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Richard A. Baker: Senate Historian

Senate Historian Richard Baker

“'Well, the one thing we do know about is that undelivered speech of yours from November 1963.'"

Interviewed by Senate historian Kate Scott, Baker recalls how Senator Mike Mansfield finally came to deliver his classic 1963 Senate speech.

BAKER: There is a wonderful story about a speech that Mike Mansfield prepared, with some help from Frank Valeo, in November 1963 in response to the pushback that he was getting from some Democratic senators like Thomas Dodd who said “you should be more like Lyndon Johnson.” Mansfield in this great speech said, “I am who I am and you have to take me or leave me. I’m fully prepared to step aside.” That speech he planned to give on Friday afternoon November 22, 1963. News of Kennedy’s shooting reached the Senate Chamber so he dropped it in the Record and he never actually spoke it on the floor. So then in 1998 when the then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott set up a program, a so-called leader’s lecture series, to bring back former leaders, he was the kick-off speaker. He called me one day, out of the blue. He said, “I’m not sure what I should be saying to this group. You’re close to the planning, what do you think?” The last thing I wanted to do was write a speech for him. I said, “Well, the one thing we do know about is that undelivered speech of yours from November 1963. We would be happy to go through it and take out a lot of the references that no one would focus on today that were just for that moment and turn it into a speech for you.” He said, “That sounds like a great idea.” And so we did and he did. He gave it and it really kicked off that series very, very well. It also became sort of a foundational document, or at least a major document in trying to understand the limits of the majority leadership in the United States Senate.