John Tower

From Academic Kids

John Tower
John Tower

John Goodwin Tower (September 29, 1925April 5, 1991) was a conservative Republican United States Senator from Houston, Texas. He served in the Senate from 1961 to his retirement in 1984, after which he served as chairman of the "Tower Commission" that investigated the Iran-Contra Affair. He was the first Republican Senator elected from Texas since Reconstruction.


Early life

Tower was born September 29, 1925 to Joe and Beryl Tower in Houston, Texas. His father was a Methodist minister. Tower traveled where his father preached, attending public schools in East Texas and graduating in Beaumont, Texas in the spring of 1942. He was active in politics as a child; at the age of 13 he passed out handbills for the campaign of liberal Democrat and future senator Ralph Yarborough while he was running for attorney-general. Yarborough and Tower would later be paired as Texas's senate delegation, though of opposing political perspectives. He entered Southwestern University that same year in Georgetown, Texas, and met future president and political opponent Lyndon Johnson in 1942 on a campus visit while Johnson was the local congressman.

Tower left school in the summer of 1943 to serve in the Pacific Theater during World War II on an amphibious gunboat. He returned to Texas after the war in 1946, discharged as a seaman first class, and completed his undergraduate courses at Southwestern University, graduating in 1948 with a B.A. in political science. Tower worked as a radio announcer for a country music station in Taylor, Texas during and for some time after college.

In 1949 he moved to Dallas, Texas and attended graduate courses at Southern Methodist University, working part-time as an insurance agent. He left SMU in 1951 and entered academia as an assistant professor at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas. In 1952 and 1953 he pursued graduate coursework at the London School of Economics and Political Science and conducted field research on the organization of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom. His research was presented in his master's thesis, The Conservative Worker in Britain. He received his M.A. from Southern Methodist University in 1953. While a professor at Midwestern University, Tower met Lou Bullington, whom he married in 1952. They had three daughters before their divorce in 1976.

Early political career

Although raised a Southern Democrat, Tower became a Republican in college around 1951. He rose quickly through the ranks of the Texas Republican party; he was the Republican candidate for representative to the Texas Legislature for the Eighty-First district in 1954, and in 1956, he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In the 1956 presidential election, Tower was a campaign manager for the Eisenhower campaign in the 23rd Senatorial District. In 1960, he was prominent enough to be chosen as the Republican candidate for the United States Senate against Lyndon Johnson. Tower seemed the natural choice for the nomination; the only viable, prominate candidates for the Senate seat other than Tower - the Republican candidate for Texas's other Senate seat in 1957, Thad Hutcheson, and the only Republican congressman from Texas at the time, Bruce Alger of Dallas - were uninterested. Tower lost both elections.

Johnson, however, was selected as Vice President for John F. Kennedy, and his senate seat was taken by Democrat William A. Blakley pending a special election to be held the following May. Blakley, a conservative Democrat lacking the national and statewide recognition that Johnson held, proved a more vulnerable candidate than his predecessor; liberal Texas Democrats did not turn out to the polls in great numbers, and the conservative vote was divided. Texas Conservatives, traditionally "Yellow Dog Democrats," had already voted for Republicans in the 1950s, when Democrat Governor Allan Shivers had aligned with Dwight Eisenhower over the national Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson; in the 1960 election, Tower had the support of prominent Democrat and former governor Coke Stevenson. Tower, who pressed the division between the national party and the leanings of Texas conservatives, won the election against Blakley and became the first Republican senator from Texas since Reconstruction. The election was won by 10,000 votes amounting to roughly a percentage point.

In the Senate

Missing image
Senator John Tower with fellow Texan President Lyndon Johnson

Tower was reelected three times - in 1966, 1972, and 1978. Tower's 1966 victory was a sweep for Republicans; although he lost the majority of Texas's rural districts, Tower carried every county that cast more than 10,000 votes except for McClennan County. In many counties, the 1966 election was the first in which that county had voted for a Republican candidate.

In the Senate, Tower was assigned to two major committees: the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee and the Senate Banking and Currency Committee. Tower left the Labor and Public Welfare Committee in 1964, though in 1965 he was named to the important Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he served until his retirement. He was chairman of the Armed Services Committee from 1981 to 1984. Tower also served on the Joint Committee on Defense Production from 1963 until 1977 and on the Senate Republican Policy Committee in 1962 and from 1969 until 1984. Tower served as chairman of the latter from 1973 until his retirement from the Senate.

As a member and later chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Tower was a strong proponent of modernizing the armed forces. In the Banking and Currency Committee, he was a champion of small businesses and worked to improve the national infrastructure and financial institutions. Tower supported Texas economic interests, working to improve the business environment of the energy, agricultural, and fishing and maritime sectors.


Tower retired from the Senate on January 3, 1985 after 24 years in office. Tower continued to be involved in national politics, advising the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Two weeks after his resignation from the Senate, Tower was named chief United States negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva, demonstrating an effective handling of the technical issues of arms reduction. Tower resigned from this office in 1987, and for a time was a distinguished professor at Southern Methodist University, from which he had received his M.A. He became a consultant with Towers, Eggers, and Greene Consulting from 1987 to 1991.

In November 1986, President Reagan asked Tower to chair the President's Special Review Board to study the action of the National Security Council and its staff during the Iran-Contra Affair. The Board, which became known as the Tower Commission, issued its report on February 26, 1987. The report was highly critical of the Reagan Administration and of the National Security Council's dealings with both Iran and the Nicaraguan Contras.

In 1989, Tower was President George H. W. Bush's choice to become Secretary of Defense, but the Senate did not confirm his nomination after much contentious debate and testimony. Critics claimed he had too many ties to defense contractors. There were also extensive reports during the time that his nomination was being considered that Tower habitually abused alcohol and that this would be a liability. Instead, Tower was named chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Senator Tower was killed in the crash of Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 2311 in Georgia in 1991. His daughter Marian (b. 1955) also died in the crash.

Some conspiracy theorists hold that Tower's plane crash and John Heinz' the day before are connected to their Iran-Contra investigation.

John Tower and his daughter are buried together in the family plot at the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. His personal and political life are chronicled in his autobiography, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir, published the year of his death.

External links

Preceded by:
William A. Blakley
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Texas
Succeeded by:
Phil Gramm

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