Thomas Eagleton

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Thomas Eagleton
Official portrait, 1967
United States Senator
from Missouri
In office
December 28, 1968 – January 3, 1987
Preceded byEdward V. Long
Succeeded byKit Bond
38th Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
In office
January 11, 1965 – December 27, 1968
GovernorWarren E. Hearnes
Preceded byHilary A. Bush
Succeeded byWilliam S. Morris
35th Attorney General of Missouri
In office
January 9, 1961 – January 11, 1965
GovernorJohn M. Dalton
Preceded byJohn M. Dalton
Succeeded byNorman H. Anderson
Personal details
Thomas Francis Eagleton

(1929-09-04)September 4, 1929
St. Louis, Missouri, US
DiedMarch 4, 2007(2007-03-04) (aged 77)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Barbara Ann Smith
(m. 1956)
EducationAmherst College (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1947–1949

Thomas Francis Eagleton (September 4, 1929 – March 4, 2007) was an American lawyer who served as a United States senator from Missouri from 1968 to 1987. He was briefly the Democratic vice presidential nominee under George McGovern in 1972. He suffered from bouts of depression throughout his life, resulting in several hospitalizations, which were kept secret from the public. When they were revealed, it humiliated the McGovern campaign, and Eagleton was forced to quit the race. He later became adjunct professor of public affairs at Washington University in St. Louis.

Early life and political career[edit]

Eagleton as Lieutenant Governor in 1965

Eagleton was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Zitta Louise (Swanson) and Mark David Eagleton, a politician who had run for mayor. His paternal grandparents were Irish immigrants, and his mother had Swedish, Irish, French, and Austrian ancestry.[1]

He graduated from St. Louis Country Day School, served in the U.S. Navy for two years and graduated from Amherst College in 1950, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Sigma Chapter). He then attended Harvard Law School. Following his graduation in 1953, Eagleton practiced law at his father's firm and later became associated with Anheuser-Busch's legal department.[2]

Eagleton married Barbara Ann Smith of St. Louis on January 26, 1956. A son, Terence, was born in 1959, and a daughter, Christin, was born in 1963.

He was elected circuit attorney of the City of St. Louis in 1956. During his tenure, he appeared on the TV show What's My Line? (episode #355) as "District Attorney of St. Louis". (He stumped the panel.)[3][4] He was elected Missouri Attorney General in 1960 at the age of 31 (the youngest in the state's history). He was elected the 38th lieutenant governor of Missouri in 1964, and he won a U.S. Senate seat in 1968, unseating incumbent Edward V. Long in the Democratic primary and narrowly defeating Congressman Thomas B. Curtis in the general election.

Eagleton suffered from depression; he checked himself into hospital three times between 1960 and 1966 for physical and nervous exhaustion, receiving electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy) twice.[5][6] He later received a diagnosis of bipolar II from Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin.[7]

The hospitalizations, which were not widely publicized, had little effect on his political aspirations. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in 1972, immediately after Eagletons vice presidential nomination: "He had been troubled with gastric disturbances, which led to occasional hospitalizations. The stomach troubles have contributed to rumors that he had a drinking problem."[6]

1972 presidential campaign[edit]

"Amnesty, abortion, and acid"[edit]

On April 25, 1972, as George McGovern won the Massachusetts Democratic primary, conservative journalist Robert Novak phoned Democratic politicians around the country. On April 27, 1972, Novak reported in a column his conversation with an unnamed Democratic senator about McGovern.[8][9] Novak quoted the senator as saying:

"The people don't know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion, and legalization of pot. Once middle America—Catholic middle America, in particular—finds this out, he's dead."[8]

Because of the column McGovern became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion, and acid,"[10][11] even though he only supported the decriminalization of marijuana and maintained that legalized abortion fell under the purview of states' rights.[12][13][14]

On July 15, 2007, several months after Eagleton's death, Novak said on Meet the Press that the unnamed senator was Eagleton.[11] Novak was accused in 1972 of manufacturing the quote, but stated that to rebut the criticism, he took Eagleton to lunch after the campaign and asked whether he could identify him as the source; the senator refused.[8] "Oh, he had to run for re-election," said Novak, "the McGovernites would kill him if they knew he had said that."[11] Political analyst Bob Shrum says that Eagleton never would have been selected as McGovern's running mate if it had been known at the time that Eagleton was the source of the quote.[11] "Boy, do I wish he would have let you publish his name. Then he never would have been picked as vice president," said Shrum.[11] "Because the two things, the two things that happened to George McGovern—two of the things that happened to him—were the label you put on him, number one, and number two, the Eagleton disaster. We had a messy convention, but he could have, I think in the end, carried eight or 10 states, remained politically viable. And Eagleton was one of the great train wrecks of all time."[11]

Selection as vice-presidential nominee[edit]

After a large number of prominent Democrats declined to be McGovern's running mate, Senator Gaylord Nelson (who was among those who declined) suggested Eagleton. McGovern chose Eagleton after only a minimal background check as had been customary for vice presidential selections at that time.[15][16] Eagleton made no mention of his earlier hospitalizations, and in fact decided with his wife to keep them secret from McGovern while he was flying to his first meeting with McGovern.

Replacement on the ticket[edit]

On July 25, 1972, just over two weeks after the 1972 Democratic Convention, Eagleton admitted the truth of news reports that he had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression during the 1960s. McGovern initially said he would back Eagleton "1000 percent". McGovern consulted confidentially with preeminent psychiatrists, including Eagleton's own doctors, who advised him that a recurrence of Eagleton's depression was possible and could endanger the country should Eagleton become acting president.[17][18][19][20][21] On August 1, nineteen days after being nominated, Eagleton withdrew at McGovern's request, and after a new search by McGovern, Thomas Eagleton was replaced by Sargent Shriver, former U.S. Ambassador to France, and former (founding) director of the Peace Corps and the Office of Economic Opportunity.[22]

A Time poll taken at the time found that 77 percent of the respondents said "Eagleton's medical record would not affect their vote." Nonetheless, the press made frequent references to his "shock therapy", and McGovern feared that this would detract from his campaign platform.[23]

McGovern's failure to vet Eagleton[15] and his subsequent handling of the controversy gave occasion for the Republican campaign to raise serious questions about his judgment. In the general election, the Democratic ticket won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Re-election to Senate[edit]

Eagleton in 1977

Missouri returned Eagleton to the Senate in 1974; he won 60% of the popular vote against Thomas B. Curtis, who had been his opponent in 1968. In 1980, he was re-elected by a closer-than-expected margin over St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary.

During the 1980 election, Eagleton's niece Elizabeth Eagleton Weigand and lawyer Stephen Poludniak were arrested for blackmail after they threatened to spread false accusations that Eagleton was bisexual.[24][25] Eagleton told reporters that the extorted money was to be turned over to the Church of Scientology.[26] Poludniak and Weigand appealed the conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that they could not have gotten a fair trial because of "the massive publicity surrounding this case, coupled with the pre-existing sentiment in favor of Sen. Eagleton". The Court turned down the appeal.

Eagleton did not seek a fourth term in 1986. Former Republican Governor Kit Bond succeeded him in the Senate.

Senate career[edit]

In the Senate, Eagleton was active in matters dealing with foreign relations, intelligence, defense, education, health care, and the environment. He was instrumental to the Senate's passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and sponsored the amendment that halted the bombing in Cambodia and effectively ended American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Notably, Eagleton was one of only three senators to oppose the nomination of Gerald Ford as vice president in 1973. The other two senators voting no were William Hathaway of Maine and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.

Eagleton was one of the authors of The Hatch-Eagleton Amendment, introduced in the Senate on January 26, 1983, with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), which stated that "A right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution."

Post-Senate career[edit]

In January 1987, Eagleton returned to Missouri as an attorney, political commentator, and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, where until his death he was professor of public affairs.[27][28] Throughout his Washington University career, Eagleton taught courses in economics with former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Murray Weidenbaum and with history professor Henry W. Berger on the Vietnam War.[28]

On July 23, 1996, Eagleton delivered a warm introductory speech for McGovern during a promotional tour for McGovern's book, Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism, at The Library, Ltd., in St. Louis, Missouri. At that time, McGovern spoke favorably about Eagleton and reminisced about their short-lived presidential ticket in 1972.[29]

During the 2000s, Eagleton served on the Council of Elders for the George and Eleanor McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University.[30]

In January 2001, he joined other Missouri Democrats to oppose the nomination of former governor and senator John Ashcroft for United States Attorney General. Eagleton was quoted in the official Judiciary Committee record: "John Danforth would have been my first choice. John Ashcroft would have been my last choice."[31]

In 2005 and 2006, he co-taught a seminar on the U.S. presidency and the Constitution with Joel Goldstein at Saint Louis University School of Law. He was also a partner in the St. Louis law firm Thompson Coburn and was a chief negotiator for a coalition of local business interests that lured the Los Angeles Rams football team to St. Louis.[27][28] Eagleton authored three books on politics. Eagleton also strongly supported Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill in 2006; McCaskill won, defeating incumbent Jim Talent.

Eagleton led a group, Catholics for Amendment 2, composed of prominent Catholics that challenged church leaders' opposition to embryonic stem cell research and to a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have protected such research in Missouri. The group e-mailed a letter to fellow Catholics explaining reasons for supporting Amendment 2.[32] The amendment ensures that any federally approved stem cell research and treatments would be available in Missouri. "[T]he letter from Catholics for Amendment 2 said the group felt a moral obligation to respond to what it called misinformation, scare tactics and distortions being spread by opponents of the initiative, including the church."[32]

Eagleton died in St. Louis on March 4, 2007, of heart and respiratory complications. Eagleton donated his body to medical science at Washington University.[33] He wrote a farewell letter to his family and friends months before he died, citing that his dying wishes were for people to "go forth in love and peace—be kind to dogs—and vote Democratic".[34]

Honors and awards[edit]

Eagleton threw out the ceremonial first pitch to end the pregame ceremonies of Game 5 of the 1985 World Series.

The 8th Circuit federal courthouse in St. Louis is named after Eagleton. Dedicated on September 11, 2000, it is named the Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthose.

Eagleton has been honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Eagleton was a Roman Catholic.[36] Eagleton was a practicing Catholic, and strongly opposed abortion despite his reputation as a liberal.[37] His religion was one of the defining factors of his political career, as religion was an important political issue in Missouri. Eagleton's Catholicism increased his appeal to the working class of St. Louis and offset the "elitist stigma" of Eagleton's private school education. At the same time, the suburbs of Missouri were staunchly anti-Catholic, which proved a challenge during the 1960 election.[36] Nevertheless, Eagleton became elected as the Missouri Attorney General.

Eagleton believed that the Catholic Church was "a vital part of American life, conscience[,] and thought". He described himself as "a Pope John XXIII and an Archbishop John L. May Catholic", and considered these two figures his religious mentors.[38] Because of his religion and youth, Eagleton was often compared to President Kennedy; in 1972, St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote: "With his good looks, style, youth, liberal views and Catholic religion, Eagleton is the closest thing to a Kennedy Missouri has to offer".[39] In his farewell letter from 2006, Eagleton wrote: "In the era of a Christian right, we seem to have merged God’s power into political power".[38]

Eagleton married Barbara Ann Smith Eagleton in 1956, and the couple had two children together - a son and a daughter. Eagleton is survived by his wife.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Call Me Tom: The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  2. ^ "C0674 Eagleton, Thomas F. (1929–2007), Papers, 1944–1987" (PDF). The State Historical Society of Missouri. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 4, 2014. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  3. ^ "What's My Line?: EPISODE #355". Archived from the original on September 14, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  4. ^ What's My Line? (January 8, 2014). "What's My Line? – Mamie Van Doren; Melvyn Douglas [panel] (Mar 24, 1957)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  5. ^ Clymer, Adam (March 5, 2007). "Thomas F. Eagleton, 77, a Running Mate for 18 Days, Dies". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b "St. Louis Post-Dispatch". Archived from the original on January 18, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  7. ^ Altman, Lawrence K. (July 23, 2012). "Hasty and Ruinous 1972 Pick Colors Today's Hunt for a No. 2". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Kraske, Steve (July 28, 2007). "With another disclosure, Novak bedevils the dead". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007.
  9. ^ Ganey, Terry (August 19, 2007). "A slice of history: Biographers of the late U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri will find some vivid anecdotes when they comb through his large collection of journals, letters and transcripts housed in Columbia". Columbia Tribune. Archived from the original on June 7, 2013.
  10. ^ Riesel, Victor (July 6, 1972). "Coalition Breaking". Rome News-Tribune. Rome, Georgia.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Interview with Robert Novak", Meet the Press, NBC News, July 15, 2007
  12. ^ "Interview with Robert Novak", Meet the Press, NBC News, July 15, 2007. Retrieved January 21, 2011
  13. ^ Ganey, Terry (August 19, 2007), "A slice of history", Columbia Tribune, archived from the original on June 7, 2013.
  14. ^ Boller, Paul F., Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 339
  15. ^ a b McGovern, George S., Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, New York: Random House, 1977, pp. 190–191
  16. ^ Theodore White, The Making of the President, 1972, (1973), pp. 256–258
  17. ^ McGovern, George S., Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, New York: Random House, 1977, pp. 214–215
  18. ^ McGovern, George S., Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism, New York: Random House, 1996, pp. 97
  19. ^ Marano, Richard Michael, Vote Your Conscience: The Last Campaign of George McGovern, Praeger Publishers, 2003, pp. 7
  20. ^ The Washington Post, "George McGovern & the Coldest Plunge", Paul Hendrickson, September 28, 1983
  21. ^ The New York Times, "'Trashing' Candidates" (op-ed), George McGovern, May 11, 1983
  22. ^ Theodore White, The Making of the President, 1972, (1973), pp. 260
  23. ^ Garofoli, Joe (March 26, 2008). "Obama bounces back – speech seemed to help". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  24. ^ Kohn, Edward (October 20, 1980). "Eagleton's Reelection Bid Interrupted By Trial of Niece on Extortion Charge". Washington Post.
  25. ^ "Around the Nation; Convictions Upheld In Eagleton Extortion". New York Times. August 15, 1981.
  26. ^ Noble, Alice (October 23, 1980). "A niece of Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, D-Mo., testified..." UPI.
  27. ^ a b Mannies, Jo (March 4, 2007). "Senator and statesman, Thomas Eagleton dies at 77". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Archived from the original on March 7, 2007. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  28. ^ a b c "Thomas F. Eagleton, former U.S. senator and WUSTL professor of public affairs, dies at 77". The Record. Washington University in St. Louis. March 8, 2007. Archived from the original on March 18, 2007. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  29. ^ Video regarding My Daughter's Struggle with Alcoholism, St. Louis, Missouri: C-SPAN Video Library, July 23, 1996
  30. ^ Council of Elders, McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service, Dakota Wesleyan University
  31. ^ Woods, Harriett (January 19, 2001), Testimony For The Judiciary Committee Hearing On The Nomination of John Ashcroft, US Senate, archived from the original on March 29, 2007
  32. ^ a b "Catholic group fights church leaders on stem cell research". CNN. November 5, 2006. Archived from the original on November 6, 2006.
  33. ^ "Thomas F. Eagleton, former U.S. senator and WUSTL professor of public affairs, dies at 77". March 7, 2007. Retrieved October 10, 2023.
  34. ^ "Final wish: Be kind to dogs, vote Democratic". NBC News. Associated Press. March 10, 2007. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  35. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  36. ^ a b Murphy, James J. (2007). "Eagleton in Missouri: The Record in Local and State Office". Saint Louis University Law Journal. 52 (1): 41.
  37. ^ a b "Ex-Sen. Thomas Eagleton, D-Mo., dies at 77". March 4, 2007.
  38. ^ a b McCaskill, Claire (2007). "Tribute to Former Senator Tom Eagleton". Saint Louis University Law Journal. 52 (1): 33.
  39. ^ Thurber, Jon (March 5, 2007). "Thomas Eagleton, 77; vice presidential candidate left race over health reports". Los Angeles Times.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Attorney General of Missouri
Succeeded by
Norman H. Anderson
Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Missouri Attorney General
Succeeded by
Norman H. Anderson
Preceded by Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Missouri
Succeeded by
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 3)

1968, 1974, 1980
Succeeded by
Preceded by Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Carl Albert, Lloyd Bentsen, Hale Boggs, John Brademas, Frank Church, Martha Griffiths, John Melcher, Ralph Metcalfe, William Proxmire, Leonor Sullivan
Title next held by
Mike Mansfield
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States

Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Edward V. Long
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Missouri
Served alongside: Stuart Symington, John Danforth
Succeeded by