Thomas Francis Eagleton (September 4, 1929 – March 4, 2007) was a United States Senator from Missouri, serving from 1968 to 1987. He is best remembered for briefly being 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.
Early life and political career
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.
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.
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.
He was also known to have suffered from depression. Between 1960 and 1966, Eagleton checked himself into the hospital three times for physical and nervous exhaustion, receiving electroconvulsive therapy twice.
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 said 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 vice-presidential candidate, as White had backed Muskie during the Massachusetts primary. Massachusetts ended up being the only state (along with the District of Columbia) that McGovern would carry in the Electoral College on election day.
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.
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 failure to properly vet Eagleton 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
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. 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.
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.
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.
In January 2002, 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."
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 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. 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. 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."
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".
Honors and awards
The 8th Circuit federal courthouse in St. Louis is named after Eagleton. Dedicated on September 11, 2000, it is named the Thomas F. Eagleton Building.
Eagleton has been honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
- "C0674 Eagleton, Thomas F. (1929-2007), Papers, 1944-1987" (PDF). The State Historical Society of Missouri. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- What's My Line?: EPISODE #355 Episode Summary on TV.com
- What's My Line? - Mamie Van Doren; Melvyn Douglas (panel) (Mar 24, 1957)
- Clymer, Adam (5 March 2007). "Thomas F. Eagleton, 77, a Running Mate for 18 Days, Dies". The New York Times.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- Kraske, Steve (28 July 2007). "With another disclosure, Novak bedevils the dead". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007.
- Ganey, Terry (19 August 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.
- Riesel, Victor (6 July 1972). "Coalition Breaking". Rome News-Tribune. Rome, Georgia.
- "Interview with Robert Novak", Meet the Press, MSNBC, 15 July 2007
- "George McGovern, Help Wanted", The New York Times, August 29, 2008
- McGovern, George S., Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, New York: Random House, 1977, pp. 214-215
- McGovern, George S., Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism, New York: Random House, 1996, pp. 97
- Marano, Richard Michael, Vote Your Conscience: The Last Campaign of George McGovern, Praeger Publishers, 2003, pp. 7
- The Washington Post, "George McGovern & the Coldest Plunge", Paul Hendrickson, September 28, 1983
- The New York Times, "'Trashing' Candidates" (op-ed), George McGovern, May 11, 1983
- Theodore White, The Making of the President, 1972 (1973)
- Garofoli, Joe (26 March 2008). "Obama bounces back – speech seemed to help". The San Francisco Chronicle.
- Video regarding My Daughter's Struggle with Alcoholism, St. Louis, Missouri: C-SPAN Video Library, 23 July 1996
- Council of Elders, McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service, Dakota Wesleyan University
- Woods, Harriett (19 January 2001), Testimony For The Judiciary Committee Hearing On The Nomination of John Ashcroft, US Senate, archived from the original on 29 March 2007
- Thomas F. Eagleton Scholarship at Thompson Coburn
- "Catholic group fights church leaders on stem cell research". CNN. 5 November 2006. Archived from the original on 6 November 2006.
- Washington University Record
- "Final wish: Be kind to dogs, vote Democratic". MSNBC.com. Associated Press. 10 March 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Bormann, Ernest G. "The Eagleton affair: A fantasy theme analysis." Quarterly Journal of Speech 59.2 (1973): 143-159.
- Dickerson, John "One of the Great Train Wrecks of All Time" Slate online magazine podcast 6/10/15
- Giglio, James N. Call Me Tom: The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton (University of Missouri Press; 2011) 328 pages
- Giglio, James N. "The Eagleton Affair: Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern, and the 1972 Vice Presidential Nomination", Presidential Studies Quarterly, (2009) 39#4 pp 647–676
- Glasser, Joshua M. Eighteen-Day Running Mate: McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis (Yale University Press, 2012). comprehensive scholarly history
- Hendrickson, Paul. "George McGovern & the Coldest Plunge", The Washington Post, September 28, 1983
- Strout, Lawrence N. "Politics and mental illness: The campaigns of Thomas Eagleton and Lawton Chiles." Journal of American Culture 18.3 (1995): 67-73.
- Trent, Judith S., and Jimmie D. Trent. "The rhetoric of the challenger: George Stanley McGovern." Communication Studies 25#1 (1974): 11-18.
- White, Theodore. The Making of the President, 1972 (1973)
- "McGovern's First Crisis: The Eagleton Affair" Time August 7, 1972, cover story
- "George McGovern Finally Finds a Veep" Time August 14, 1972, cover story
- United States Congress. "Thomas Eagleton (id: E000004)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- "Thomas Eagleton photographs". University of Missouri–St. Louis.
- Time magazine — July 24, 1972 cover article
- Time magazine — August 7, 1972 cover article on withdrawal
- History Channel on Eagleton's withdrawal speech
John M. Dalton
|Attorney General of Missouri
| Succeeded by|
Norman H. Anderson
Hilary A. Bush
|Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
| Succeeded by|
William S. Morris
|United States Senate|
Edward V. Long
| U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Missouri
Served alongside: Stuart Symington, John Danforth
| Succeeded by|
|Party political offices|
|Democratic nominee for
Vice President of the United States
| Succeeded by|
Edward V. Long
|Democratic Party nominee
for United States Senator from Missouri (Class 3)
1968, 1974, 1980
| Succeeded by|