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Robert C. Byrd: A Featured Biography

Robert C. Byrd by Michael Shane Neal

The longest serving senator in history, Robert C. Byrd gained his higher education in the United States Senate. Rising from an impoverished childhood in the coalfields of West Virginia, Byrd entered public office in 1947 without a college degree. As a senator he earned a law degree by attending classes in the evenings, and never stopped studying. His careful reading of the Senate’s rules, precedents, and history made him a formidable opponent in debate, and fueled his rise through party leadership to become Democratic Conference secretary (1967-1971), whip (1971-1977), and leader (1977-1989). He delivered more than a hundred addresses on the history of the Senate, which were collected and published for the Senate’s bicentennial in 1989. On September 15, 1998, Senator Byrd delivered a “Leader’s Lecture” to his colleagues in the Old Senate Chamber. Senator Byrd died on June 28, 2010, having served for 51 years, 5 months, and 26 days.


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