John Tower: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Tower

In office
June 15, 1961–January 3, 1985
Preceded by William A. Blakley
Succeeded by Phil Gramm

Born September 29, 1925(1925-09-29)
Houston, Texas
Died April 5, 1991 (aged 65)
Brunswick, Georgia
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lou Bullington (1952–1976)
Lilla Burt Cummings (1977–1987)
Profession Professor; consultant
Religion Methodist

John Goodwin Tower (September 29, 1925 – April 5, 1991) was the first Republican United States senator from Texas since Reconstruction. He served from 1961 until his retirement in January 1985, after which time he was the chairman of the Reagan-appointed Tower Commission that investigated the Iran-Contra Affair.


Early life, education, and military service

Tower was born in Houston to Joe Z. Tower (1898–1970) and Beryl Tower (1898–1990). The senior Towers were living in Atlanta in Cass County in northeast Texas at the time of their deaths. Joe Tower was a Methodist minister. The young John Tower traveled wherever his father pastored. He attended public schools in east Texas and graduated in Beaumont, the seat of Jefferson County, in southeast Texas in the spring of 1942.

Tower was active in politics as a child; at the age of thirteen, he passed out handbills for the campaign of liberal Democrat and future U.S. Senator Ralph William Yarborough while Yarborough was running for Texas attorney general. Yarborough and Tower would later be paired as Texas's Senate delegation, though of opposing political perspectives. He entered Southwestern University in Georgetown (Williamson County near Austin) that same year and met future U.S. President and political opponent Lyndon Baines Johnson on a campus visit while Johnson was the local congressman.

Tower left college in the summer of 1943 to serve in the Pacific theater during World War II on an LCS(L) 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, having graduated in 1948 with a bachelor of arts degree in political science. Tower worked as a radio announcer for a country music station in Taylor, east of Austin, during college and for some time afterward. Tower, however, remained in the Naval Reserve and achieved the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer retiring in 1989.[1]

In 1949, he moved to Dallas to take graduate courses at Southern Methodist University and to work part time as an insurance agent. He left SMU in 1951 and entered academia as an assistant professor at Midwestern University (now Midwestern State University) in Wichita Falls. In 1952 and 1953, he pursued graduate coursework at the London School of Economics and conducted field research on the organization of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom. His research was presented in his thesis, The Conservative Worker in Britain. He received his Master of Arts degree from SMU in 1953. While a professor at Midwestern University, Tower met Lou Bullington, whom he married in 1952. Lou, a California native, was the organist at Tower's church. She was five years his senior.

Family life in Wichita Falls, Texas

John and Lou Tower had three children during their years in Wichita Falls born in three consecutive years: Penny (1954), Marian (1955), and Jeanne (1956). The couple divorced in 1976.

During this same period, Tower established his core political relationships, which were managed in Wichita Falls by Pierce Langford, III, a key figure in the financing of the British offshore pirate radio stations that were created by Don Pierson of Eastlandl, Texas, between 1964 and 1967. Tower put in an appearance at the offices of Swinging Radio England on Curzon Street in London.

Following his divorce from Lou, who remained single for the remainder of her life, John Tower in 1977 married Lilla Burt Cummings. The couple separated in 1985 and filed divorce papers on July 2, 1986.

Rise to the Senate

Although raised as a Southern Democrat, Tower became a Republican in college around 1951. He rose quickly through the ranks of the Texas Republican Party; he was a candidate for representative to the Texas Legislature for the 81st district in 1954, although he lost. In 1956, he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In the 1956 presidential election, he was the campaign manager for the Dwight D. Eisenhower campaign in the 23rd Senatorial District. In 1960, he was prominent enough to be chosen in the state convention held in McAllen in Hidalgo County, as the Republican candidate for the United States Senate against Lyndon B. Johnson. The only viable, prominent candidates for the seat other than Tower were Thad Hutcheson, the candidate for Texas' other Senate seat in a special election in 1957, and Bruce Alger, the only Republican congressman from Texas at the time. Both were uninterested.

Johnson, the incumbent senator and famous nationwide as the Senate Majority Leader, won the election against Tower. As John F. Kennedy's running mate, Johnson was also seeking the vice presidency in the same election and Tower's campaign slogan was "double your pleasure, double your fun — vote against Johnson two times, not one."[2] Tower was supported by prominent Democratic former Governor Coke Stevenson, the loser by 87 votes to Johnson in the 1948 Democratic Senate primary runoff. Tower polled 927,653 votes (41.1 percent) to Johnson's 1,306,605 votes (58 percent), better than Republicans usually did in Texas at that time.

Johnson became Vice President, and Governor Price Daniel, Sr., appointed fellow Democrat William A. Blakley of Dallas to Johnson's Senate seat, pending a special election to be held in May 1961. Blakley, a conservative Democrat, had also been appointed by Daniel in 1957 to succeed Daniel in the Senate when Daniel was elected governor. Considerable numbers of liberal Texas Democrats opposed the conservative Blakely and did not vote. The conservative vote was divided. Texas conservatives, traditionally "yellow dog Democrats", had already voted for Republicans in the 1950s, when Democratic Governor Allan Shivers had aligned with Eisenhower, rather than the national Democratic candidate Adlai E. Stevenson, in a movement that was jokingly called "Shivercrats."

In his second Senate campaign in a matter of months, Tower charged that the national Democratic Party, represented by Kennedy and Johnson, was far to the left of typical Texas Democrats. The initial round of voting in the special election gave Tower 327,308 votes (30.9 percent) to Blakely's 191,818 (18.1 percent). The other contenders were Democrats Jim Wright, a congressman from Fort Worth and a future U.S. House Speaker, 171,328 (16.2 percent), state Attorney General Will Wilson (who later became a Republican and served in the Nixon Justice Department), 121,961 (11.5 percent), former state representative and liberal lawyer Maury Maverick, Jr., of San Antonio, 104,922 (9.9 percent), and then state Senator (and future Congressman) Henry B. Gonzalez, also of San Antonio, 97,659 (9.2 percent). There were some 65 other candidates, enticed by a filing fee at the time of only $50 for special elections, who polled a total of 4.2 percent of the vote.

Tower went on to win the runoff against Blakley. His election was historic: (1) first Republican U.S. senator from Texas since Reconstruction, (2) third Republican from the former Confederacy since Reconstruction, (3) first Republican from a former Confederate state since Newell Sanders of Tennessee left office in 1913 (a gap of 48 years), and (4) first Republican from the former Confederacy ever to win popular election. The final total was 448,217 votes (50.6 percent) for Tower and 437,872 (49.4 percent) for Blakely, a margin of 10,343.

United States Senate

Senator Tower (right) and Ernest Angelo, Jr., later mayor of Midland, Texas, and then a candidate for the Texas State Senate, are depicted in this 1968 photo. (Courtesy of Ernest Angelo, Jr.)

During his first term, Tower was the only Republican Senator from the South until the defection in 1964 of Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. During this time, he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the Senate, Tower was assigned to two major committees: the Labor and Public Welfare Committee and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Tower left the Labor and Public Welfare Committee in 1964, although in 1965 he was named to the 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.

Though Tower and Johnson were political rivals, Tower offered support to Johnson on Vietnam[citation needed]. Johnson often invited Tower to fly back to Texas with him on Air Force One. Johnson once told Tower that he had given him more support on the war than the whole Democratic party had done.[citation needed]

Nonetheless, Tower played an important role in the Nixon campaign's covert attempt to sabotage the 1968 Paris Peace Accords which could have ended the Vietnam War.[3][4][5][6]

Tower broke with many conservatives by his support of abortion rights. He quarreled with State Senator Henry Grover of Houston, the 1972 Republican gubernatorial nominee, to such an extent that the intraparty divisions may have contributed to Grover's 100,000-vote defeat by Democrat Dolph Briscoe even as Tower was winning a third Senate term over the Democrat Harold Barefoot Sanders by nearly 311,000 votes.

Tower also angered conservatives by his support of the nomination of President Gerald Ford, as the Republican nominee in 1976 over former California Governor Ronald W. Reagan. Reagan won every Texas delegate in the first ever Texas Republican presidential primary but narrowly lost the party nomination to Ford at the convention held that year in Kansas City.

Tower developed a close relationship with John McCain, who was then a Navy liaison to the Senate. Tower was instrumental in helping McCain win his first election, by raising money and obtaining support from popular Arizona Republicans.[7]

Subsequent elections

John Tower in 1983

Tower was reelected three times - in 1966, 1972, and 1978, all of which were good years for Republican candidates. In 1966, Tower defeated Democratic Attorney General Waggoner Carr of Lubbock, 842,501 (56.7 percent) to 643,855 (43.3 percent). Despite the victory, Tower lost the majority of the state's rural districts. He won every county that cast more than 10,000 votes except for McLennan County (Waco) in central Texas. In numerous counties, the 1961 or the 1966 Tower election was the first in which that county had supported a Republican candidate.

In 1968 and 1972, Tower recruited his friend and later business associate Paul Eggers of Wichita Falla and thereafter Dalls as the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Despite energetic but underfunded campaigns, Eggers lost both races to the Democrat Preston Smith of Lubbock.

In 1972, Tower defeated Harold Barefoot Sanders, Jr. (1925–2008), a Dallas lawyer who had formerly served in the Texas House of Representatives, as a U.S. attorney under Kennedy, as a deputy attorney general and counselor to Johnson, and thereafter as a U.S. District Judge in Dallas, under appointment of Jimmy Carter, from 1979 until his death. Tower prevailed, 1,822,877 (54.7 percent of two-party vote) to Sanders's 1,511,948 (45.3 percent of two-party vote). There were more than 79,000 votes cast for others. Several of the "Democrats for Nixon" organizers in Texas made it clear that they were Sanders supporters for the Senate. Sanders ran far ahead of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in the state. Tower tried to tie Sanders to former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who donated $2,000 to the Sanders campaign."[8]

In 1974, Tower supported the Republican former mayor of Lubbock Jim Granberry for governor. Granberry had defeated "New Right" candidate Odell McBrayer in the party primary but was then crushed by incumbent Governor Dolph Briscoe. It was a disastrous Republican year, both nationally and in Texas.

In 1978, Tower ran in a close campaign. He edged out Democratic Congressman Robert Krueger of New Braunfels in Comal County in the Hill Country, 1,151,376 (50.3 percent of two-party vote) to 1,139,149 (49.7 percent of two-party vote). Tower's plurality over Krueger was 12,227 votes, but because there were another 22,015 votes cast for other nominal contenders, Tower prevailed with less than 50 percent of the total vote. This was the campaign in which Tower refused to shake Krueger's hand at a candidate forum on grounds that his opponent had spread untruths about Tower's personal life. (Krueger later served in the Senate on an interim appointment from Governor Ann Richards from January to June 1993.)

Post-senate career

Tower delivers the Tower Report to President Reagan in the White House Cabinet Room, Edmund Muskie at right, 1987.

Tower retired from the Senate after nearly twenty-four years in office. He continued to be involved in national politics, advising the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Two weeks after his leaving office, Tower was named chief United States negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva. He demonstrated 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 in Dallas, from which he had received his M.A. He became a consultant with Tower, 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. The United States Senate did not confirm his nomination due to a variety of factors. One charge was that Tower had too many ties to defense contractors. Some Democrats used the nomination[citation needed] to retaliate against President George H.W. Bush for what they viewed as 'negative' (though successful) campaign tactics against their nominee, Michael Dukakis. Others, including the conservative organizer Paul Weyrich, accused Tower of extramarital affairs and heavy drinking. Many conservatives also opposed Tower's nomination because of his pro-choice views. One of Tower's leading critics was Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat.[9] His confirmation was defeated in the senate by a vote of 53 to 47.[9] Instead, Tower was named chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Dick Cheney, then a Representative from Wyoming and the House minority whip, was later confirmed as secretary of defense.


On April 5, 1991, Tower and his daughter Marianne were killed along with 21 other people in the crash of Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 2311 on approach for landing at Brunswick, Georgia. The crash was due to propeller control failure. Also killed in the crash was astronaut Sonny Carter. Tower and his daughter are buried together in the family plot at the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas. His personal and political life are chronicled in his autobiography, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir, published a few months before his death.

Lou Bullington Tower died at the age of 81 in a Dallas hospital in August 2001, with her two surviving daughters at her side. She is buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park. The personable Lou Tower was widely credited with having helped John Tower win his early Senate races. Her obituary said that she was preceded in death by her parents and several other individuals, including "Senator John Tower"—with no mention that he was her ex-husband.


  1. ^ Biographical Sketch of John Goodwin Tower, Southwestern University (retrieved on September 25, 2008)
  2. ^ John R. Knaggs, Two-Party Texas: The John Tower Era, 1961–1984 Eakin Press, 1986.
  3. ^ Jules Witcover. “The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat”. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p131. “I tracked down Anna Chennault (…) she insisted she had acted under instructions from the Nixon campaign in contacting the Saigon regime. ‘The only people who knew about the whole operation,’ she told me, ‘were Nixon, John Mitchell and John Tower [senator from Texas and Nixon campaign figure], and they're all dead. But they knew what I was doing. Anyone who knows about these thing knows I was getting orders to do these thing. I couldn’t do anything without instructions.’”.
  4. ^ Diem Bui with David Chanoff. In the Jaws of History. Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 244.“I began reviewing the cables I had written to (Nguyen Van) Thieu (…). Among them, I found a cable from October 23 (…) in which I had said, ‘Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position.’ In another cable, from October 27, I wrote, ‘I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage,’ by which I meant Anna Chennault, John Mitchell, and Senator (John) Tower.”
  5. ^ Clark M. Clifford with Richard C. Holbrooke. Counsel to the President: A Memoir. Random House, 1991. p. 581. Diem Bui “had opened a secret personal channel to John Mitchell and other senior members of the Nixon team through Chennault and John Tower, the Republican Senator from Texas.”
  6. ^ Anthony Summers. Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon”. Viking, 2000, p. 299. “Chennault agreed that day to provide Nixon with advice on Vietnam in the coming months, working through Hill and Texas Senator John Tower.”.
  7. ^ The Long Run - Taste of Senate Set Capt. McCain on a New Path - Series -
  8. ^ John G. Tower, Consequendes: A Personal and Political Memoir, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990, p. 208
  9. ^ a b Green, Anthony J. (1990), "Tower, John", 1990 Britannica Book of the Year, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., p. 101, ISBN 0-85229-522-7 

Finley, Keith. "Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators Fight against Civil Rights, 1938-1965." Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
William A. Blakley
United States Senator (Class 2) from Texas
Served alongside: Ralph Yarborough, Lloyd Bentsen
Succeeded by
Phil Gramm
Party political offices
Preceded by
George Murphy
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
Peter H. Dominick
Political offices
Preceded by
John C. Stennis
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
Succeeded by
Barry M. Goldwater
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Frank Church
Youngest Member of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Maurice J. Murphy, Jr.
(R-New Hampshire)
Preceded by
Maurice J. Murphy, Jr.
(R-New Hampshire)
Youngest Member of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Ted Kennedy


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address