Texas elects first Republican senator since Reconstruction

May 27th, 1961

On this day in 1961, Texas voters made John Tower the first Republican senator elected in the state since 1870. Tower, born in Houston in 1925, ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1954 and served as a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1956. By 1960 he was sufficiently well known to be nominated at the state Republican convention to run against Lyndon B. Johnson for senator. Johnson easily won the election but resigned his seat when he was also elected vice president. Tower led the ensuing special election and won the runoff. In his twenty-four year Senate career, Tower influenced a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues, especially defense and banking. After Tower resigned from the Senate in 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed him chief United States negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva. In 1986, Reagan appointed him to chair the so-called Tower Commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. In 1989 Tower was President George Bush's choice to become secretary of defense, but the Senate did not confirm his nomination because of his conservative political views and alleged excessive drinking and womanizing. Tower died, along with his daughter Marian, in a commuter plane crash in Georgia in 1991.

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Texas elects first Republican senator since Reconstruction

May 27th, 1961

On this day in 1961, Texas voters made John Tower the first Republican senator elected in the state since 1870. Tower, born in Houston in 1925, ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1954 and served as a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1956. By 1960 he was sufficiently well known to be nominated at the state Republican convention to run against Lyndon B. Johnson for senator. Johnson easily won the election but resigned his seat when he was also elected vice president. Tower led the ensuing special election and won the runoff. In his twenty-four year Senate career, Tower influenced a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues, especially defense and banking. After Tower resigned from the Senate in 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed him chief United States negotiator at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva. In 1986, Reagan appointed him to chair the so-called Tower Commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. In 1989 Tower was President George Bush's choice to become secretary of defense, but the Senate did not confirm his nomination because of his conservative political views and alleged excessive drinking and womanizing. Tower died, along with his daughter Marian, in a commuter plane crash in Georgia in 1991.

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Related Handbook of Texas Articles

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With more than 27,000 articles about Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas is the largest online encyclopedia about all things Texas. Now you can celebrate the history of Texas every day by activating your free subscription to Texas Day by Day. Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles. It's one of the best ways to learn more about Texas history — in only 15 minutes a day!

Activate your free subscription to Texas Day by Day and you can:

  • Explore Texas history each day in bite-sized pieces conveniently delivered to your inbox each morning
  • Astound your friends with your Texas history prowess
  • Get in-depth looks at some of the overlooked events and landmarks in Texas history
  • Discover new places to explore in the Lone Star State
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