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Thomas Philip O'Neill, Jr. (December 9, 1912 – January 5, 1994), commonly known as Tip O'Neill, was an American politician. O'Neill was an outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the U.S. Congress, serving in the House of Representatives for 34 years and representing two congressional districts of Massachusetts. He was the Speaker of the House from 1977 until his retirement in 1987, making him the second longest-serving Speaker in U.S. history after Sam Rayburn.
O'Neill was born to Thomas Philip O'Neill, Sr., and Rose Ann "Tolan" O'Neill in the Irish middle-class area of Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his childhood, O'Neill received the nickname "Tip" after the baseball player James O'Neill . After graduating from Boston College in 1936, he was elected as a Democrat to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. After serving a number of terms in the house, he was appointed speaker of the house in 1949.
Educated in Roman Catholic schools, O'Neill first became active in politics at 15, campaigning for Al Smith in his 1928 Presidential campaign against Republican Herbert Hoover. Four years later, he helped get out the vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. As a senior at Boston College, Mr. O'Neill lost his first campaign which was for the Cambridge City Council, by only 150 votes. However, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1936, where he rose to Speaker, and where he remained until 1952, when he ran for a spot in the United States House. (The seat was vacated by then-Senator John F. Kennedy)
O'Neill was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952 . During his second term in the House, he was selected to the House Rules Committee . In 1967, as the chairman of the committee, Tip openly criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War. In a meeting at the White House O'Neill told the President: "In my heart and in my conscience I believe your policy is wrong." During the Vietnam era, many notable politicians who were opposed to the war were voted out of office because some viewed their stances as anti-American and labeled them as being soft on defense. However, O'Neill became more popular in large part due to his stance on the Vietnam War. O'Neill won the trust and support of younger House members who also had the same stance on Vietnam, and they became important friends as O'Neill rose in power throughout the House.
In 1971 Tip was appointed Assistant Majority Leader in the House and later became the House Majority Leader in 1973. As the majority leader, O'Neill was the most prominent Democrat in the House to call for an investigation and impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon later resigned from office in 1974 due to the impending impeachment hearings and legal matters.
O'Neill assumed the role of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in 1977, the same year Democrat Jimmy Carter took office as President. However, in 1981 Republican Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter as president. Soon there after, O'Neill became a leading opponent of the Reagan administration's domestic and defense policies. Personally the Speaker found Mr. Reagan to be appallingly ignorant of the intricacies of government; he called him the most ignorant man who had ever occupied the White House. O'Neill was also quoted as saying that Mr. Reagan was "Herbert Hoover with a smile" and "a cheerleader for selfishness."
Republicans made O'Neill a target of their 1980 campaign, portraying a washed up old politician with liberal ideas. The National Republican Congressional Committee produced a television commercial that had an actor who resembled the Speaker laughing off warnings that his vehicle was low on fuel, until the vehicle finally ground to a halt. The announcer then proclaimed, "The Democrats have run out of gas." Although the Republicans made significant gains in the House in 1980, coinciding with the election of Reagan, similar efforts to target O'Neill in the 1982 elections backfired and the Democrats remained firmly in control of the House for more than a decade.
O'Neill retired from his seat in 1987. That same year, with author William Novak , O'Neill wrote about his career in the best-selling book Man of the House. During his retirement, O'Neill made commercials for a credit card company and a motel chain, a notable departure from the tradition of not publicly "cashing in" on the office. Later on in retirement, O'Neill, who had suffered from colon cancer, which led to a colostomy, made public service advertisements about cancer in which he joined athletes and movie stars in talking candidly about having the disease.
In 1994, at the age of 81, Tip O'Neill passed away. Upon his passing, then-President Bill Clinton said: "Tip O'Neill was the nation's most prominent, powerful and loyal champion of working people", and continued "He loved politics and government because he saw politics and government could make a difference in people's lives. And he loved people most of all."
The Speaker's oldest son and namesake, Thomas P. O'Neill 3d, a former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, is in public relations in Boston. Another son, Christopher, is a Washington lawyer, and a third, Michael, is in business in Cambridge. One daughter, Susan, has her own business in Washington, and another, Rosemary, is a political officer for the State Department. Mr. O'Neill is also survived by his wife and eight grandchildren.
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