John Porter East

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John Porter East
John Porter East.jpg
United States Senator
from North Carolina
In office
January 3, 1981 – June 29, 1986
Preceded byRobert Burren Morgan
Succeeded byJim Broyhill
Personal details
Born(1931-05-05)May 5, 1931
Springfield, Illinois, US
DiedJune 29, 1986(1986-06-29) (aged 55)
Greenville, North Carolina, US
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Priscilla Sherk East
Alma materEarlham College (BA)
University of Florida (MA, PhD)
University of Illinois (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
Years of service1953-1955

John Porter East (May 5, 1931 – June 29, 1986) was a Republican U.S. senator from the state of North Carolina from 1981 until his suicide in 1986.

A paraplegic since 1955 because of polio, East was a professor of political science at East Carolina University in Greenville.

Early life and education[edit]

John Porter East was born in Springfield, Illinois on May 5, 1931, the son of an employee of the State of Illinois.[1] He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Earlham College in Indiana where he was left tackle on the football team. After his graduation in 1953, he married Priscilla Sherk and was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. In 1955, East contracted polio while serving at Camp Lejeune. He would never walk again.[1] He received a LL.B. degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and practiced law in Naples, Florida for one year. He went on to receive his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Florida.

Political career[edit]

East was a protégé of conservative Senator Jesse Helms. In 1966, East ran unsuccessfully for a vacancy in the United States House of Representatives in a special election, a race won by Walter B. Jones, Sr.

In 1980, with the benefit of Ronald Reagan's North Carolina influence, East narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Burren Morgan, largely on the strength of political advertising about Morgan's involvement with the turnover of the Panama Canal to the government of Panama.

In the Senate, he earned a reputation as a staunch social conservative, especially on the issue of abortion. Alongside Jesse Helms, East led opposition to the bill to create a federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983.[2]

East was also a national security hawk, and was a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism along with Orrin Hatch and Jeremiah Denton. The committee is notable for its accusations of Soviet infiltration of left-wing think tanks, publications and activist groups such as the Institute for Policy Studies and the magazine Mother Jones.[3][4] East's primary national security staffer on the committee, Samuel T. Francis, later a prominent columnist for The Washington Times, has been cited as an intellectual fore-bearer of the alt-right movement.[5]

In 1986, East announced that he would not seek re-election, and would instead return to his teaching position. That summer, East, suffering from hypothyroidism, killed himself at his North Carolina home.[6] He left a note that blamed his doctor for failing to diagnose a disease he believed had robbed him of his intellectual abilities.[7]


On Friday, June 27, 1986, Senator East completed work on the book galleys of his collected essays. He met with Supreme Court nominee Antonin Scalia. Then, commitments met, the Senator drove to Greenville with his aide, John Petree, and arrived home about noon on Saturday. Petree stayed with him until daughter Kathryn arrived for a visit. Kathryn left her father "in good spirits" about midnight. Petree returned to East's house on Sunday morning, June 29. He found the front door ajar. The senator was dead in his garage, a victim of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.[8][6] North Carolina Governor James G. Martin appointed U.S. Representative Jim Broyhill to serve out the rest of East's term. Broyhill was later defeated in his election bid in November 1986 by former Democratic Governor Terry Sanford.

East is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Clifford, Garry (March 2, 1981). "It's Still An Uphill Struggle but Senator John East Persisted to Become 'Helms on Wheels'". People. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  2. ^ Romero, Frances (January 18, 2010). "A Brief History Of Martin Luther King Jr. Day". Time. Archived from the original on January 20, 2009.
  3. ^ "Russia Blog #7: When Mother Jones Was Investigated For Spreading "Kremlin Disinformation" - By Mark Ames - The eXiled". Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  4. ^ Lardner, Jr., George (April 20, 1981). "Assault on Terrorism: Internal Security or Witch Hunt?". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 20, 2019.
  5. ^ Shenk, Timothy (2016-08-16). "The dark history of Donald Trump's rightwing revolt | Timothy Shenk". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  6. ^ a b East v. United States, 745 F. Supp. 1142 (D. Md. 1990) ("Judgment will be entered in favor of the defendant.").
  7. ^ Suicide Note by Sen. East Blames Failure of Diagnosis, Report Says Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1986.
  8. ^ "N.C. Sen. John East is apparent suicide," The Stars and Stripes (European edition), June 30, 1986, p1

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
William Stevens
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from North Carolina
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 3) from North Carolina
Served alongside: Jesse Helms
Succeeded by