Former Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton died today at the age of 77 from unknown causes.
He is best known as George McGovern’s Vice Presidential Nominee in the 1972 presidential elections. He is also a big reason why Republican candidate Richard Nixon did so well in the 1972 elections against Democratic candidate George McGovern.
Shortly after Senator Eagleton was chosen as the Vice Presidential Nominee at the Democratic National Convention in July 1972, it was revealed by the press that he had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and had twice undergone electroshock therapy for depression. He dropped out of the presidential race on August 1st 1972.
Why was Thomas Eagleton so disastrous for George McGovern?
Before the press revealed that Eagleton had been hospitalized, George McGovern had the image of being a competent man of simplicity and conviction. George McGovern was the anti-establishment politician who out hustled the better-funded democratic presidential candidates like Ed Muskie and Hubert Humphery. George McGovern was going to change America.
After the press revelation, McGovern’s competency was called into question for having nominated a person who had a background of psychiatric treatment to be Vice President. At first McGovern was seen as being supportive of Thomas Eagleton as his Vice Presidential nominee. However, after a huge public backlash, Eagleton dropped out of being McGovern's Vice Presidential nominee and it was then precieved that he was forced out by McGovern.
McGovern now seemed like another establishment politician.
Why did George McGovern nominate Thomas Eagleton?
When McGovern won the nomination to represent the Democrats for president, he lost the support of the Democratic Party establishment that was represented by big labor, democratic machines like Mayor Daley’s of Illinois and the right wing of the Democratic party represented by Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
There was too much power, prestige and money at stake for the democratic establishment to support George McGovern.
In addition, Richard Nixon nominated a weak vice presidential candidate named Spiro Agnew to run with him on the republican ticket. He was sending a signal to the Democratic presidential candidates that they should not support George McGovern because they would have a good shot at running for president in four years rather than waiting eight years for a chance if McGovern won.
So it was no surprise that McGovern’s choice for vice president, Ted Kennedy, declined. His next five or six choices also declined. Finally, he went with Thomas Eagleton who, in his own self-interest, didn’t tell George McGovern about his medical history.
Now how did the press find out about Thomas Eagleton’s medical history?
Thomas Eagleton’s medical history was not available in the public domain. The only way the St. Louis Psychiatric hospital could have legally discussed anything about Thomas Eagleton’s medical past would have been if Eagleton consented to the disclosure.
Clark Hoyt, the reporter who broke the story, said that the information about Eagleton came from an unidentified McGovern supporter who gave vague information but mentioned the St. Louis Psychiatric Hospital.
I have a lot of trouble with this explanation. Why would a McGovern supporter want to reveal something that was potentially very damaging to the McGovern campaign?
A more likely source of the information was Richard Nixon’s Whitehouse. This was never proved because no one ever investigated it.
However, it was discovered during the Watergate trial that John Ehrlichman, a whitehouse aide, had a safe that contained copies of hospital records of Democratic Senator Thomas Eagleton's treatment for mental illness.