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Oklahoma Memories

Carl Albert becomes Speaker

2012-01-14

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"My colleagues, I accept the high honor which you have given me with humility, humility tempered only by the immense responsibility which this office carries."

That's the voice of McAlester's Congressman Carl Albert, his acceptance speech following his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

He was called the "Little Giant from Little Dixie"; Carl Albert represented the third district of Oklahoma, most of southeast Oklahoma, in Congress from 1947 to 1976. In the 1950s and '60s he moved into various committee and party leadership positions in Congress, culminating with his election as Speaker of the House on January 21, 1971.

It was a difficult time. Inflation, recession, President Richard Nixon's frequent impoundment of appropriations, and the ever-worsening conflict in Vietnam threatening the unity of the House, but Albert reminded his fellow congressmen of their duty.

"As I see it, it is by definition the duty of a legislative body to legislate. If we are to perform that duty and meet the responsibilities that we owe to those that sent us here, to our nation and to our generation, we must be about the job. We must not flounder. We must move cautiously, of course, but we must also move with dispatch in the disposition of the public business. There is too much to be done to delay in the performance of our duties."

Richard Nixon was just beginning his second term as president. Albert had to lead the Democratic-controlled Congress with a Republican serving as president.

"The Congress shares with the President a moral as well as a Constitutional obligation for the evolvement of basic precepts for a healthy and dynamic state of the union. Our preceding, our predecessors well acquitted themselves in the discharge of that obligation. I neither anticipate nor shall I settle for anything less from the 92nd Congress."

Albert realized there would be difficult days ahead and encouraged all of the members of Congress to work together on the people business.

"We cannot falter. We will not fail. The biography of this Congress will shake the legislative destiny of the 1970s."

Perhaps Albert's greatest challenge was presiding over Congress during the Watergate scandal. He chose not to involve the House in investigations of Vice President Spiro Agnew and referred presidential impeachment resolutions to the House Judiciary Committee. Twice during the scandal Albert was second in succession to the presidency. As Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller were both appointed by Congress, Carl Albert was the highest-ranked elected official serving during that administration.

After three terms as Speaker of the House and serving for thirty years in the Congress representing southeast Oklahoma, Carl Albert retired in 1976. He and his wife, Mary, returned to McAlester, where he kept an office and continued to be active in politics and public service until his death on February 4, 2000. But it was on January 21, 1971, that the "Little Giant from Little Dixie," Carl Albert, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

His acceptance speech is a part of the oral history collection at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.