Fifty-four years ago, Senator and former Vice President Alben Barkley died. Barkley was a Kentucky Democrat and VP to Harry Truman for his single full term. Prior to joining Truman in the White House, Barkley was Senate Majority Leader.

NPR’s Ken Rudin has a look back at Barkley’s career. Barkley died on April 30th, 1956. He was giving a speech and collapsed after saying, “I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than sit in the seat of the mighty.”

Barkley was first elected to the House in 1912 and served until 1926, when he won his first Senate race.  A staunch supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt, Barkley was a key backer of FDR’s controversial plan to pack the Supreme Court with ideological allies.  In 1938, when Barkley faced opposition in the Democratic primary from Gov. Happy Chandler, Roosevelt actively campaigned on behalf of Barkley, who won.

When FDR died in 1945, Vice President Truman took over.  There was no incumbent v.p. in 1948 when Truman named Barkley as his running mate.  The ticket won an upset victory in November over Republicans Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren.

Four years later, with Truman surprising the nation by announcing he would not run again, Barkley had hoped to succeed him.  But labor was not a fan and many rank and file Dems felt he was too old for the job.  In 1954, Barkley returned to the Senate, defeating GOP Sen. John Sherman Cooper.