A WITNESS TO HISTORY
George H. Mahon, West Texas Congressman
By Janet M. Neugebauer
Foreword by Kent Hance
Genre: Texas History / Politics / Biography
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Date of Publication: June 30 2017
Number of Pages: 576
This is the story of George H. Mahon, a man who went to Congress in 1935, when the House Committee on Appropriations still allocated a small amount of money to buy military horses. Forty-four years later, when Mahon retired as Chairman of that same committee, the committee was debating funds to purchase a bomber capable of traveling at 2,000 miles an hour. With a career spanning nearly a half century—spanning almost the entire Cold War—Mahon grew from a West Texas country lawyer to one of the most powerful men in the US House of Representatives, serving twenty-two consecutive terms from 1935–1978.
During his time in Congress, Mahon worked easily with the giants of government, enjoying the friendship and confidence of seven of the eight presidents with whom he served. He worked just as comfortably with his constituents in the Nineteenth Congressional District of Texas. Mahon served on several Congressional committees, but it is through his service on the House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations that he had the greatest national impact. He often bragged that under his leadership the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations was the most non-partisan committee in Congress. Mahon led the subcommittee with a strong but gentle hand that earned him the respect of all who served with him.
A Witness to History – A Review
I’ve driven by the Lubbock Federal Building many times. In all honesty I never had any idea who the man it that was named after was – George Mahon. It was simply always just a name. The same can be said for the Mahon Library in Lubbock. Now I know why this man was so important to have buildings named after him after reading A Witness to History.
Author Janet Neugebauer, details the life of Mahon who served 44 years in Congress as a Texas Representative. She provides in-depth and often small glimpses of the workings of legislative life in DC during his years as a representative, as well as politics in general.
Readers find out how Mahon worked on everything from the New Deal legislation to requesting the release of the Philippines in 1938 or 1939 instead of 1946. Historical note: the Philippines received their independence on July 4, 1946. Mahon became chairman of the defense subcommittee in 1949, after being appointed to the House Appropriations Committee in 1939. He served on the latter committee longer than any House member in history. Mahon believed in balancing the budget before cutting taxes. Mahon even tried bringing water to the West Texas via pipelines from either Missouri or Canada.
Astonishingly, you find out Mahon he voted against President Eisenhower’s request to grant statehood to Hawaii, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1960, designed to help blacks register to vote. Mahon believed individual state should determine who is eligible to vote.
Most importantly, Mahon was a strong advocate for the national defense program and development of a nuclear fleet. He was entrusted to partake in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during WW II.
Known for his quiet leadership he was known for being a careful listener who listened to his Texas constituents. He was a humble man who shopped for shoes and tires when he needed them and who paid for his Dad’s air conditioner and when his dad did not use it due to electric costs, Mahon arranged to anonymously pay $7.00 towards his Dad’s bill every month.
This is just a small part of Mahon’s history. He was a truly remarkable man!
Neugebauer’s book is more than just a biography of Mahon and the accomplishments of his life; it’s a book that provides readers a concise summary of American political history from 1930s to 1970s. Snippets of history include: when in 1954 Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire in the House of Representatives for an unknown reason where a Michigan representative was critically wounded and readers get a brief synopsis of the pitfalls and triumphs of President Nixon trying to fill four vacancies on the Supreme Court to name a few. Sadly – you learn that WWI soldiers were only paid a mere $1.00 per day during their military service.
Overall, I’d love to see more photos and more letters in the massive volume of work. Neugebauer created an excellent memorial to Mahon through her research and writing.
He was more than a witness to history, Mahon was right in the middle of history as it was being made.
Janet M. Neugebauer is deputy director of the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. Her many works include Lambshead Legacy and Plains Farmer.
Kent Hance is a former Chancellor of the Texas Tech University System and a former member of the US House of Representatives.
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