Tip O'Neill

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For other people named Thomas O'Neill, see Thomas O'Neill (disambiguation).
For other people named Tip O'Neill, see Tip O'Neill (baseball).
Tip O'Neill
Tip O'Neill 1978.jpg
O'Neill in 1978
55th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 4, 1977 – January 3, 1987
President Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Carl Albert
Succeeded by Jim Wright
House Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1977
Deputy John J. McFall
Preceded by Hale Boggs
Succeeded by Jim Wright
House Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1973
Leader Hale Boggs
Preceded by Hale Boggs
Succeeded by John J. McFall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th district
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1987
Preceded by Torbert Macdonald
Succeeded by Joseph P. Kennedy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 11th district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1963
Preceded by John F. Kennedy
Succeeded by James A. Burke
Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
1949–1953
Preceded by Frederick Willis
Succeeded by Charles Gibbons
Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
1947–1949
Preceded by John E. Flaherty
Succeeded by Charles Gibbons
Personal details
Born Thomas Phillip O'Neill, Jr.
(1912-12-09)December 9, 1912
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Died January 5, 1994(1994-01-05) (aged 81)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mildred Anne Miller
Children Thomas
Christopher
Susan
Rosemary
Alma mater Boston College
Religion Roman Catholic

Thomas Phillip "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. (December 9, 1912 – January 5, 1994) was an American politician and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. O'Neill was an outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the House of Representatives, serving for 34 years and representing two congressional districts in Massachusetts. He served as Speaker of the House from 1977 until his retirement in 1987, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the second longest-serving Speaker in U.S. history after Sam Rayburn.

Early life and education[edit]

O'Neill was born to Thomas Phillip O'Neill, Sr., and Rose Ann (née Tolan) O'Neill in the Irish middle-class area of North Cambridge, Massachusetts, known at the time as "Old Dublin." He was the third of three children whose mother died when he was nine months old, and he was largely raised by a French-Canadian housekeeper until his father remarried when he was eight. O'Neill Sr. started out as a bricklayer, but later won a seat on the Cambridge City Council and was appointed Superintendent of Sewers. During his childhood, O'Neill received the nickname "Tip" after the baseball player James "Tip" O'Neill.[1] He was educated in Roman Catholic schools, graduating in 1931 from the now defunct St. John High School in Cambridge where he was captain of the basketball team; O'Neill was a lifelong parishioner at the school's affiliated parish church St. John the Evangelist Church. From there he went to Boston College, from which he graduated in 1936. He lived on Orchard Street in Cambridge.[2]

Entry into politics[edit]

O'Neill first became active in politics at 15, campaigning for Al Smith in his 1928 presidential campaign. Four years later, he helped campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt. As a senior at Boston College, O'Neill ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council, but lost; his first race and only electoral defeat. The campaign taught him the lesson that became his best-known quote: "All politics is local".[3]

After graduating in 1936, O'Neill was elected at the age of 24 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives; aided by tough economic times among his constituents; an experience that made him a strong advocate of the New Deal policies of Roosevelt, which were just then coming to an end. His biographer John Aloysius Farrell said his background in Depression-era working-class Boston, and his interpretation of his Catholic faith led O'Neill to view the role of government as intervening to cure social ailments. O'Neill was "an absolute, unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat," Farrell wrote.[4]

In 1949, he became the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in its history. He remained in that post until 1952, when he ran for the United States House of Representatives from his home district.

US House of Representatives[edit]

O'Neill was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Senator-elect John F. Kennedy in 1952. During his second term in the House, O'Neill was selected to the House Rules Committee where he proved a crucial asset for the Democratic leadership, particularly his mentor, fellow Boston congressman and later Speaker, John William McCormack.[5]

O'Neill's Washington, D.C. residence from 1964 to 1978

After wrestling with the issues surrounding the Vietnam War, in 1967 O'Neill broke with President Lyndon B. Johnson and came out in opposition to America's involvement.[6] O'Neill wrote in his autobiography that he also became convinced that the conflict in Vietnam was a civil war and that US involvement was morally wrong. While the decision cost O'Neill some support among older voters in his home district, he benefited from new support among students and faculty members at the many colleges and universities there. In the House of Representatives itself, O'Neill also picked up the trust and support of younger House members who shared his anti-war views, and they became important friends who contributed to O'Neill's rise through the ranks in the House.[7]

In 1971, O'Neill was appointed Majority Whip in the House, the number three position for the Democratic Party in the House. In 1973, he was elected House Majority Leader, following the presumed death of Congressman Hale Boggs in a plane crash in Alaska. As Majority Leader, O'Neill was the most prominent Democrat in the House to call for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon in light of the Watergate scandal.

Speaker of the House[edit]

O'Neill with President Gerald Ford, 1976

As a result of the Tongsun Park influence peddling scandal, House Speaker Carl Albert retired from Congress and O'Neill was elected Speaker in 1977, the same year Carter became President.

Carter administration[edit]

With substantial majorities in both houses of Congress and control of the White House, O'Neill hoped that Democrats would be able to implement Democratic-favored legislation, including universal health care and jobs programs. The Democrats, however, lacked party discipline, and while the Carter administration and O'Neill started out strong with the passage of ethics and energy packages in 1977, there were major stumbles. Troubles began with Carter's threats to veto a water projects bill, a project of many members of Congress. O'Neill and other Democratic leaders were also upset by Carter's appointments of a number of his fellow Georgians, whom O'Neill considered arrogant and parochial, to federal offices and White House staff.

O'Neill was also put off by Carter's frugal behavior in cutting executive staff and reducing the scale of White House entertaining. Carter, a Southern Baptist, even ended the practice of serving alcohol at the White House. As Carter's term began in early 1977, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill were invited to the White House for a breakfast with the new President, where Carter served them sugar cookies and coffee. O'Neill, a man of expansive appetite, expected the until-then-traditional eggs and sausage. He looked across the table at Carter and said, "Mr. President... you know, we won the election." Carter was a reform-minded executive who often clashed with O'Neill on legislation. The Speaker wanted to reward loyal Democrats with rewarding projects at a time when Carter wanted to reduce government spending. A continuing weak economy and the Iran hostage crisis made prospects bleak for Carter and the Democrats in the 1980 congressional and presidential elections.

Reagan administration[edit]

O'Neill was a leading opponent of the Reagan administration's domestic and defense policies. Following the 1980 election, with the U.S. Senate controlled by Republicans, O'Neill became the leader of the congressional opposition. O'Neill even went as far as calling Reagan "the most ignorant man who had ever occupied the White House".[8] O'Neill also said that Reagan was "Herbert Hoover with a smile" and "a cheerleader for selfishness." He also said that Reagan's policies meant that his presidency was "one big Christmas party for the rich." Privately, O'Neill and Reagan were always on cordial terms, or as Reagan himself put it in his memoirs, they were friends "after 6PM". O'Neill in that same memoir when questioned by Reagan regarding a personal attack against the President that made the paper, explained that "before 6PM it's all politics".[9] Reagan once compared O'Neill to the classic arcade game Pac-Man in a speech, saying that he was "a round thing that gobbles up money". He also once joked he had received a valentine card from O'Neill: "I knew it was from Tip, because the heart was bleeding."

O'Neill, however, gave tacit approval to Democratic Congressman Charlie Nesbitt Wilson to implement the Reagan doctrine in the Soviet Afghan war. Wilson's position on the appropriations committees, and his close relations with CIA officer Gust Avrakotos, allowed him to steer billions of dollars to the Mujahideen through the CIA and Zia ul-Haq's ISI.[10]

Northern Ireland[edit]

One of O'Neill's greatest accomplishments as Speaker involved Northern Ireland. O'Neill worked with fellow Irish-American politicians New York Governor Hugh Carey, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to craft a peace accord between the warring factions. Beginning with the "Saint Patrick's Day declaration" in 1977, denouncing violence in Northern Ireland and culminating with the Irish aid package upon the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the "Four Horsemen" as they were called, convinced both Carter and Reagan to press the British government on the subject.[11][12] O'Neill also created the Friends of Ireland organization with Kennedy and Moynihan in 1981 to promote peace in Northern Ireland.[13]

Post-speakership[edit]

O'Neill with Congresswoman and future Speaker Nancy Pelosi

After retiring from Congress in 1987, O'Neill published his autobiography, Man of the House. It was well received by critics, and became a national best-seller. The book also helped turn the former Speaker into a national icon, and O'Neill starred in a number of commercials, including ones for Trump Shuttle, Commodore Computers, Quality International Budget Hotels, and one for Miller Lite, starring in one with Bob Uecker.

On November 18, 1991, O'Neill was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by president George H. W. Bush.[14]

Later on in retirement, O'Neill, who suffered from colon cancer, made public service advertisements about cancer in which he joined athletes and movie stars in talking candidly about having the disease.

In popular culture[edit]

O'Neill's emergence as a cultural figure was not restricted to commercials. Four years before his retirement, he had a cameo role in the February 17, 1983, episode of Cheers entitled "No Contest," which featured him ducking into the bar to escape a woman who pestered him on the street about his political ideals. The show, which was ranked 60th in the Nielsen ratings at that time, jumped 20 places the following week. O'Neill also made a brief appearance in the 1993 film Dave as himself, assessing the work of the fictional American President in the movie. He also did narration for a segment of the Ken Burns series Baseball in which O'Neill, a lifelong Red Sox fan, read the Boston Globe from the day the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series. He also appeared in an episode of the NBC sitcom Silver Spoons, which featured him delivering a mock press conference praising recurring character Freddy Lippincottleman's efforts on behalf of the homeless.

Death and legacy[edit]

O'Neill's cenotaph at the Congressional Cemetery, Washington D.C.

O'Neill died of cardiac arrest on January 5, 1994, survived by his wife, Mildred "Millie" Anne Miller (1914–2003) and their children. At his passing, President Bill Clinton said: "Tip O'Neill was the nation's most prominent, powerful and loyal champion of working people... He loved politics and government because he saw that politics and government could make a difference in people's lives. And he loved people most of all." Millie, who never remarried after his death, died in 2003 and is buried near her husband at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

The Speaker's oldest son and namesake, Thomas P. O'Neill III, a former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, works in public relations in Boston. Another son, Christopher, is a Washington lawyer. His third son, Michael, is deceased. One daughter, Susan, has her own business in Washington; the other, Rosemary, is a political officer for the United States Department of State.

The Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel, built through downtown Boston as part of the Big Dig to carry Interstate 93 under Boston, was named after him. Other structures named after him include a House Office Building (now demolished), the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building in Boston, a federal office building in Washington, D.C.,[15] a golf course in Cambridge, and the main library (and the plaza in front of it) at his alma mater, Boston College.

On June 22, 2008, the play "According to Tip" debuted in Watertown, Massachusetts, produced by the New Repertory Theatre. The one-man biographical play, written by longtime Boston sportswriter Dick Flavin, features O'Neill telling stories of his life, from his childhood to after his retirement in politics. Tony Award winner Ken Howard played the title role in the premiere production.[16]

In December 2012, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum hosted a forum to celebrate the centennial of O'Neill's birth.[17] O'Neill himself has contributed several oral history interviews to its archives chronicling his work for the Democratic Party and friendship with President Kennedy.


References[edit]

  1. ^ Hodgson, G. (1994, January 7). Obituary: Thomas P. O'Neill. The Independent (London), pp. 14.
  2. ^ "Biographical Note | Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Papergs | John J. Burns Library, Boston College". Bc.edu. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  3. ^ "Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Papers Biographical Note | John J. Burns Library, Boston College". Bc.edu. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  4. ^ The Last Liberal | Mario Cuomo | NYT
  5. ^ "O'Neill Obituary | NYT". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  6. ^ The Last Liberal | Mario Cuomo | NYT, March 11, 2001
  7. ^ "NYT Obit". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  8. ^ By Martin Tolchin (1994-01-06). "Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Dies at 81; A Power in the House for Decades". United States: Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  9. ^ Kornblut, Anne E. (July 29, 2006). "2008 May Test Clinton’s Bond With McCain". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  10. ^ Charlie Wilson's War, George Crile, 2003, Grove/Atlantic.
  11. ^ "Thatcher Attacks INA". Irish People. 24 October 1981. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Former Gov. Hugh Carey of New York passes at age 92". Irish Central. August 28, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2012. 
  13. ^ Providing a Leading Voice for Human Rights and Democracy around the Globe TedKennedy.org. Retrieved: 2012-04-27.
  14. ^ Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards, 1991-11-18 [1], George H. W. Bush,
  15. ^ Hicks, Josh. "Boehner agrees with Pelosi: Name federal building after ‘Tip’ O’Neill". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  16. ^ "According to Tip". New Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  17. ^ "CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF TIP O'NEILL". JFK Library. December 9, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Farrell, John A. (2001). Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. ISBN 0-316-26049-5. 
  • O'Neill, Thomas P.; William Novak (1987). Man of the House: The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill. ISBN 0-394-56505-3. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John F. Kennedy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 11th congressional district

1953–1963
Succeeded by
James A. Burke
Preceded by
Torbert H. Macdonald
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th congressional district

1963–1987
Succeeded by
Joseph P. Kennedy II
Political offices
Preceded by
Hale Boggs
House Majority Whip
House Democratic Whip

1971–1973
Succeeded by
John J. McFall
House Majority Leader
House Democratic Leader

1973–1977
Succeeded by
Jim Wright
Preceded by
Carl Albert
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
January 4, 1977 – January 3, 1987