John Danforth

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John Danforth
John danforth.JPG
24th United States Ambassador to the United Nations
In office
July 23, 2004 – January 20, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byJohn D. Negroponte
Succeeded byJohn R. Bolton
United States Senator
from Missouri
In office
December 27, 1976 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byStuart Symington
Succeeded byJohn Ashcroft
37th Attorney General of Missouri
In office
January 13, 1969 – December 27, 1976
GovernorWarren E. Hearnes
Kit Bond
Preceded byNorman Anderson
Succeeded byJohn Ashcroft
Special Counsel for the
United States Department of Justice
In office
September 9, 1999 – c. July 23, 2000
Appointed byJanet Reno
DeputyEdward L. Dowd Jr.
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition not in use
Personal details
John Claggett Danforth

(1936-09-05) September 5, 1936 (age 84)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Sally Dobson
RelativesWilliam Danforth (brother)
William H. Danforth (grandfather)
EducationPrinceton University (AB)
Yale University (JD, MDiv)

John Claggett Danforth (born September 5, 1936) is an American politician, attorney and diplomat who began his career in 1968 as the Attorney General of Missouri and served three terms as United States Senator from Missouri. In 2004, he served briefly as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Danforth is an ordained Episcopal priest.

Early life and education[edit]

Danforth was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Dorothy (Claggett) and Donald Danforth.[1] He is the grandson of William H. Danforth, founder of Ralston Purina. Danforth's brother, William Henry Danforth, was former chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

Danforth attended St. Louis Country Day School and went on to Princeton University, where he graduated with an A.B. in religion in 1958 after completing a 111-page long senior thesis titled "Christ and Meaning: An Interpretation of Reinhold Niebuhr's Christology."[2] He received degrees from Yale Law School and Yale Divinity School in 1963.


Danforth practiced law at the New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell from 1964 to 1966. He was a partner at the law firm of Bryan, Cave, McPheeters and McRoberts in St. Louis from 1966 to 1968.[3]

Before Danforth entered Republican politics, Missouri was a reliably Democratic state with both its U.S. Senators and Governors regularly being Democrats. Prior to Symington, Danforth's seat in the Senate was held by Democratic Party heavyweights Thomas Hart Benton and Harry S. Truman.[citation needed]

Missouri Attorney General[edit]

Danforth as Attorney General, 1969

Danforth was elected in 1968 at the age of 32 to be Missouri Attorney General, the first Republican elected statewide in 40 years. On his staff of assistant attorneys general were future Missouri Governor/US Senator Kit Bond, future US Attorney General John Ashcroft, future US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and future federal judge D. Brook Bartlett. Danforth was reelected in 1972.[citation needed]

United States Senate[edit]


In 1970 Danforth ran for the United States Senate for the first time. He ran against Democratic incumbent Stuart Symington. Danforth was defeated in a close race.[citation needed]

In 1976 Danforth ran to succeed Symington, who was retiring. Danforth ran in the Republican primary with little opposition. The Democrats had a three-way battle among Symington's son James W. Symington, former Missouri Governor Warren Hearnes and rising political star Congressman Jerry Litton. Litton and his family were killed when the plane taking them to their victory party in Kansas City crashed on take off in Chillicothe, Missouri. Hearnes, who had finished second in the primary far behind Litton, was appointed to challenge Danforth. Danforth easily won even though Jimmy Carter of Georgia won Missouri in the presidential election.[citation needed]

Danforth was narrowly re-elected in 1982. His Democratic opponent was Harriett Woods, a relatively unknown state senator from the St. Louis suburb of University City, Missouri. She was active in women's rights organizations and collected union support and was a cousin of Democratic Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio. Her speeches denounced Ronald Reagan's policies so vigorously that she ran on the nickname, "Give 'em Hell, Harriett" (a play on the famous Truman phrase). Danforth won 51% to 49%. Woods' pro-choice stance was said to be the reason for her defeat.[4]

In 1988 Danforth defeated Democrat Jay Nixon, 68%–32%. Danforth chose not to run for a fourth term and retired from the Senate in 1995. He was succeeded by former Missouri governor John Ashcroft. Nixon would later be elected to Danforth's former post as Missouri Attorney General, and in 2008, Governor of Missouri.[citation needed]

In January 2001, when Missouri Democrats lined up against John Ashcroft to oppose his nomination for U.S. Attorney General, Danforth's name was invoked. Former U.S. Senator Tom Eagleton reacted to the nomination by saying: "John Danforth would have been my first choice. John Ashcroft would have been my last choice."[5]


During the 1991 Senate hearings regarding U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Danforth used his considerable clout to aid the confirmation of Thomas, who had served Danforth during his state attorney general years and later as an aide in the Senate.[3]

A political moderate, Danforth was once quoted as saying he joined the Republican Party for "the same reason you sometimes choose which movie to see — [it's] the one with the shortest line."[6]

Danforth is a longtime opponent of capital punishment, as he made clear on the Senate floor in 1994.[7]

In 1988, Danforth was vetted by the campaign of George H.W. Bush as a potential running mate in that year's presidential election, but ultimately Bush selected Senator Dan Quayle instead.[8]

UN Ambassador[edit]

Danforth's swearing in to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations by Justice Clarence Thomas, his former assistant

On July 1, 2004, Danforth was sworn in as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, succeeding John Negroponte, who left the post after becoming the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq in June. Danforth is best remembered for attempts to bring peace to the Sudan but stayed at the UN for just six months. Danforth was mentioned as a successor to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Six days after the announcement that Condoleezza Rice was going to take the position Danforth submitted his resignation on November 22, 2004, effective January 20, 2005. Danforth's resignation letter[9] said, "Forty-seven years ago, I married the girl of my dreams, and, at this point in my life, what is most important to me is to spend more time with her."[10]

Post-Senate career[edit]

Report to the Deputy Attorney General Concerning the 1993 Confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco, Texas, John Danforth, Independent Counsel, November 8, 2000. Federal government document.

In 1995, following his departure from the Senate, Danforth again became a partner at the Bryan Cave law firm.[3]

In 1999, Democratic U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Danforth to lead an investigation into the FBI's role in the 1993 Waco Siege. Danforth appointed Democratic U.S. Attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. for the Eastern District of Missouri as his deputy special counsel for Waco. He also hired Bryan Cave law firm partner Thomas A. Schweich as his chief of staff. Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Martin served as Danforth's director of investigative operations for what became known as the "Waco Investigation" or "Danforth Report."[citation needed]

In July 2000, Danforth's name was leaked as being on the short list of potential vice presidential nominees for Republican candidate George W. Bush, along with Michigan Governor John Engler, New York Governor George Pataki, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole. Just one week before the 2000 Republican National Convention was to be held in Philadelphia, campaign sources said that Dick Cheney, the man charged with leading the selection process for the nominee, had recommended Danforth to Bush for the position.[11] However, despite growing speculation that Danforth was Bush's final pick, Bush selected Cheney himself for the position. Bush wrote in his autobiography Decision Points that Danforth would have been his choice if Cheney did not accept.[citation needed]

In September 2001, President Bush appointed Danforth a special envoy to Sudan. He brokered a peace deal[12] that officially ended the civil war in the South between Sudan's Islamic government and Christian-backed Sudanese rebels, but elements of that conflict still remain unresolved (as has the separate Darfur conflict). The Second Sudanese Civil War ended in January 2005 with the signing of a peace agreement. Due to the Islamic-dominated North's military superiority, most of southern Sudan was decimated and the Christian rebels, and thus Danforth, achieved little for their efforts.[citation needed]

On June 11, 2004, Danforth presided over the funeral of Ronald Reagan, held at Washington National Cathedral.[13]

On March 30, 2005, Danforth wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times critical of the Republican party. The article began: "By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians...".[14] He also penned a June 17, 2005 piece headlined "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers".[15]

On May 9, 2012, Danforth became part of a group, led by son-in-law and Summitt Distributing CEO Tom Stillman, that took over ownership of the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.[citation needed]

In 2015, Danforth joined 299 other Republicans in signing an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.[16]

Contributing to the anthology Our American Story (2019), Danforth addressed the possibility of a shared American narrative and focused on the "great American purpose" of "hold[ing] together in one nation a diverse and often contentious people." He encouraged continued work "to demand a functioning government where compromise is the norm, to integrate all our people into one indivisible nation, and to incorporate separated individuals into the wholeness of the community."[17] Danforth is a member of the Reformers Caucus of Issue One.[18]

Danforth has received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[19] He is an Honorary Board Member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope.[20]

Danforth officiated at the funerals of Washington Post executive Katharine Graham, former United States Senator Harry Flood Byrd Jr. of Virginia, and Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich.[21]

From the mid-2000s, Danforth was a mentor and political supporter of Josh Hawley, who became Attorney General of Missouri in 2017 and U.S. Senator in 2019 with Danforth's encouragement; Danforth also supported Hawley's presidential ambitions.[22] In the wake of the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol and Hawley's efforts to challenge the 2021 United States Electoral College count, Danforth said that supporting Hawley in the 2018 election "was the worst mistake I ever made in my life".[23]

Personal life[edit]

Danforth married the former Sally Dobson in 1957.[13] They have five children and 15 grandchildren.[24]


  • Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas, Viking, 1994
  • Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together, Viking Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0670037872
  • The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics. Description & preview. Random House, 2015. ISBN 978-0812997903

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Current Biography Yearbook". H. W. Wilson Company. Sep 17, 1992. Retrieved Sep 17, 2020 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Danforth, John Claggett (1958). "Christ and Meaning: An Interpretation of Reinhold Niebuhr's Christology". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Wright, Robin (June 5, 2004). "Danforth tapped for U.N. post / Former senator has reputation for integrity". SFGATE.
  4. ^ "WHMC-St. Louis sl 490 Woods, Harriett F. (1927– ), Addenda, 1975–1983". 1982-01-12. Archived from the original on 2010-06-01. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  5. ^ [1] Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Tran, Mark (Nov 15, 2004). "Names in the frame". Retrieved Sep 17, 2020 – via
  7. ^ "New Voices – Conservative Voices". Archived from the original on 2007-07-13. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  8. ^ "Danforth, Cheney on Bush V.P. Short List". ABC News. 2006-01-06. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  9. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-01-28. Retrieved 2004-12-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Christine Lagorio (2004-12-02). "U.N. Rep Resigns After 5 Months". CBS News. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  11. ^ [2] Archived January 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Bixler, Mark (12 Jan 2005). "HISTORIC PEACE AGREEMENT: Q&A / JOHN DANFORTH, former special envoy to Sudan 'Sudan could be a possible model' for all of Africa". Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  13. ^ a b "Text: Homily of former Sen. John Danforth at Reagan funeral". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  14. ^ Danforth, John (March 30, 2005). "In the Name of Politics". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  15. ^ Danforth, John (June 17, 2005). "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  16. ^ Miller, Zeke J. "GOP Politicians Call for Supreme Court to OK Gay Marriage".
  17. ^ Claybourn, Joshua, ed. (2019). Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books. pp. 66–74. ISBN 978-1640121706.
  18. ^ "Issue One – ReFormers Caucus". Retrieved 2019-11-07.
  19. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Archived from the original on 8 October 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  20. ^ "The Official Wings Of Hope Homepage". Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  21. ^ Sullivan, Sean. "John Barrow's one-of-a-kind ad campaign" – via
  22. ^ Lowry, Bryan (January 7, 2021). "'The biggest mistake I've ever made': Former Missouri Sen. Danforth rues mentoring Josh Hawley, blames him for Capitol riot". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  23. ^ Levine, Marianne. "Coons calls on Cruz and Hawley to resign". POLITICO. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  24. ^ "StackPath".

External links[edit]

Media related to John Danforth at Wikimedia Commons

Legal offices
Preceded by
Norman Anderson
Attorney General of Missouri
Succeeded by
John Ashcroft
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jean P. Bradshaw
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 1)

1970, 1976, 1982, 1988
Succeeded by
John Ashcroft
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Stuart Symington
United States Senator (Class 1) from Missouri
Served alongside: Thomas Eagleton, Kit Bond
Succeeded by
John Ashcroft
Preceded by
Bob Packwood
Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee
Succeeded by
Ernest Hollings
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Negroponte
United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Succeeded by
Anne Patterson