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Texas Originals

Texas Originals: John Tower

The first Republican from Texas elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.


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John Tower
John G. Tower in His Washington Office, Photograph, November 19, 1988; digital image, University of North Texas Libraries, crediting Cherokee County Historical Commission, Rusk, Texas.

September 29, 1925–April 5, 1991


Texas became a two-party state in 1961, when conservative Republican John Tower was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was the first Republican senator from Texas since Reconstruction.

Born in 1925, Tower grew up in East Texas, the son of a Methodist minister. He served in the Navy during World War II and then earned a master’s degree in political science from SMU. Tower was teaching at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls when he decided to enter politics. He ran for U.S. Senate in 1960, losing to Lyndon B. Johnson. But Tower won the seat the following spring, in a special election called after Johnson assumed the vice presidency.

During four senate terms, Tower was a dominant voice for conservative Texas Republicans. He chaired the powerful Armed Services Committee and promoted the energy and banking industries. Intelligent and sometimes prickly, Tower was a master at moving legislation through Congress. He was a political mentor to Senator John McCain, and to many Texas Republicans including future President George H. W. Bush.

Tower retired from the Senate in 1985. Four years later, President Bush nominated him for Secretary of Defense, but the Senate rejected the nomination. Tower was deeply wounded by the defeat.

In 1991, Tower died tragically, along with his daughter Marian, in a commuter plane crash in Georgia.


For more about John Tower

The John G. Tower Papers are held by the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. They consist mainly of materials accumulated during Senator Tower’s twenty-four years in the United States Senate and include printed materials, videotapes, audiocassettes, films, photographs, and some Senate committee records that document Senator Tower’s accomplishments and activities.

Internet and electronic copies of a three-part series of interviews of John Tower by noted Texas historian Joe B. Frantz can be obtained from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Oral History Collection.


John Tower and President Lyndon B. Johnson 02/15/1967, LBJ Presidential Library, Photo #A3697-12, public domain.


Selected bibliography

Cunningham, Sean P. Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2010.

Green, George N., and John J. Kushma. “John Tower.” In Profiles in Power: Twentieth-Century Texans in Washington, ed. Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., and Michael L. Collins. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1993.

Knaggs, John R. Two-Party Texas: The John Tower Era, 1961–1984. Austin: Eakin Press, 1986.

Tower, John G. Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir. New York: Little, Brown, & Company, 1991.

Tower, John G. Interview by Joe B. Frantz. Oral History Interview I. Austin, August 8, 1971. /tower/TOWER01.PDF.

Tower, John G. Interview by Joe B. Frantz. Oral History Interview II. Austin, September 22, 1971. /tower/TOWER02.PDF.

Tower, John G. Interview by Joe B. Frantz. Oral History Interview III. Austin, November 1, 1971. /tower/TOWER03.PDF.

Tower, John G., Edmund Muskie, Brent Scowcroft, and R.W. Apple, Jr. The Tower Commission Report. New York: Bantam, 1987.

U.S. Congress. Memorial Tribute: John Goodwin Tower, 1925–1991, Late a Senator from Texas. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994.