SOURCE: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

August 28, 2006 14:46 ET

Britannica's LBJ-Rayburn Connection Recalls Historic Era in Texas Politics

UT Dallas Scholar Gives Latter-Day Gloss on Encyclopedia's Classic Entry

CHICAGO, IL -- (MARKET WIRE) -- August 28, 2006 -- An historic era in Texas politics takes center stage this week at Encyclopaedia Britannica, which marks Lyndon Johnson's August 27 birthday by highlighting on its Web site the 36th president's tribute to his mentor Sam Rayburn, written for the encyclopedia 43 years ago.

Britannica's entry on Rayburn, who represented Texas in Congress for 48 years and was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 17, was written by LBJ himself, one of Rayburn's friends and protégés.

"The entry is interesting on many levels," said Theodore Pappas, executive editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "not least because Johnson wrote it only months before ascending to the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963." Rayburn had died two years earlier.

"Energetic, studious, ambitious, and affable, Rayburn quickly became influential behind the scenes in government and in party politics," Johnson wrote about his friend's early career. Johnson went on to sketch the voluminous legislation for which Rayburn was responsible, the congressman's role in the New Deal, his close relationships with four presidents and his tenure as speaker. Rayburn often referred to himself as a Democrat "without prefix, without suffix, and without apology," said Johnson.

Of course, what it meant to be a Democrat or a Republican was very different in those days, according to Anthony M. Champagne, author of "Congressman Sam Rayburn," who wrote the concluding section to Britannica's Rayburn article, which puts the legendary legislator into a present-day perspective.

"During Rayburn's tenure, power in the House was lodged in the hands of committee chairs who gained their positions through seniority," writes Champagne, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. "Because the American South still was overwhelmingly Democratic and the Republican Party was not competitive there, Southern Democrats in the House -- with their seniority and their control over chairs of committees -- tended to have great power. Northern Democrats tended to be more liberal than their Southern counterparts, but their lack of seniority and committee chairs diminished their influence in the House. Rayburn brokered the interests of both wings of the Democratic Party."

While Britannica claims many of the world's top scholars among its contributors, getting presidents to write for an encyclopedia is not easy. Johnson, however, had a strong personal motive for accepting Britannica's commission.

"Lyndon Johnson was an intense, driven man," said Professor Champagne. "That he would take the time to prepare an encyclopedia entry on Sam Rayburn is an indication of his admiration and affection for Rayburn. Rayburn was an exceptionally effective leader of the House of Representatives and, of course, Johnson would have admired his political skill."

The article, with Johnson's and Champagne's contributions, is available at www.britannica.com. Web sites can also link directly to it at http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9062820.

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