John Ashcroft is “a man of great integrity, a man of great judgment and a man who knows the law.”
—President George W. Bush
John Ashcroft is a true Missouri success story. He was raised in the Ozarks, elected governor and U.S. Senator, and then appointed attorney general of the United States. He will go down in history not only as one of the most famous Missourians of all time, but also one of the most polarizing figures during his
reign in office. His term as attorney general will be remembered for the period during and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when his office was given tremendous powers under the Patriot Act.
THE EARLY YEARS
John Ashcroft was born in Chicago on May 9, 1942. He and his family moved to Springfield soon after, primarily to be closer to the headquarters of the Assemblies of God. The deeply religious and goal-driven young man graduated from Hillcrest High School with honors and set off for Yale University. After graduating from the Ivy League, he went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1967.
RISE TO FAME
Ashcroft moved back to the Show Me State after completing law school to teach business law at Southwest Missouri State University, but his sights were set on making laws, not teaching them. So in 1973 he set off for the realm of public service and a job in the State Auditor’s Office.
His next step was big, as he landed the position of Missouri’s assistant attorney general. He was the assistant only one year before being elected Missouri attorney general in 1976. He went on to win reelection and ultimately became president of the National Association of attorneys general.
Missouri Attorney General John Ashcroft became Governor John Ashcroft in 1984, a position he held until 1993. His time in office is highlighted by his efforts to crack down on crime and increase support of law enforcement. He focused his efforts on gun laws and stiffening penalties for law breakers. His reputation as a tough but productive politician catapulted him into the U.S. Senate one year after leaving the Governor’s Mansion.
He lost the Senate seat after a controversial election in 2000, which may have been a blessing in disguise. His reelection bid was against then-Governor Mel Carnahan who died in an airplane crash two weeks before the election. Carnahan’s name could not be removed from the ballot, so his wife, Jean Carnahan, announced that she would serve in her husband’s place if he won, which he did. One month after losing the election to a dead man, president-elect George W. Bush named Ashcroft as the nominee for U.S. attorney general. He won the confirmation from the Senate with a vote of 58–42.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
John Ashcroft took over the position of attorney general during one of the most difficult periods in our nation’s history. Not long after assuming the post, the country was attacked by terrorists on September 11. His primary role became prosecuting the people behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He pushed for the passage of the USA Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s power to detain non-citizens, conduct surveillance, and investigate persons suspected of involvement in criminal activity. This act became the official law enforcement tool used to arrest these suspects, including more than 1,200 people jailed after the attacks. After a turbulent time presiding over the office of attorney general, he announced his resignation on November 9, 2004. His term officially ended on February 3, 2005.
After stepping down from the Justice Department, Ashcroft formed a consulting company specializing in homeland security and other business and legal issues. Despite his high-profile positions in Washington, D.C., he always made time to “get back home” to his farm near Willard. His job put him on the front lines of history, but his life continued to revolve around a small town in the Ozark hills.
*John Ashcroft sang with a group of politicians known as “The Singing Senators.”
*Fortune Magazine named him one of the Top 10 Education Governors in the country.
*Authored Lessons from a Father to His Son.