Thomas P. Jr. O'Neill


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(b. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 9 Dec. 1912; d. Boston, Massachusetts,5 Jan. 1994)

US; representative in the Massachusetts State Legislature 1936–52, member of the US House of Representatives 1952–86, Speaker of the House 1977–86 The son of a bricklayer, O'Neill was educated in parochial schools and St John's High School, and graduated from Boston College in 1936. Thereafter he combined a career in politics with business interests in insurance and real estate. At the age of 21 he became a member of the State Legislature, serving as minority leader between 1947 and 1948 and Speaker 1949–52. In 1952 he succeeded to John F. Kennedy's district in the US House of Representatives, when Kennedy moved to the Senate.

O'Neill, on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, was more a pragmatist and political fixer, a representative of the old-style Tammany Hall politics, than a politician of philosophical convictions. His entry to Congress coincided with a temporary break in the dominance the Democrats had enjoyed since 1932. They regained their former ascendancy in 1955 and with it came promotion for O'Neill, who was appointed to the powerful House Rules Committee. In 1977, amid allegations of having accepted bribes from the South Koreans, he became Speaker of the House. He held this powerful and partisan office for the next ten years: longer than any previous one.

In the position of Speaker O'Neill displayed inspired and effective leadership in a decade of political upheaval. During his period in office the House adopted a new code of ethics, placed limits on outside income and introduced television coverage of its sessions. A charismatic and shrewd politician, O'Neill was careful never to neglect the needs of his constituents or forget his Irish working-class roots. He popularized the phrase ‘all politics is local’. In 1987 he published a best-selling memoir: Man of the House.

Subjects: Politics.

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