Washington (CNN) – Nancy Pelosi's decision to try and remain leader of the House Democrats after a disastrous showing in Tuesday's election may have defied some conventional wisdom, but it is not without precedent. In fact, Pelosi is hoping to emulate one of the most powerful House Speakers in American history: Sam Rayburn.
Rayburn, a Texas Democrat, became Speaker of the House in 1940 and remained in that role until the mid-term election of 1946, when an angry electorate gave Republicans the majority. That election, a referendum on the policies of Democratic President Harry Truman, resulted in a loss of 46 seats for the Democrats and the loss of the Speaker's chair for Rayburn.
Instead of bowing out of his party's leadership or even Congress itself, Rayburn was determined to stay in power and did so by becoming Minority Leader in the 80th Congress from 1947-1948.
Truman and the Republicans disagreed on most policy initiatives during those two years, leading to most of his legislative agenda stalling in Congress. And out of this political struggle Truman passionately tagged the majority Republicans as the "Do Nothing Congress."
The presidential election of 1948 revived Democrats' fortunes, giving Truman a second term and returning House Democrats to the majority with a sizeable increase of 75 seats.
Democrats remained in control for another four years until they lost during the election of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Despite losing 22 seats and the majority, Rayburn yet again remained Democratic leader.
And as happened before, the 1954 election swept out the Republicans, ushered back the Democrats and reunited Rayburn with the title he so craved.
It was during his third term as Speaker that Rayburn helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.
Rayburn went on to serve as Speaker for another six years.