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Call Me Tom

The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton

James N. Giglio

Publication Year: 2011

Call Me Tom is the first book-length biography of one of Missouri’s most successful senators. A moderate liberal in a conservative state, Thomas F. Eagleton was known for his political independence, integrity, and intelligence, likely the reasons Eagleton never once lost an election in his thirty years of public service.


Born in St. Louis, Eagleton began his public career in 1956 as St. Louis Circuit Attorney. At 27, he was the youngest person in the history of the state to hold that position, and he duplicated the feat in his next two elected positions, attorney general in 1960 and lieutenant governor in 1964. In 1968, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1987. He was thrown into the national spotlight in 1972 when revelations regarding his mental health, particularly the shock treatments he received for depression, forced his resignation as a vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. All of that would overshadow his significant contributions as senator, especially on environmental and social legislation, as well as his defense of Congressional authority on war making and his role in the U. S. military disengagement from Southeast Asia in 1973.


Respected biographer James N. Giglio provides readers with an encompassing and nuanced portrait of Eagleton by placing the man and his career in the context of his times. Giglio allows readers to see his rumpled suits, smell the smoke of his Pall Mall cigarettes, hear his gravelly voice, and relish his sense of humor. At the same time, Giglio does not shy away from the personal torments that Eagleton had to overcome. A definitive examination of the senator’s career also reveals his unique ability to work with Republican counterparts, especially prior to the 1980s when bipartisanship was more possible.


Measuring the effect his mental illness had on his career, Giglio determines that the removal of aspirations for higher office in 1972 made Eagleton a better senator. He consistently took principled stands, with the ultimate goal of preserving and modernizing the agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his favorite president.


Thoroughly researched using the Eagleton Papers and interviews with more than eighty-five people close to Eagleton, including family, friends, colleagues, subordinates, and former classmates, Call Me Tom offers an engaging and in-depth portrayal of a man who remained a devoted public servant throughout his life.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page. Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

On an unusually cool mid-August day in 1994, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on South Tenth Street in downtown St. Louis. The honoree was a sixty-five-year-old white-haired longtime native about to have a building named after him. After the ceremonial shoveling, he said in that familiar deep, raspy voice, “A poll indicated that a majority of Americans...


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pp. xi-xiv

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1. Growing Up in St. Louis

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pp. 1-35

Thomas Francis Eagleton was born on September 4, 1929, in St. Louis, Missouri, on a warm, sunny day in the glow of Hoover prosperity. Even though the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported a slight drop in stock prices on that day, industrial, railroad, and utility stocks remained at near-record highs. Albeit modestly, St. Louis shared in the prosperity of the time....

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2. Serving City and State Government

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pp. 36-61

The swearing in of Tom Eagleton as circuit attorney took place on New Year’s Day, 1957, at 11:00 a.m. It was a joyous occasion attended by members of the bench and bar, city dignitaries, friends, and members of the family. Many who knew Eagleton from his student days at County Day praised him and expressed confidence in his ability to serve. Several praised to...

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3. The Inaugural 1968 Senate Campaign

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pp. 62-82

According to Charles Kaiser, the author of 1968 in America, 1968 “marked the end of hope.”1 John F. Kennedy had first inspired it in the 1960 campaign when he optimistically proclaimed that a New Frontier awaited America. Many young people especially heard his clarion call as they dedicated themselves to national service and public life. Martin Luther...

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4. Promising Beginnings

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pp. 83-104

The move from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., proved more problematic than anticipated since Tom and Barbara wanted to live in the city. Being assigned to the Senate’s District of Columbia Committee, which oversaw the city’s affairs, made that even more desirous. Historic Georgetown, where Jack Kennedy had lived while in the Senate, became a personal...

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5. The Eagleton Affair

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pp. 105-133

The most defining moment in Tom Eagleton’s public life involved his abbreviated Democratic nomination for the vice presidency in 1972— the only vice presidential nominee forced to resign from the ticket. The Eagleton affair has all the elements of a Greek tragedy—it inflicted pain...

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6. In the Arena

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pp. 134-161

If Eagleton suffered any letdown from the tumultuous events of 1972, it failed to affect his performance the following year. Indeed, belying his freshman status, he was as energetic as ever while playing a significant role in the most important issues of the time—ending the war in Indochina and seeking to restore the authority of Congress in preventing future Vietnams....

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7. The Final Campaign

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pp. 162-177

In 1980 a Democratic incumbent seeking reelection did so with some trepidation. Tom Eagleton was no exception. Beginning in the late ’70s, Democrats lost favor nationally because of budget deficits, double-digit inflation, rising unemployment, and a continuing energy crisis, with prices at the pump climbing to more than a dollar by 1978. This was accompanied...

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8. Combating the Reagan Revolution

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pp. 178-198

The year 1981 ushered in a period of conservatism that had no equal since the Hoover era. A seventy-year-old former Hollywood actor, before becoming California governor in 1967, became its prophet and spiritual leader. Unlike his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan exhibited a vision that he skillfully communicated to the American people....

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9. The Personal Eagleton

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pp. 199-211

By the time Tom Eagleton had departed from the Senate, those who knew him well were aware of who he was as well as what mattered to him. Above all, his continued devotion to his late father most stood out. Probably no day passed without his thinking of him. It did not take much to inject Mark’s memory into a conversation or a letter as he referred to...

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10. The Sage of St. Louis

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pp. 212-235

Once he had made his decision not to run for reelection, Tom Eagleton would leave the Senate and the Washington, D.C., area three years later with no regrets. Unlike many departing senators, he had never caught what Harry Truman called Potomac fever, and he had no desire to be a Washington lobbyist. “Ex-Senators are like ex–University Presidents,” he...

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11. The Final Years

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pp. 236-252

As the 1990s drew to a close, Eagleton had begun to reduce his workload. He officially resigned from FANS Inc. as of January 29, 1996, ended his weekly columns in the Post-Dispatch by December 1997, and, with rare exception, curtailed speechmaking. Regarding the latter, he wrote that “when you turn 67, you will better comprehend why I’ve gone out...


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pp. 253-288


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pp. 289-298


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pp. 299-310

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272614
E-ISBN-10: 0826272614
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219404
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219403

Page Count: 324
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1