this instilled in them importance of hard work. swapping stories with the hired hands he also developed the fun loving storytelling per son na for when ch he later became famous. as he got older hi worked odd jobs to make ends meet. although he didn't graduate from high school he stud did ited at marvin college while working as a janitor to pay for his school expenses. marvin no longer exist today but reportededly one of its campus buildings held a sign boasting barkley swept here. next came his study of law. and barkley was admitted to the
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bar in 1901. that same year marked another important development in his life. he met dorothy, and the two would soon wed. a happy marriage. they raised three children, david, marion and laura in a very lively household. one of their homes where barkley lived from 1937 until 1956 as we all know was called angles. as many of you know, it's still a historical landmark here. the law led barkley to discover his true passion which as we all know was politics. his political career started with a race for county attorney here. he bought a one eyed horse named dick who transported barkley
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across the whole county during the campaign. the secret to barkley's success was he has his mode of trance poration than his personality. barkley truly enjoyed and empathized with people. as lyndon johnson recalled he had a genuine and unaffected interest in the problem of others. johnson observed that people rejoiced with him when he was happy, mourned with him when he was sad. and at all times they posed in them trust and confidence that are according only to a very close and dear personal friend. at 27 years old the young lawyer toppled the incumbent and easily won the general election for county attorney in 1905. barkley then won election as county judge, essentially the same position we call county
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judge executive today before going to the house of representatives in 1912. in the house barkley was not only an aveed progressive of president wood drow bill son, but he befriended young law makers by the names of sam rayburn of texas and pat harrison of mississippi. re-elected six times to the house, barkley moved to the senate in 1926. i would note that his campaign manager for that senate race was none other than fred vincent who would later become chief justice of the united states. it was in the senate where barkley became widely aclaimed as a first rate storyteller. many recall senator barkley saying a good story is like fine kentucky bourbon. it improves with age and if you don't use it too much, it will
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never hurt anyone. one contemporary described his ability as follows. his restrained postures, the fy necessary with which he takes tricks with his southern accent, his facility in corning a word if the immediately essential one is not in the dictionary, the eloquence of his eyebrows, his honest grin and gentleman and scholar contributed to his continue rate ising storytelling. now his tendency to create words to suit his needs was evidenced in an address he once gave to the national press club. barkley described senators as premadonnas, that would be true today but noted that the press ore was even more premadonna cal. in 1932 barkley was returned to the senate, the first kentucky
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senator to be re-elected in the 20th century. the next year he was chosen assistant majority leader. he served with joe robinson of arkansas. now barkley was a strong new dealer and a loyal lieutenant of robinson's. the kentuckian even supported franklin roosevelt's court packing plan, a scheme to exand if supreme court so roosevelt could tilt the balance more to his liking. this was a center piece of roosevelt's agenda after his landslide reelection in 1936. it's boldness reflecting the huge, huge democratic majority return in both houses after the election of 1936. listen to this, my friends, when the 75th congress began in 1937, 76 democrats held a whopping
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of 96 seats. there were only 48 states then. 76 of 96 seats. if you've ever been to the senate, you know there is an aisle down the middle and the republicans is it on one side and the democrats is it on the other. there were so many democrats after the election of 1936, they couldn't get them all on one side of the chamber. so they brought them over on the republican side in the back and they called at this time cherokee strip. they said they were off the reservation. but as often the case happens when you have a very large majority, the majority begins to splinter and the party was indeed badly divided. as one columnist said at the time overwhelming majorities like oversized amoebas toned split and that is just exactly what happened.
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about half of the democratic caucus supported roosevelt's new deal policies and the other half undermined them. the court packing plan it was straw that broke the camel's back. people had enough and it split wide open n. 1937 due to the strain of trying to manage the court packing legislation, majority leader robinson died of a heart attack cleering a way for barkley potentially to become leader. frequently politics abheres a vacuum. so i'll add the way the campaign unfolded. robinson dies of a heart attack. they put the entire senate on a train headed to arkansas. and the democrat politic all the
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way to the funeral and all the way back. o as i said politics abheres a vacuum. the timing and manner of barkley's election to the top spot would prove highly challenging and would hamper barkley's effectiveness as leader for years to come. in this leader's race one faction lined up behind barkley, the other behind his old house colleague, the more conservive pat harrison of mississippi. roosevelt preferred barkley over harrison because barkley was more supportive of the new deal policies. in fact the day after robinson's death, roosevelt sent barkley a letter that began my dear alben. in the letter roosevelt refered to barkley correctly but cheekily as the acting majority
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leader. f.d.r. also dispatched aids to exert pressure on senators to vote for barkley. one week after robinson's death, all 75 democrats, one of them was an independent, all 75 democrats in addition to barkley met in the caucus to vote. they voted by dropping their ballots in an old panama hat of virginia senator carter glass. this prompted a equip about trying to ensure the secret ballot by using a glass hat. senator barkley won by one vote. 37 to 36. t he lost much more with his colleagues. because many senators took offense at the president's influence in barkley's election.
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and barkley finally paid something of a price for it. his colleagues granted him the title of majority leader but not the accompanying authority and respect viewing him as f.d.r.'s man rather than the senate leader. and that's how he began his tenure as majority leader. now the job of majority leader is a tough job. i'd like to try it out, by the way. but it's a tough job. if your party controls the white house the majority leader usually tries to enact the president's programs and protect his priorities. that's much hardener a second presidential term than a first one in which the incoming president has a full head of steam and strong popular support. roosevelt was not nonl his second term when barkley was elected leader but was politically damaged from the unsuccessful court packing
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fight. so let me digress for a moment just to discuss the position barkley assumed. the senate has always had leaders, but leaders with a lower case l. unlike the speaker of the house, the jobs of senate majority leader and senate minority leader are nowhere to be found in the constitution. the positions are in fact only about a century old. henry clay, john c. calhoun and daniel webster were senate leaders but never majority or minority leaders for the simple fact the positions did not then exist. professor woodrow wilson wrote in the senate no one may speak for his party as well as for himself. no one exercises the special trust of acknowledged leadership. so you had a lot of different
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people who were prominent but the position of leader at the did not exist. now the origins of majority and minority leader are the product of several historical factors. perhaps the main reason the two positions developed was in response to the rise of the activist president. that is to say that the office of party leader developed largely in response to the need for the senate to be able to work with and react to the president's legislative ageneral dafment and this notion really began to take hold in the early part of the 20th century, right around world war i. in the latter half of the 19th century the agenda for the senate floor was set by the majority party within what is called its caucus which is a meeting of the senate party members. in the late 19th and early 20th century each party began to
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elect caucus chairman. but these caucus chairman were not responsible for setting the legislative agenda. scheduling what bills would be brought up and in what order, enforcing party discipline, managing legislation on the floor or coordinating with the president. all attributes of modern senate leaders. today, there is not universal agreement on who was the first majority or minority leader. democrat john worth concern of indiana is often thought to be the first. his tenure is important because he was elected as head of the senate democrats in large part because he shared wilson's progressive views and was thought capable of shepherding through his legislative ageneral dafment these reasons were actually groundbreaking at the time. what seems ordinary to us was
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actually ground breaking at the time. even with the novelty of his selection and subsequent success, the term majority leader as opposed to caucus chairman was not used in an official document until 1920 with democrat oscar undererwood. in 1925 charles curtis became the first republican so named. thus by the mid 1920's the position of senate majority and minority leaders had become formalized. but even then the positions did not resemitble office folks know today. for example senator harry reid and i occupy the two front aisle desks of the senate chamber on each side of the divide down the middle. we occupy those as the majority leader and we don't use the term minority in the senate, the republican leader. but the democratic leader did
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not occupy the center aisle until joe robinson did so in 1927 and the republican leader did not do so until a full decade after that. before then those desks had simply been assigned based on seniority. so today the main formal power that the majority leader and the leader of the minority enjoy is prior recognition, the power of prior recognition that. means if a number of senators are all seeking to address the senate to speak or introduce a bill or amendment, the majority leader will be called on first and the leader of the minority ill be called on second. that is prior recognition over all the other 98 senators. now as a practical matter, that means the majority leader and the minority leader enjoy a leg
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up on the other 98 in trying to do what they want to get done. and being seated at the front of the chammer helps ensure the presiding officer see the two leaders seeking to address the senate. just like having a desk in the front center aisle, the principle of prior recognition is fairly modern and you won't find it written in the senate rules. it's based on a precedent that dates from 1937 when the majority leader was a man named alben barkley. that year the vice president as presiding officer announced that hence forth he would recognize the majority leader first and the minority leader second. it is upon this precedent that a great deal of the power of the majority leader and minority leader rests today. that simple thing, first recognition or second recognition. i would note this incident is one of thelesser known andlesser
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appreciated highlights of barkley's tenure as leader. but barkley's early days as leader particularly in 1937 were not easy. he kept finding himself on the losing end of votes, even worst journalist witnessed he was unable to move his colleagues and dubbed him bumbling barkley. however barkley gained trust and respect. barkley often sat down with colleagues, armed them with humor and made his case. the year after his difficult reelection to the senate leadership he faced another tough challenge. this time right here in kept kent. 1938 vaveled a threw clash of the titans in the democratic primary. arkley was challenged by happy
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chandler. i bet a lot of you have forgotten that. president roosevelt, here was barkley the majority leader of the senate and the sitting governor challenged barkley in the primary in 1938. president roosevelt was scheduled to visit kentucky to support barkley. part of the visit involved a motorcade up in northern kentucky where f.d.r. would deliver a speech. chandler was invited to attend event being the state's executive. it was planned that president roosevelt, barkley and chandler would ride to the event in an open top car. f.d.r. entered the car first. barkley was assigned to enter second to is it next to roosevelt followed by chandler. as barkley recalled chandler literally leapt turnover president temporarily alarming
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the secret service to ensure he was in the middle position seated next to the popular roosevelt. i've seen those photographs and if you don't have them at the museum, you need to get it. it's got happy chandler beaming sitting next to fdr. once there, roosevelt joined them on the stage in front of 50,000 by standers. that's back when politics would draw a crowd. f.d.r. embraced barkley publicly. i have no doubt governor chandler would make a great senator but i think he would be the first to acknowledge as a very junior member of the senate, it would take him many years to match the national modge, the experience and leadership in the affairs of our nation of that son of kentucky of whom the whole nation is proud alben barkley.
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now the race took many different turns including chandler accusing barkley supporter of poisoning him with tainted drinking water. you thought politics was tough now. but alben barkley beat a sitting governor by 70,000 votes which is quite impressive and won the general election. following barkley's reelection war clouds began to darken over europe. it was in this setting that barkley began to step into his own as senate majority leader. historians rightly note the vital role he played in enacting the first peacetime military draft, and repealing the arms embargo act and knew traltty act all of these leading up to our entry into world war ii. but being an effective senator
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is not just measured in legislative out put. it can also be measured in creative thinking. that was just what barkley did when he suggested that an english gentleman speak before a joint session of congress a few weeks before pearl harbor. that was winston church hil and he delivered a rousing address that went to solid fying the relationship with britain during the war. being an effective senator can also be exhibited through oversight function. following the attack on pearl harbor there were wild rumors that 236789 d.r. and senior leadership had been aware of the attack beforehand and had done nothing in hopes of drawing america into the war. barkley sponsored a resolution
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to investigate the pearl harbor disaster and served as chairman of the investigative committee. the majority report signed by barkley and several republican members of the panel determined that the senior leadership did ot have insight but that the ultimate responsibility for non-provoked act of aggression rested with the japanese. his actions helped set the record straight about an attack that triggered very strong emotions from the public. for a senate party leader to be effective, he must have a good relationship with the president of his own party. barkley got along well the roosevelt. the humor often bringing relief to a president burdened with the pressures of war. on one occasion he was consulting with roosevelt in the white house when he recalled a
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story. it involved a reverend who apashtly delivered a remarkable sermon. one approached the reverend after wards and exclaimed reverend, that was a damn good sermon you preached this morning. the reverend somewhat taken back replied i appreciate your complement but not your language. the parishioner continued it was such a damn good sermon that i put $100 in the collection plate. e reverend blurted out the ell you did. >> roosevelt's laughter affs parently heard by the secret service all the way down the hall. so as the senate majority leader barkley not only enjoyed an easy friendship with the president,
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he eagerly embraced the responsibility to lead the charge for the administration's legislation. but sometimes the president took the loyal leader for granted. that end when had senator barkley he requested a tax increase that sounds like nothing today. a tax increase of nearly $10 billion, a money rable amount of back in 1944. barkley knew r congress didn't have nearly the ppetite for higher taxes that the president did. but barkley did the best he president and
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successfully steered through a raise revenues by 2.3 billion instead of ten. roosevelt aded with to accept the bill and to sign it. aside president brushed the leader's advice and vetoed bill. roosevelt's veto's message senator barkley. it was petty and personal. the president wrote having asked the congress for a loaf of bread. the final bill was a small piece crust. then his next words struck hardest of all, he declared the inal bill was not a tax bill but a tax relief bill providing -- not for he needy the needy but for the greedy. after years of devotion and the president often at the cost of the respect of ome of his own colleagues this insult to his integrity as a legislature, a leader extra
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was ple of the new deal simply too much for barkley. in other words, he had it up to here. still overcome by barkley dictated a speech to his secretary and to the senate floor. journalists crowded the gallies and many took their seats to listen to their leader. barkley's voice cracked with motion as he related his history of steadfast support for administration. this is what he said. seven say during the past years as tenure of majority flag i carried that tougher terrain than was ever traversed by any majority leader. but there is something more precious to me than any honor could be conferred upon me by the senate of the united states or by the people
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or by the president of this republic and that is the pproval of my own conscience and my own self respect. self reexpect i propose on maintain.ion to with that barkley resigned as there on eader right the floor. barkley always believed the leader must support the leader's position. stepping down was his only choice unable to give that. because he stood up to the defended the senate nearly every lawmaker in for a mber rose thunderous occasion. that was the senate's reaction his rkley's speech and resignation. he gallery stood as one to applaud as well. vice president henry wallace the most dramatic over which i senate over
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presided. resign.d barkley not to it was unnecessary. the next day the democrats to the ed barkley leader's post. back nate turned billvelt's veto on the tax 72-14 and this time barkley led colleagues to win the vote. now senator albert thomas of utah summed up the new town prestige of the majority colleagues leader. by his one vote imagimargin the impression was given and it has the impression ever since for the poke to us president. now he speaks for us to the president. earned the forever espect and trust of his senate
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colleagues. that is a crucial by point to regarding senate party leadership. at the end of the day a legislative party leader is accountable first and foremost elected him that and fellow senators and only then to the president. barkley's principal stance did not come at a cost. regularly been on a short list as a candidate for vice president. break with e roosevelt a coolness emerged two of them. wasresult was that when fdr considering vice presidential andidates in 1944, barkley was removed from consideration. truman instead was selected and we all know happened. few months dent a later when roosevelt died in
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1945. given roosevelt's ill health barkley's stance in defense of may well have caused enate him the presidency. throughout all these challenges waspeople knew that barkley dealing with his wife dorothy's failing health beginning in 1944. she required constant medical attention. expenses put al the barkley's in a tough financial situation. job as a n to his day lawmaker, senator barkley continued to accept speaking across the country often requiring him to work and travel through the night to make to pay for her health expenses. 1947 y passed away in dealing a heavy blow to barkley. as one would expect barkley used position to help the commonwealth particularly kentucky. the story goes the plant was
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placed placed. she believed the plant was selected to be there. grand daddy just muscled it said.h, she he was best friends with the speaker of the house. his believe that without leadership and long standing relationship with raburn the have been never selected to be placed in kentucky. ther stories about barkley's hidden hand assistance to kentucky abound. for example, 942, barkley reportedly encouraged of fort ial location campbell to be in kentucky. 2/3 of the installation was in tennessee. influence helped determine that the official location of fort campbell would where the post office as which just happened to be a few miles on our side of the border. straddlesort campbell
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the kentucky and tennessee state line to this day we in the all know that fort campbell is a kentucky installation. in 1948, after more than a decade as either senate majority minority leader, they elected barkley to be truman's vice presidential running mate. two months after barkley took oath of office as the 35th ice president of the united states. now some of you may have heard term veep, especially hbo tly due to the hit with the same name. interestingly, barkley was the first recipient of this nickname creation of ed the it to his grandson as the story barkley's grandson thought the official title, the with vi
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president, was too much of a tongue twister and said, grandpa andtands for vice president why not stick in a couple of e's and call it veep. used as the nickname for vice president ever since. despite the title change from to vice president or veep, barkley remained close to senate.oved he was in fact the last vice president to spend most of his presiding up in the senate. ven as vice president, barkley's humor never left him. once while barkley was presiding the senate, tennessee mckeller pro th tested vigor usually against the actions of the republican enator having committed the un-pardonable sin of yawning mckeller's remarks.
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arkley diffused the situation ruling from the chair the yawn of the senator from illinois stricken from the record. 1949, the widowed vice president barkley attended a a guest by the name of jane hadley. he caught the attention of barkley and after four months of courtship vice president andmuch of the miss hadley were wed. vice to meeting the president, jane had worked for 1940 g.o.p. presidential nominee. as the story goes, jane's milk had at one point expressed his support for president roosevelt. countered with note to him l beeny no milky.
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four years as vice president, barkry retired from politics seemingly forever, but he longed to return to the chambers so he ran for 1954 n re-election in usting another big name candidate. barkley returned to the senate junior senator from kentucky. tenurers into his second in the senate, barkley was doing loved, speaking to a
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crowd of of students at a mock washington and lee university. was explaining to the had refused to a seat in the front row of the senate chamber despite his earlier decades of service in the legislative body. i'm glad to sit in the back row 78-year-old barkley said, for i would rather be a servant than toouse of the lord sit in the seats of the mighty. were senator barkley's last words before he collapsed fatal heart d a attack. the roar of the crowd was the thing he would had refused toa seat in the front row of the senate chamber despite his decades of service lives on rich legacy today not only in kentucky but the u.s. senate.
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to say his portrait officever the desk in my in the capital. he had a winning personality temporary ot let disagreements hamper long term relationships. working, paeurt leader, charm and d his wit, push ative acumen to help through much of roosevelt's later as leader critical war time legislation. a committed lso internationalist supporting the u.n., nato and the nash shall plan. s paul douglas said no one was better versed than he and how to et legislation enacted with a friction.f
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the senate panel was tasked selecting the five most illustrious senators of all time the arkley was among finalists for the honor. day one would he have to agree with president truman. he ranked him as one of the all est legislatures of times. so i would leave you all to towering legacy of alvin barkley. unquestioned giant in the istory of the senate in the history of kentucky and in the of pa duke ka. very much. [applause]
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>> from 1960 to 1962, the u.s. government aided cuban parents sending their children to the u.s. in order to escape the rise regime.astro next on american history tv, professor discusses known acy of the mission as operation pedro pan. the different and how the ns 2,000 custody battle reignited debate over operation pedro pan. several audience the u.s. as ow the who came to part of the operation took part in the discussion. florida international university hosted this 45 minute event.