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Flashback Friday:  On This Day In 1956, Ex-Vice President Alben Barkley Dies

by Ken Rudin
Apr 30, 2010

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Ken Rudin

April 30, 1956:

Sen. Alben Barkley, a Kentucky Democrat who was elected vice president under President Harry Truman in 1948 and who earlier served as Senate majority leader, died while making a speech at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.  He was 78 and had suffered a heart attack.

The keynote speaker at Washington and Lee's "mock" Democratic convention, Barkley had just finished this sentence:  "I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than sit in the seat of the mighty."  He then collapsed and died.  

Barkley was first elected to the House in 1912 and served until 1926, when he won his first Senate race.  A staunch supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt, Barkley was a key backer of FDR's controversial plan to pack the Supreme Court with ideological allies.  In 1938, when Barkley faced opposition in the Democratic primary from Gov. Happy Chandler, Roosevelt actively campaigned on behalf of Barkley, who won.

When FDR died in 1945, Vice President Truman took over.  There was no incumbent v.p. in 1948 when Truman named Barkley as his running mate.  The ticket won an upset victory in November over Republicans Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren.

Four years later, with Truman surprising the nation by announcing he would not run again, Barkley had hoped to succeed him.  But labor was not a fan and many rank and file Dems felt he was too old for the job.  In 1954, Barkley returned to the Senate, defeating GOP Sen. John Sherman Cooper.

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