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About Thomas Francis Eagleton
Thomas Francis Eagleton (September 4, 1929 – March 4, 2007) was a United States Senator from Missouri, serving from 1968–1987. He is best remembered for briefly being the Democratic vice presidential nominee under George McGovern in 1972. After his public service he became adjunct professor of public affairs at Washington University.
Early life and political career
Eagleton was the son of another St. Louis politician, Mark D. Eagleton (who had run for mayor), and Zitta Swanson.
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.
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.) 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 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.
Between 1960 and 1966, Eagleton checked himself into the hospital three times for physical and nervous exhaustion, receiving electroconvulsive therapy twice. He was also known to have suffered from depression.
The hospitalizations, which were not widely publicized, had little effect on his political aspirations, although the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was to note, in 1972, immediately after his 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."
1972 presidential campaign
"Amnesty, abortion, and acid"
On April 25, 1972, George McGovern won the Massachusetts primary, and 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. 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." Because of the column McGovern became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and acid."
On July 15, 2007, several months after Eagleton's death, Novak stated on Meet the Press that the unnamed senator was Eagleton. 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. "Oh, he had to run for re-election", said Novak, "the McGovernites would kill him if they knew he had said that." Political analyst Bob Shrum says that Eagleton would never have been selected as McGovern's running mate if it had been known at the time that Eagleton was the source of the quote. "Boy, do I wish he would have let you publish his name. Then he never would have been picked as vice president," said Shrum. "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."
Selection as vice presidential candidate
In 1972, Richard Nixon appeared unbeatable. When McGovern won the Democratic nomination for President, virtually all of the high-profile Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie and Birch Bayh turned down offers to run on the ticket. McGovern had been convinced that Kennedy would join the ticket. Kennedy ended up refusing. McGovern campaign manager Gary Hart suggested Boston Mayor Kevin White. McGovern called White, and received "an emphatic yes", but the leader of the Massachusetts delegation, Ken Galbraith, said the Massachusetts delegation would walk-out if the announcement was made to the Convention that McGovern had chosen White as his VP, as White had backed Muskie during the Massachusetts primary.
McGovern then asked Senator Gaylord Nelson to be his running mate. Nelson declined but suggested Tom Eagleton, whom McGovern ultimately chose, with only a minimal background check. 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 the Presidential nominee.
Eagleton had promised to bring his medical records for McGovern's review, but he did not. He initially concealed the fact that he was on Thorazine, a powerful anti-psychotic, and when he did disclose his use of the medication he noted that it couldn't be discovered by the press because it was issued under his wife's name. McGovern spoke to two of Eagleton's doctors, both of whom expressed grave concerns about Eagleton's mental health. Ultimately, a portion of Eagleton's medical records was leaked to McGovern, at which point McGovern saw a reference to "manic depression" and "suicidal tendencies."
McGovern had failed to act quickly when he learned of the mental health problems (though not their severe extent) because his own daughter was seriously depressed and he wondered what effect dumping Eagleton because of his depression would have on her. Ultimately, Eagleton threatened that if McGovern tried to force him off the ticket, he would fight the move. Eagleton conditioned his resignation on McGovern's releasing a statement, written by Eagleton, that Eagleton's health was fine and that McGovern had no issues with Eagleton's mental status.
Replacement on the ticket
McGovern said he would back Eagleton "1000 percent". Subsequently, 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 president. On August 1, Eagleton withdrew at McGovern's request and, after a new search by McGovern, was replaced by Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver.
A Time magazine 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.
McGovern's handling of the controversy was an opening 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
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 again 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. Eagleton told reporters that the extorted money was to be turned over to the Church of Scientology. 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.
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.
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".
In 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. 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 Berger on the Vietnam War. Eagleton selected research assistants from among his students. In 2005 and 2006, he co-taught a seminar on the US 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 of 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. He was the author of three books on politics and the 8th Circuit Federal Courthouse in St. Louis, dedicated on September 11, 2000, is named after him.
He has been honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the University City Loop.
In January 2001, he joined other Missouri Democrats to oppose the nomination of former Missouri governor 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."
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 the proposed state constitutional amendment (#2) that would have protected such research in Missouri. The group e-mailed a letter to fellow Catholics explaining reasons for supporting Amendment 2. 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."
During the 2000s (decade), Eagleton served on the Council of Elders for the George and Eleanor McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University.
On July 23, 1996, Eagleton delivered a warm introductory speech for George 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.
Eagleton died in St. Louis on March 4, 2007, of heart and respiratory complications. Eagleton donated his body to medical science at Washington University. 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".
After he died, the federal courthouse, the Thomas F. Eagleton Building in St. Louis, was built in honor of him.