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John Danforth

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John Danforth
Danforth in 1969
24th United States Ambassador to the United Nations
In office
July 23, 2004 – January 20, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byJohn Negroponte
Succeeded byJohn Bolton
Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice
In office
September 9, 1999 – c. July 23, 2000
Appointed byJanet Reno
DeputyEdward L. Dowd Jr.
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition not in use
Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee
In office
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1987
Preceded byBob Packwood
Succeeded byErnest Hollings
United States Senator
from Missouri
In office
December 27, 1976 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byStuart Symington
Succeeded byJohn Ashcroft
37th Attorney General of Missouri
In office
January 13, 1969 – December 27, 1976
GovernorWarren E. Hearnes
Kit Bond
Preceded byNorman H. Anderson
Succeeded byJohn Ashcroft
Personal details
John Claggett Danforth

(1936-09-05) September 5, 1936 (age 87)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseSally Dobson (m. 1957)
RelativesWilliam Danforth (brother)
William H. Danforth (grandfather)
EducationPrinceton University (AB)
Yale University (JD, MDiv)

John Claggett Danforth (born September 5, 1936) is an American politician, attorney, diplomat, and episcopal priest who served as the Attorney General of Missouri from 1969 to 1976 and as a United States Senator from 1976 to 1995. A member of the Republican Party, he later served as Special Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice from 1999 to 2000 and as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2004 to 2005.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Danforth graduated from Princeton University and Yale University. George W. Bush considered selecting him as a vice-presidential running mate in 2000.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Danforth was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Dorothy (Claggett) and Donald Danforth.[2] He is the grandson of William H. Danforth, founder of Ralston Purina. Danforth's brother, William Henry Danforth, was former chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

Danforth attended St. Louis Country Day School and Princeton University, where he graduated with an A.B. in religion in 1958 after completing a 111-page senior thesis titled "Christ and Meaning: An Interpretation of Reinhold Niebuhr's Christology."[3] He received degrees from Yale Law School and Yale Divinity School in 1963.


Danforth practiced law at the New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell from 1964 to 1966. He was a partner at the law firm of Bryan, Cave, McPheeters and McRoberts in St. Louis from 1966 to 1968.[4]

Before Danforth entered Republican politics, Missouri was a reliably Democratic state with its U.S. senators and governors usually being Democrats. Danforth's seat in the Senate was previously held by Democrats Thomas Hart Benton,[5] Harry S. Truman,[6] and Stuart Symington.[7]

Missouri Attorney General[edit]

In 1968 Danforth was elected Missouri Attorney General, the first Republican elected to the office in 40 years,[8] and the first from his party elected to statewide office in 22 years.[9] On his staff of assistant attorneys general were future Missouri Governor and U.S. Senator Kit Bond,[10] future Missouri Governor, U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft,[11] future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,[12] and future federal judge D. Brook Bartlett.[13] Danforth was reelected in 1972.[14]

United States Senate[edit]

Danforth greeting President Ronald Reagan, 1981


In 1970 Danforth ran for the United States Senate for the first time, against Democratic incumbent Stuart Symington. He lost in a close race.[15]

In 1976 Danforth ran to succeed Symington, who was retiring.[16] He had little opposition in the Republican primary.[17] The Democrats had a three-way battle among Symington's son James W. Symington, former Missouri Governor Warren Hearnes and rising political star Congressman Jerry Litton.[16] Litton won the primary, but he and his family were killed when the plane taking them to their victory party in Kansas City crashed on takeoff in Chillicothe, Missouri.[18] Hearnes, who had finished second in the primary, was chosen to replace Litton as the Democratic nominee.[16][18] In the general election, Danforth defeated Hearnes with nearly 57% of the vote.[19]

In 1982 the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate was Harriett Woods, a relatively unknown state senator from the St. Louis suburb of University City. She was active in women's rights organizations and collected union support and was a cousin of Democratic Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio. Her speeches denounced Ronald Reagan's policies so vigorously that she ran on the nickname "Give 'em Hell, Harriett" (a play on the famous Truman phrase). Danforth defeated Woods 51% to 49%, with Woods's pro-choice stance said to be the reason for her loss.[20]

In 1988 Danforth defeated Democrat Jay Nixon, 68%–32%. He chose not to run for a fourth term and retired from the Senate in 1995. He was succeeded by former Missouri governor John Ashcroft. Nixon was later elected Missouri Attorney General, and, in 2008, governor of Missouri.[21]

In January 2001, when Missouri Democrats opposed Ashcroft's nomination for U.S. Attorney General, Danforth's name was invoked. Former U.S. Senator Tom Eagleton reacted to the nomination by saying: "John Danforth would have been my first choice. John Ashcroft would have been my last choice."[22]


During the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Danforth used his clout to support Thomas, who had served Danforth during his state attorney general years and later as an aide in the Senate.[4]

Danforth portrayed himself as a political moderate, but voted like his right-wing Republican colleagues, including sustaining filibusters. He was once quoted as saying he joined the Republican Party for "the same reason you sometimes choose which movie to see—[it's] the one with the shortest line."[23]

Danforth is a longtime opponent of capital punishment, as he made clear on the Senate floor in 1994.[24]

In 1988, George H. W. Bush's presidential campaign vetted Danforth as a potential running mate. Bush selected Senator Dan Quayle (whose middle name is "Danforth") instead.[25]

UN Ambassador[edit]

Danforth's swearing in to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations by Justice Clarence Thomas, his former assistant, 2004

On July 1, 2004, Danforth was sworn in as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, succeeding John Negroponte, who left the post after becoming the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq in June. He is best remembered for attempts to bring peace to the Sudan but stayed at the UN for just six months. Danforth was mentioned as a successor to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Six days after the announcement that Condoleezza Rice was going to take the position, Danforth submitted his resignation on November 22, 2004, effective January 20, 2005. His resignation letter[26] said, "Forty-seven years ago, I married the girl of my dreams, and, at this point in my life, what is most important to me is to spend more time with her."[27]

Post-Senate career[edit]

Danforth talks with reporters about his investigation of the 1993 incident involving the FBI and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, 1999
Report to the Deputy Attorney General Concerning the 1993 Confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco, Texas, John Danforth, Independent Counsel, November 8, 2000. Federal government document.

Political activity[edit]

In 1999, Democratic U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Danforth to lead an investigation into the FBI's role in the 1993 Waco Siege.[28] Danforth appointed Democratic U.S. Attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. for the Eastern District of Missouri as his deputy special counsel.[29] He also hired Bryan Cave partner Thomas A. Schweich as his chief of staff.[30] Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Martin served as Danforth's director of investigative operations for what became known as the "Waco Investigation" and its resulting "Danforth Report".[31][32]

In July 2000, Danforth's name was leaked as being on the short list of potential vice presidential nominees for Republican nominee George W. Bush, along with Michigan Governor John Engler, New York Governor George Pataki, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Secretary of Labor and former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole. One week before the 2000 Republican National Convention was held in Philadelphia, campaign sources said that Dick Cheney, the man charged with leading the selection process for the nominee, had recommended Danforth,[33] but Bush selected Cheney himself.[34] Bush wrote in his book Decision Points that Danforth would have been his choice if Cheney had not accepted.[35][additional citation(s) needed] In September 2001, Bush appointed Danforth a special envoy to Sudan.[36] He brokered a peace deal[37] that officially ended the civil war in the South between Sudan's Islamic government and the U.S.-backed Christian rebels, but elements of that conflict still remain unresolved (as has the separate Darfur conflict). Known as the Second Sudanese Civil War, the conflict ended in January 2005 with the signing of a peace agreement.[38]

On June 11, 2004, Danforth presided over the funeral of Ronald Reagan, held at Washington National Cathedral.[39] Danforth also officiated at the funerals of Washington Post executive Katharine Graham,[40] former United States Senator Harry Flood Byrd Jr. of Virginia,[41] and Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich.[30]

On March 30, 2005, Danforth wrote an op-ed in The New York Times critical of the Republican party. The article began: "By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians".[42] He also penned a June 17, 2005, piece headlined "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers".[43] In 2015, Danforth joined 299 other Republicans in signing an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.[44]

Contributing to the anthology Our American Story (2019), Danforth addressed the possibility of a shared American narrative and focused on the "great American purpose" of "hold[ing] together in one nation a diverse and often contentious people." He encouraged continued work "to demand a functioning government where compromise is the norm, to integrate all our people into one indivisible nation, and to incorporate separated individuals into the wholeness of the community."[45] Danforth is a member of the Reformers Caucus of Issue One.[46]

Since the mid-2000s, Danforth was a mentor and political supporter of Josh Hawley, who became Attorney General of Missouri in 2017 and U.S. Senator in 2019 with Danforth's encouragement; Danforth also supported Hawley's presidential ambitions.[47] In the wake of the January 6 United States Capitol attack and Hawley's efforts to challenge the 2021 United States Electoral College vote count, Danforth said that supporting Hawley in the 2018 election "was the worst mistake I ever made in my life".[48] During the 2022 United States Senate election in Missouri, Danforth headed a PAC supporting independent candidate John Wood, considered a long shot to win.[49] Wood collected enough signatures to get on the ballot but dropped out after 50 days when Eric Schmitt won the Republican primary. Danforth spent $6 million on the effort.[50]

Private sector[edit]

In 1995, following his departure from the Senate, Danforth again became a partner at the Bryan Cave law firm.[4] As of 2021 Danforth is a partner at Dowd Bennett, a Clayton law firm just outside Saint Louis.[51]

In May 2012, a group led by Danforth's son-in-law and Summitt Distributing CEO Tom Stillman,[52] in which Danforth is a minority investor, took controlling ownership of the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.[53] The group acquired full ownership of the team in June 2019.[54] Danforth has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[55] He is an honorary board member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope.[56]

Personal life[edit]

Danforth married the former Sally Dobson in 1957.[39] They have five children and 15 grandchildren.[57]


  • Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas, Viking, 1994
  • Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together, Viking Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0670037872
  • The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics. Description & preview. Random House, 2015. ISBN 978-0812997903

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cheney, Danforth emerge as Bush's top choices – July 22, 2000". 2008-01-12. Archived from the original on 12 January 2008. Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  2. ^ "Current Biography Yearbook". H. W. Wilson Company. Sep 17, 1992. Retrieved Sep 17, 2020 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Danforth, John Claggett (1958). "Christ and Meaning: An Interpretation of Reinhold Niebuhr's Christology". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b c Wright, Robin (June 5, 2004). "Danforth tapped for U.N. post / Former senator has reputation for integrity". SFGATE.
  5. ^ "United States congressional delegations from Missouri: Historical members: Class 1 senators from Missouri". Ballotpedia. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  6. ^ "Former Governor Wins Missouri G.O.P. Primary for Governor". The New York Times. Associated Press. August 3, 1994. p. A22. Retrieved March 10, 2021. Danforth, a Republican, is retiring after three terms from the seat once held by Harry Truman
  7. ^ "Alien Nation?: This Week's Interview: John Danforth". PBS. September 29, 2006. Archived from the original on October 21, 2008. Danforth succeeded retiring Senator Stuart Symington
  8. ^ Barr, Diana (October 16, 2015). "Danforth cites long friendship in choosing Hawley in AG race". St. Louis Business Journal. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  9. ^ "GOP '88 Personality Spotlight: John Danforth: Vice presidential possibility". United Press International. August 6, 1988. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  10. ^ "About the Christopher S. Bond U.S. Court House". United States Courts: Western District of Missouri. Retrieved March 10, 2021. Bond became an assistant attorney general under former U.S. Senator John Danforth
  11. ^ Austin, Shelbi (June 8, 2017). "10 Things You Didn't Know About John Ashcroft". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  12. ^ Salter, Jim (May 5, 2017). "Clarence Thomas: Sen. Danforth is 'the reason why I'm here'". Associated Press. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  13. ^ Delaney, Paul (August 5, 1976). "Death of Missouri Winner Roils Democratic Politics". The New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  14. ^ "Former Sen. Danforth likely head of independent Waco probe, official says". CNN. September 3, 1999. Retrieved March 10, 2021. He won re-election as attorney general in 1972.
  15. ^ Ayres, B. Drummond Jr. (November 4, 1970). "Symington Wins 4th Senate Term". The New York Times. p. 35. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Delaney, Paul (October 18, 1976). "Hearnes Is Facing Difficult Fight To Succeed Symington in Senate". The New York Times. p. 33. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  17. ^ "MO US Senate – R Primary". Our Campaigns. August 3, 1976. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Delaney, Paul (August 4, 1976). "Missouri Senate Nominee Dies In Crash Alter Upset Victory". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  19. ^ Guthrie, Benjamin J. "Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 2, 1976" (PDF). Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. p. 26. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  20. ^ "WHMC-St. Louis sl 490 Woods, Harriett F. (1927– ), Addenda, 1975–1983". Umsl.edu. 1982-01-12. Archived from the original on 2010-06-01. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  21. ^ "Jay Nixon". The Forum at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. 2017-04-27. Retrieved 2022-05-03.
  22. ^ "Testimony for the Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Nomination of John Ashcroft". U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. January 19, 2001. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016.
  23. ^ Tran, Mark (Nov 15, 2004). "Names in the frame". Retrieved Sep 17, 2020 – via www.theguardian.com.
  24. ^ "New Voices – Conservative Voices". Deathpenaltyinfo.org. Archived from the original on 2007-07-13. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  25. ^ "Danforth, Cheney on Bush V.P. Short List". ABC News. 2006-01-06. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  26. ^ Danforth, John C. (November 22, 2004). "Resignation letter from Ambassador Danforth to President G.W. Bush" (PDF). United Nations. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-01-28. Retrieved 2004-12-03.
  27. ^ Christine Lagorio (2004-12-02). "U.N. Rep Resigns After 5 Months". CBS News. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  28. ^ Kantor, Jodi; Alsdorf, Matt (September 7, 1999). "Danforth on the Case". Slate. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  29. ^ Brown, Lisa (June 3, 2015). "Danforth exits Bryan Cave, joins Dowd Bennett law firm". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved March 10, 2021. When Danforth was appointed special counsel to investigate the FBI's 1993 raid ..., Dowd assisted the former senator as deputy special counsel
  30. ^ a b Young, Virginia; McDermott, Kevin (March 4, 2015). "Danforth, in eulogy, decries 'whispering campaign' against Schweich". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  31. ^ Kelly, Robert (January 31, 2014). "Dowd Bennett LLP adds James Martin as a partner". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  32. ^ "The Waco Investigation". The Washington Post. 1999. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  33. ^ "Cheney, Danforth emerge as Bush's top choices". CNN. July 22, 2000. Archived from the original on January 12, 2008.
  34. ^ Carney, James; Dickerson, John F. (August 1, 2000). "How Bush Decided". Time. Retrieved March 9, 2021 – via CNN.
  35. ^ Reynolds, Nick (December 29, 2018). "How fair is Hollywood's treatment of Dick Cheney?". Casper Star-Tribune. Danforth ..., who Bush later concurred would have been his selection for the post if Cheney refused it
  36. ^ "President Appoints Danforth as Special Envoy to the Sudan". The White House. September 6, 2001. Retrieved March 11, 2021 – via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  37. ^ Bixler, Mark (12 Jan 2005). "HISTORIC PEACE AGREEMENT: Q&A / JOHN DANFORTH, former special envoy to Sudan 'Sudan could be a possible model' for all of Africa". Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  38. ^ "Sudan Government and Rebels in Deal to End Fighting in South". The New York Times. January 9, 2005. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  39. ^ a b "Text: Homily of former Sen. John Danforth at Reagan funeral". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  40. ^ Clines, Francis X. (July 24, 2001). "At Katharine Graham Funeral, Parade of Boldface Names". The New York Times. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  41. ^ Schapiro, Jeff E. (August 4, 2009). "Va. governor, six predecessors attend Byrd funeral". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  42. ^ Danforth, John (March 30, 2005). "In the Name of Politics". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  43. ^ Danforth, John (June 17, 2005). "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  44. ^ Miller, Zeke J. "GOP Politicians Call for Supreme Court to OK Gay Marriage".
  45. ^ Claybourn, Joshua, ed. (2019). Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books. pp. 66–74. ISBN 978-1640121706.
  46. ^ "ReFormers Caucus Members". Issue One. Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  47. ^ Lowry, Bryan (January 7, 2021). "'The biggest mistake I've ever made': Former Missouri Sen. Danforth rues mentoring Josh Hawley, blames him for Capitol riot". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  48. ^ Levine, Marianne. "Coons calls on Cruz and Hawley to resign". POLITICO. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  49. ^ Salter, Jim (August 4, 2022). "Independent challenge for Eric Schmitt". www.semissourian.com. Retrieved August 5, 2022.
  50. ^ DesRochers, Daniel (October 11, 2022). "Former Missouri Sen. John Danforth spent $6 million on independent candidate's short bid". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  51. ^ "As politician and priest, John C. Danforth spent a lifetime trying to do good. He's not sure he succeeded". St. Louis Magazine. 18 September 2021. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  52. ^ "St. Louis Blues announce local minority partner, new radio deal". The Hockey News. Sports Illustrated. The Canadian Press. March 29, 2007. Retrieved March 10, 2021. Stillman, owner of Summit Distributing, ... and the son-in-law for former U.S. Sen. John Danforth
  53. ^ Pistor, Nicholas J.C. (May 13, 2012). "New owner is fanatic on Blues, coy about beer". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  54. ^ "Stillman group acquires full ownership of St. Louis Blues". KTVI. June 19, 2019. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  55. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Archived from the original on October 8, 2018. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  56. ^ "The Official Wings Of Hope Homepage". Wings-of-hope.org. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  57. ^ "StackPath". cathedral.org.

External links[edit]

Media related to John Danforth at Wikimedia Commons

Legal offices
Preceded by Attorney General of Missouri
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Bartlett, Jr.
Republican nominee for Missouri Attorney General
1968, 1972
Succeeded by
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 1)

1970, 1976, 1982, 1988
U.S. Senate
Preceded by United States Senator (Class 1) from Missouri
Served alongside: Thomas Eagleton, Kit Bond
Succeeded by
John Ashcroft
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Senator Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Senator
Succeeded byas Former US Senator