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Special Collections Online at UT

Fred D. Thompson Papers

Identifier: MPA-0116

  • Staff Only

The Fred Thompson Papers (1993-2002) consist of 404 boxes (390.67 linear feet) of materials primarily covering Thompson's career as a United States Senator, representing the State of Tennessee from 1994 until 2002. Material from Thompson's two Senatorial campaigns (1994 and 1996) is also found in the Papers. Formats available in the collection include correspondence, notes, memoranda, reports, clippings, computer files, audio and video tapes, memorabilia, as well as many other formats of materials. In addition to the 404 boxes, also included are a number of oversized memorabilia pieces housed off-site in our storage facility.The Thompson Papers document the complete workings of the Thompson administration, from staff members' working files to the day-to-day administrative tasks of the Washington office to files and memorabilia from state offices in Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis. The Papers demonstrate Thompson's involvement in a variety of legislative activities and topics. Included are files from the 1997 Campaign Finance Investigation as well as other work by Thompson as chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee.The Papers are divided into five series: Legislative Files (Series I), Administrative Files (Series II), Press Files (Series III), Political/Campaign Files (Series IV), and Ephemera (Series V).

The bulk of the material can be found in the Legislative Files (173 boxes / 172.42 linear feet) and Administrative Files (100 boxes / 99.42 linear feet) series. The Legislative Files series documents the research, writing, and accomplishments of those members of Thompson's staff who were concerned with legislative activities, including committee workings. The Administrative Files series contains materials related to the work of maintaining the Senatorial offices, both in Washington and in Tennessee.

The Legislative Files series (173 boxes / 172.42 linear feet) contains the papers of Thompson's legislative aides and other staff members. These files, which are arranged by staff member, contain much of the background material and research used by the Thompson staff in making legislative decisions.To reflect the original order of the materials, each staff member's files constitute a subseries. Within these subseries, however, organization is dependent upon whether or not the original order of the materials could be discerned. In many of the smaller legislative subseries in which original order could not be determined, the files were simply arranged in alphabetical order. In others, subject areas were either maintained from the original order of materials or imposed during processing, reflecting the key areas in which the staff member worked. In all cases, the original folder titles were preserved. Because the Legislative Files are organized by staffer, subject-based research may require work in the files of a number of different legislative aides. Below is a list of some of the larger subject areas and the aides whose files contain materials related to those topics:

Budget-- Jones (I. B. 4.), Sistare (I. B. 11.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Campaign Finance Reform -- Ansell (I. B. 1.), Outhier (I. B. 7.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Copyright -- Ansell (I. B. 1.) Crime/Violence -- Ansell (I. B. 1.) Defense -- Russell (I. B. 9.) Energy/Oak Ridge -- Russell (I. B. 9.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Environment -- Jones (I. B. 4.), Martin (I. B. 5.), Russell (I. B. 9.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Finance/Bankruptcy -- Ansell (I. B. 1.), Hardy/Jain (I. B. 2.), Henning (I. B. 3.), Jones (I. B. 4.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Foriegn Affairs/Trade -- Henning (I. B. 3.), Roehl (I. B. 8.), Silvers (I. B. 10.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Health Care -- Ansell (I. B. 1.), Jones (I. B. 4.), Martin (I. B. 5.), Russell (I. B. 9.), Wood (I. B. 13.) Immigration -- Ansell (I. B. 1.), Hardy/Jain (I. B. 2.) Terrorism -- Ansell (I. B. 1.), Roehl (I. B. 8.) Transportation -- Martin (I. B. 5.), Russell (I. B. 9.), Wallace (I. B. 12.) Welfare -- Martin (I. B. 5.), Moxley (I. B. 6.)

The files of Legislative Director Libby Wood contain some items particularly useful when viewing the administration's legislative work as a whole. These materials span the entire administration and reflect a wide variety of legislative subjects, including campaign finance reform, energy, environmental concerns, health care, TVA, as well as other Tennessee issues. Additionally, Wood's papers contain many yearly or session-long reports on Thompson's legislative activities, including achievements, goals, statements, and committee assignments.

Also found in Series I: Legislative Files are papers from the Governmental Affairs Committee, which Thompson chaired from 1997-2001. Found in this subseries are the briefing books and other notebooks for the Committee's hearings as well as speeches made by Thompson as a member of the Committee. These books, which contain background information regarding the speech or hearing, often feature handwritten notes as well as memos and other insertions by Thompson or his staff.

The Governmental Affairs Committee files also contain the bulk of the material in the Thompson Papers regarding the 1997 Campaign Finance Investigation hearings. Correspondence, memoranda, and briefing books are among the unpublished materials found in this grouping. Many of these materials detail the beginnings of the hearings, including background information on the factual and legal issues involved, correspondence between Thompson's staff and other committee members, both Republican and Democrat, and briefing books documenting pre-hearing meetings. A large quantity of the materials is this sub-subseries, however, is either published volumes of the Senate proceedings or collections of newspaper clippings maintained by the Thompson office. More information on the hearings can be found in the papers of Press Director Alex Pratt Gorman (see Series III).

Likewise, the materials regarding the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1999 are primarily published volumes of the Senate proceedings. Some correspondence and memoranda are included, however, as is one folder of notes from Thompson and his staff. Administrative Files series (100 boxes / 99.42 linear feet) documents the daily work of the Thompson staff, outside of legislative activities. Many of these files were maintained by Thompson's assistants or other members of the administrative staff. Included in these papers are correspondence, daily schedules, speeches, project files, nomination files, and general reference material in working files. The original order of these materials has been retained in most cases.The correspondence found in this series includes both incoming and outgoing letters, and was maintained by Thompson's assistants. The division of each year's correspondence into the categories of Reader's File, Personal Correspondence and Senators/Governors/White House reflects the original organization scheme. Within the Reader's File category, FDT denotes letters referred to Thompson, while "BLS/MZ" denotes those read by his assistants.The project files subseries is primarily organized geographically by urban region, with TVA, Disasters, and Special Projects being the exceptions. This reflects the order imposed on the bulk of these papers by Thompson office. Others that were labeled simply by county or without geographic or categorical designation were assigned one. These project files document the Thompson office's work with its constituents. Many reflect grant proposals or projects, but others also contain requests for assistance from individuals or groups. The Special Projects files, a label given to these files by the Thompson office, contain many state-wide initiatives as well as military projects. The working files subseries contains the general reference material on key legislative topics. The majority of the material in this subseries dates from Thompson's first term in office. As such, the topics covered reflect Thompson's involvement in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and specifically the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Youth Violence, which Thompson chaired from 1995-1996.

Additionally, the files of both Chief of Staff Tom Daffron and Minority Staff Director Richard Hertling are found in the Administrative Staff Files subseries. Both of these groupings focus on the daily business of the Washington office. Daffron's files, in particular, contain project reports, weekly updates, and staff memoranda which document the work performed by the administrative staffs of the Washington office as well as the state offices.The Press Files series (106 boxes / 94.59 linear feet) documents the working of the press offices for both Thompson's 1994 and 1996 campaigns and his Senate office. Both materials sent to members of the press by Thompson's representatives and coverage by the media of Thompson's work are included.The publicity subseries consists of the work of the Senator's Washington office during his terms. Press releases, talking points, website files, and weekly columns to local newspapers demonstrate ways in which the office reached out to the media, both on national and local levels. Showing Thompson's stance on many important issues, these files represent the targeted messages that the office forwarded to the media. The media coverage subseries, on the other hand, reflects the media's reporting of Thompson's activities. Including both audio and video materials, this subseries contains materials from Thompson's 1994 through his final days in office.

Another way in which Thompson reached the public was through a weekly recorded radio show entitled Face Off, in which he and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy would present opposing views on a variety of topics. The Face Off subseries contains transcripts and audio recordings of these shows. Additional material on Face Off can be found in the files of Thompson's two Press Directors.

The files of these two individuals who served as Press Director for the Thompson office -- Alex Pratt Gorman and Harry Valentine -- reflect the over-all work of the office. The files of Gorman, who served as Press Director from 1994-1998, include both campaign and Senate material. The bulk of her papers relate to the campaign finance investigation. In addition to clippings which demonstrate media coverage of the event, Gorman's files also include material used in planning the media relations aspect of the investigation. Valentine's files, covering his service from 1998-2002, consist primarily of subject files and issues files.

Composing a large portion of the Press Files is the backup files subseries. Materials in this subseries served as working files for the staff and demonstrate the goals and interests of the office. These files were transferred out of the office to storage in large groups, typically every year or so. The sub-subseries designations of the years indicate the dates of these transfers, not necessarily the date of the creation of the materials. Within each sub-subseries, the files are arranged alphabetically, reflecting the way in which the Thompson office maintained them.

The Political/Campaign Files series (2 boxes / 1.42 linear feet), the smallest of the five series, consists of materials from Thompson's 1994 and 1996 campaigns for the U.S. Senate. The bulk of the files relate to Thompson's 1996 campaign. Included are binders of newspaper clippings concerning both Thompson and Houston Gordon, his opponent, press releases, schedules, and lists of contact people both for the campaign and for media outlets. A small number of campaign ephemera pieces also are present.

Materials such as awards, plaques, cartoons, framed photographs and posters, and other memorabilia can be found in the Ephemera series (23 boxes / 23.0 linear feet plus materials in oversized storage). Due to the size of many items in this series, many of the ephemera pieces have been removed to oversized boxes or oversized storage. The Container List maintains an alphabetical ordering of these materials, but notes their removal and their current location. The Ephemera series is divided into five subseries: (A) Awards, (B) Cartoons, (C) Frames Photos/Photo Albums, (D) Memorabilia, and (E) State Office Ephemera. The first four subseries consist of material kept in Thompson's Washington office. The final subseries, State Office Ephemera, is divided into sub-subseries by city.


  • 1993-2002

Conditions Governing Access

The Modern Political Archives are housed at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy. Researchers interested in consulting the MPA collections are advised to contact the Modern Political Archives

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Modern Political Archives .


350 Linear Feet


The Fred D. Thompson Papers (1993-2002) detail Thompson's career as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1994-2002. Correspondence, notes, memoranda, reports, audio and video tapes, and many other formats of materials document the complete workings of the Thompson administration, both in Washington and in his state offices throughout Tennessee. Some material on Thompson's two Senatorial campaigns (1994 and 1996) is also included.

Biographical/Historical Note

Born on August 19, 1942 in Sheffield, Alabama, to Fletcher and Ruth Bradley Thompson, Fred Dalton Thompson grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. At Lawrence County High School, he excelled in football, basketball, and other sports. After graduation in the Spring of 1960, Thompson took a semester away from school, working days in the local post office and nights as an assembly line worker at the Murray Ohio Bicycle plant.

Thompson began his post-secondary education at Florence State College in Florence, Alabama (now the University of North Alabama), which he attended for three semesters from 1961-1962. Thompson then transferred to Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), graduating with a double major in political science and philosophy in 1964 and earning scholarships to both Tulane and Vanderbilt law schools. He accepted the invitation to the latter, completing his J.D. at Vanderbilt and securing admittance to the Tennessee Bar Association in 1967.

Thompson then returned to his hometown of Lawrenceburg and began practicing with the firm of Lindsey and Thompson. After two years, he was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee by U.S. Attorney General John Marshall. In this position, he was primarily engaged in the trial of federal and criminal cases in Nashville, including the successful prosecution of many bank robbery cases. During this time, the young lawyer also became involved in local politics. In 1968, he served as the campaign manager for the Tennessee Seventh Congressional District campaign of John T. Williams, and in 1970, he worked on Bill Brock's successful bid to unseat Senator Albert Gore, Sr.

In 1972, at the urging of Lamar Alexander, Thompson resigned his position with the U.S. Attorney's Office to manage Senator Howard Baker's re-election campaign in the mid-state region. In a great coincidence, Thompson's resignation came the day before the Watergate burglary which would eventually bring him to Washington. Baker was successful in his re-election bid, and in 1973, he appointed Thompson Minority Counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (the Watergate Committee). In this position, Thompson directed the minority staff and also questioned witnesses during the public televised hearings. For his role in the Watergate investigation, he is perhaps best known for asking Alexander Butterfield the question that revealed the existence of an extensive White House taping system. In 1975, his memories of the Watergate experience were recorded in At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee (New York: Quadrangle Press).

Following the Watergate investigation, Thompson returned full time to private practice, now leading his own firm with offices in Nashville and Washington. Another watershed event in his legal career came when Marie Ragghianti, chairman of the Tennessee Pardons and Paroles Board, chose Thompson to represent her in a case against Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton. On August 3, 1977, Blanton fired Ragghianti when she refused to release certain prisoners who had bribed members of the Blanton administration. The case eventually exposed a clemency-for-cash scandal that led to Blanton's early exit from office. Thompson continued his work on the case by serving as Special Counsel to Governor Lamar Alexander in 1980, advising the Governor on the scandal and reviewing all pending pardons.

Additionally, the cash-for-clemency scandal provided for Thompson's first foray into acting, with Thompson portraying himself in the 1985 film Marie. The film, based on Peter Maas's 1983 book Marie: A True Story, also starred Sissy Spacek, Jeff Daniels, Morgan Freeman, and John Cullum. While continuing to work in private practice as well as on special appointments to government organizations (Special Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1980-1981; Special Counsel, Senate Intelligence Committee, 1982; Member of the Appellate Court Nominating Commission for the State of Tennessee, 1985-1987), Thompson also began to develop his acting portfolio, tackling roles in such feature films as The Hunt for Red October (1990), Days of Thunder (1990), Die Hard 2 (1990), and In the Line of Fire (1993).

The lawyer/actor also faced a pivotal point his career in 1992 when Sen. Al Gore, Jr. was elected vice president. Democratic Governor Ned McWherter appointed Harlan Matthews to fill the Senate seat until a special election could be held in November 1994. With prodding from Lamar Alexander and Howard Baker, Thompson announced his candidacy from the Lawrenceburg town square in April of 1994, adding politician to his many hats. In August, he captured the Republican nomination by defeating John Baker of Memphis in the primary. Around this same time, the Tennesseans for Thompson organization leased a red pickup truck, which the candidate used to travel to stops throughout the state, creating an image which lasted throughout his two campaigns. With his red truck and a liturgy of change, Thompson was victorious over Democrat Jim Cooper in the November election with 60% of the votes. He was officially sworn in as a United States Senator by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia in the Senate Chamber on December 9, 1994.

After being in office for less than a week, Thompson was tapped to give the Republican response to President Bill Clinton's Middle-Class Tax Cut address on December 15, 1994. The speech and response were televised nationally. A photo caption in the next day's Washington Post read: Sen. Fred Thompson: His charismatic delivery of the GOP response was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan. During his first years in office, the new Senator continued building his political resume by serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Youth Violence.

Additionally, Thompson initiated a Congressional investigation into a friendly fire incident during the Gulf War which claimed the life of Sgt. Lance Fielder of Nashville. The Army had covered up the fact that Fielder was killed by friendly fire, and then bestowed medals on the higher-ranking officials who made the decision to fire upon Fielder in an area where they knew that American forces were operating. The investigation ultimately resulted in the forced retirement of the commanding officer of the unit that fired shots at Sgt. Fielder and others, and the revocation by the Army of the medals that had been awarded to those responsible for the incident.

During his first years in the Senate, Thompson also began his fight for campaign finance reform. In September 1995, he introduced bipartisan legislation, along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), which aimed to reduce the advantages of incumbency in Senate campaigns. The bill, S. 1219, included voluntary spending limits based on a state's voting age population, and required that candidates raise 60% of their contributions in their home state. The bill also banned contributions from Political Action Committees (PACs) and strictly limited soft money donations to national political parties.

In 1996, Thompson began campaigning for a full-length term in the Senate, proving victorious in a 61%-37% win over Democratic candidate Houston Gordon. The nearly 1.1 million votes received by Thompson were more than any previous candidate for any office in Tennessee history. During the campaign season, Thompson also worked in support of Sen. Bob Dole's unsuccessful presidential bid. In addition to campaign appearances, he helped prepare Dole for the debates by serving as a Clinton stand-in during rehearsals.

With his reelection to the Senate, Thompson also made history as the first Senator since World War II to become a major standing committee chairman after only two years in office, earning appointment as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. As Chairman of this committee, which is charged with overseeing the efficiency of the federal government, Thompson worked with the General Accounting Office to unveil the first-ever audit of the federal government, held hearings to spotlight government waste, fraud, and abuse in federal agencies, worked with government agencies to ensure computer security, and introduced the Regulatory Improvement Act, which increased government accountability to the public.

The defining moment of the Senator's time as Chairman, however, came in 1997, when the Governmental Affairs Committee was tapped by the Senate leadership to conduct an investigation into alleged improper or illegal activities growing out of the 1996 federal campaigns. At the center of the investigation was a fundraiser attended by Vice President Gore at a Buddhist temple. The Committee exposed a campaign finance system rife with abuse and open to foreign influence, and produced a 9,600-page report that led to several indictments and criminal investigations.

Thompson served as Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee until June 6, 2001, when Senator Jim Jeffords' resignation from the Republican Party changed the control of the Senate from Republican to Democratic hands. Thompson then became the committee's Ranking Minority Member.

In 1998, Thompson was chosen by Senate leadership to serve on the special Senate task force to examine whether the Chinese governmental improperly obtained American satellite and missile technology. In addition to a review by six federal agencies of the entire dual-use and munitions export licensing process, Thompson also proposed legislation to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by China and other countries and to strengthen the United States' response to such activities.

During his second term in the Senate, Thompson also served on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over a number of major issues, including taxes, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare reform, and international trade.

On March 8, 2002, the Senator announced his decision not to seek a second full term in office. Instead, he returned to acting, taking on the role of District Attorney Arthur Branch in the multiple Law & Ordertelevision series. In doing so, he became the first Senator to tackle a full-time acting job while still in office, filming his first scenes for Law & Order during the Senate's August 2002 recess.

Thompson continues to be active in politics and in the Republican Party. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, he was tapped to narrate a video tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks as well as introduce President George Bush. Additionally, in 2005, Bush assigned Thompson the task of guiding Supreme Court nominee John Roberts through the Senate confirmation process.

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The collection consists of 404 boxes, filling 390.67 linear feet, as well as material in Oversized Storage. The material is divided into five series: Series I. Legislative Files, 1994-2002 Series II. Administrative Files, 1994-2002 Series III. Press Files, 1993-2002 Series IV. Political/Campaign Files, 1994-1996 Series V. Ephemera, 1994-2002

Previous Citation

This collection was previously listed as MS.2113

Other Finding Aids

A full container list for this collection can be found as a [pdf].

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA