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Early life and family. Garner was born on November 22, 1868, in a log cabin in Red River County, Texas to John Nance Garner II and his wife, Sarah Guest Garner. The mud-chinked log cabin that Garner was born in no longer exists but the house that he grew up in survives and is located at 260 South Main Street in Detroit, Texas. It is a large, white, two-story house. Garner attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, for one semester before dropping out and returning home. He studied law at the firm of Sims and Wright in Clarksville, Texas, was admitted to the bar in 1890, and began practice in Uvalde, Uvalde County, Texas. In 1893, Garner entered politics, running for county judge of Uvalde County, the county's chief administrative officer. Garner was opposed in the primary by a woman—Mariette "Ettie" Rheiner, a rancher's daughter. Garner won, and with the Democratic nomination seen as tantamount to election in the post-Civil War Solid South, Garner was elected county judge and served until 1896. Garner and Rheiner began dating after the primary. They married in Sabinal, Texas on November 25, 1895. They were the parents of a son, banker and businessman Tully Charles Garner (1896-1968). Mariette Garner served as her husband's secretary throughout his Congressional career, and Second Lady of the United States during her husband's tenure as vice president. Texas politics. Garner was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1898, and re-elected in 1900. During his service, the legislature selected a state flower for Texas. Garner fervently supported the prickly pear cactus for the honor, and thus earned the nickname "Cactus Jack". (The Bluebonnet was chosen.) In 1901 Garner voted for the poll tax, a measure passed by the Democratic-dominated legislature to make voter registration more difficult and reduce the number of black, minority, and poor white voters on the voting rolls. This disfranchised most minority voters until the 1960s, and ended challenges to Democratic power; Texas became in effect a one-party state.In 1902, Garner was elected to the United States House of Representatives from the newly created 15th congressional district, a narrow strip reaching south to include tens of thousands of square miles of rural areas. He was elected from the district 14 subsequent times, serving until 1933. His wife was paid and worked as his private secretary during this period. Garner was chosen to serve as minority floor leader for the Democrats in 1929, and in 1931 as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, when the Democrats became the majority.Garner supported passage of the federal income tax but opposed most tariffs except for those on wool and mohair, which were important to his Texas base. He also believed in rural investment, bringing taxpayer dollars to farmers of the Brush Country region of South Texas.Garner was popular with his fellow House members in both parties. He held what he called his "board of education" during the era of Prohibition, a gathering spot for lawmakers to drink alcohol, or as Garner called it, "strike a blow for liberty." (The "board of education" was continued by future Speaker Sam Rayburn after Prohibition had ended and Garner had left the House.) Vice presidency. In 1932, Garner ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. It became evident that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Governor of New York, was the strongest of several candidates, but although he had a solid majority of convention delegates, he was about 100 votes short of the two-thirds required for nomination. Garner cut a deal with Roosevelt, becoming his vice-presidential candidate. Garner was re-elected to the 73rd Congress on November 8, 1932, and on the same day was elected Vice President of the United States. He was the second man, Schuyler Colfax being the first, to serve as both Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. Garner was re-elected Vice President with Roosevelt in 1936, serving in that office in total from March 4, 1933, to January 20, 1941. Like most vice presidents in this era, Garner had little to do and little influence on the president's policies. He famously described the vice presidency as being "not worth a bucket of warm piss". (For many years, this quote was bowdlerized as "warm spit".)During Roosevelt's second term, Garner's previously warm relationship with the president quickly soured, as Garner disagreed sharply with him on a wide range of important issues. Garner supported federal intervention to break up the Flint sit-down strike, supported a balanced federal budget, opposed the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937 to "pack" the Supreme Court with additional judges, and opposed executive interference with the internal business of the Congress.During 1938 and 1939, numerous Democratic party leaders urged Garner to run for president in 1940. Garner identified as the champion of the traditional Democratic Party establishment, which often clashed with supporters of Roosevelt's New Deal. The Gallup poll showed that Garner was the favorite among Democratic voters, based on the assumption that Roosevelt would defer to the longstanding two-term tradition and not run for a third term. Time characterized him on April 15, 1940: Cactus Jack is 71, sound in wind & limb, a hickory conservative who does not represent the Old South of magnolias, hoopskirts, pillared verandas, but the New South: moneymaking, industrial, hardboiled, still expanding too rapidly to brood over social problems. He stands for oil derricks, sheriffs who use airplanes, prairie skyscrapers, mechanized farms, $100 Stetson hats. Conservative John Garner appeals to many a conservative voter. Some other Democrats did not find him appealing. In Congressional testimony, union leader John L. Lewis described him as "a labor-baiting, poker-playing, whiskey-drinking, evil old man".Garner declared his candidacy. Roosevelt refused to say whether he would run again. If he did, it was highly unlikely that Garner could win the nomination, but Garner stayed in the race anyway. He opposed most of Roosevelt's New Deal policies, and on principle, opposed presidents serving third terms. At the Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt engineered a "spontaneous" call for his renomination, and won on the first ballot. Garner received only 61 votes out of 1,093. Roosevelt chose Henry A. Wallace to be the vice-presidential running mate. Final years and legacy. Garner left office on January 20, 1941, ending a 46-year career in public life. He retired to his home in Uvalde for the last 26 years of his life, where he managed his extensive real estate holdings, spent time with his great-grandchildren, and fished. Throughout his retirement, he was consulted by active Democratic politicians and was especially close to Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman. On the morning of Garner's 95th birthday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy called to wish him a happy birthday. This was just hours before Kennedy's assassination. Dan Rather states that he visited the Garner ranch that morning to film an interview with Garner, where Miss Texas Wool was in attendance, and that he then flew back to Dallas from Uvalde to deposit the film at then-CBS affiliate KRLD-TV (now Fox owned-and-operated KDFW-TV). Garner died on November 7, 1967, at the age of 98 years and 350 days. He is interred in Uvalde Cemetery. Garner is the longest-lived Vice President in U.S. history, a distinction which was previously held by Levi P. Morton (Benjamin Harrison's Vice President, who died in 1920 on his 96th birthday). Garner and Schuyler Colfax, vice president under Ulysses S. Grant, are the only two Vice Presidents to have been Speaker of the House of Representatives prior to becoming Vice President. As the Vice President is also the President of the Senate, Garner and Colfax are the only people to have served as the presiding officer of both houses of Congress. Presidency. The popular Garner State Park, located 30 miles (48 km) north of Uvalde, bears his name, as does Garner Field just east of Uvalde. The women's dormitory at Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde bears his wife's name. John Garner Middle School, located in San Antonio's North East Independent School District, is also named after him.
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