John Ashbrook

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John M. Ashbrook
John Ashbrook.jpg
Former U.S. Representative from Ohio's 17th Congressional District
From: January 3, 1961 – April 24, 1982
Predecessor Robert W. Levering
Successor Jean Spencer Ashbrook
Former State Representative from Ohio
From: 1957–1961
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Joan Needels (div. 1971)
Jean Spencer
Not to be confused with John Ashcroft, former Attorney General under George W. Bush

John Milan Ashbrook (September 21, 1928 – April 24, 1982) was a leading movement conservative in the 1960s and 1970s as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He challenged and ran against President Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential primary, paving the way for fellow conservative Ronald Reagan's more successful challenge of incumbent President Gerald Ford in the 1976 primary.


A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he graduated from Harvard University and then Ohio State law school.[1] He worked upon graduation of law school for the Johnstown Independent, a weekly newspaper that he father, also a Congressman, had founded in 1884. That gave him publicity to be elected in 1956 as a Republican to the Ohio General Assembly. He served it for two years before being elected to Congress in 1960, where he served 22 years without interruption.

Political career

He was one of the founders of the American Conservative Union and served as its chairman from 1966 to 1971. He was also one of the founders of the draft Barry Goldwater movement in 1963.[2]

Ashbrook voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[3][4] though supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965[5] and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.[6]

John Ashbrook is best known for challenging Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential primary. In Ashbrook's announcement of his candidacy for president, he listed how Nixon had betrayed his campaign promises in 1968 and was governing in the manner of a liberal than a conservative:[7]

"He [Nixon] has led the drive to admit Red China into the United Nations, and watched the cynical expulsion of the Republic of China from that body - though the government on Taiwan is one of America's oldest and closest allies, and despite the fact that he had pledged less than a year ago that we would never desert it."
"He has permitted our defenses to sink from a status of clear superiority to one of bare "sufficiency", and then still further to a level at which stark, irretrievable inferiority is less than two years away."
"He has allowed a deficit of 30 billion dollars in the current fiscal year, with all that implies for the overheating of the economy and the inevitable accompanying inflation - and has then sought to mask the inflationary effect by imposing an absurd tangle of wage and price controls that are already being widely ignored, in large part because nobody can possibly understand them."
"He has allowed still bigger deficits in the years ahead, and still more vicious cycles of inflation and regimentation, by calling for the early enactment of a Family Assistance Plan that will easily double the already swollen cost of welfare to the taxpaying citizens of this country."

Ashbrook received 9.6% of the vote in New Hampshire, less than 9% in Florida, and then 10% in Nixon's home state of California, before pulling out. Later, when the Watergate scandal hit, he was among the first Republicans to call for Nixon's resignation. Ashbrook was preparing for a Senate run in 1982 when he died suddenly at the age of only 53, after eating in a restaurant.

Suspicious death

Ashbrook's death was considered suspicious at the time by many, such as the physician and fellow Representative Larry McDonald, who stated that it was "strange" and "tragic".[8] He had announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and was ahead in the polls. He had excellent health and was vigorous. Ashbrook was a leading anti-communist in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ashbrook had eaten a meal at a restaurant and then fell sick soon thereafter. He was promptly taken to the hospital and died soon thereafter. The hospital claimed that he had died of a heart attack, though such was false. Another obituary says he died from a peptic ulcer.[9] However, as reported in his obituary in The New York Times, the county coroner provided a different analysis:[4]

A hospital official had reported earlier that Mr. Ashbrook had apparently suffered a heart attack in his hometown of Johnstown, but Dr. Robert Baker, the Licking County coroner, who performed a preliminary autopsy, said the Congressman had died of massive stomach and intestinal bleeding. Dr. Baker said a more extensive autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of the bleeding.

Death by massive stomach and internal bleeding would be caused by being given something improper to eat.

Wikipedia ignores and omits the suspicious nature of his death.


Shortly after his death, the Ashbrook Center was established at Ashland University in his home state of Ohio, which remains a major part of the university. It has hosted prominent conservatives as guest speakers including President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Massachusetts Governor (and 2012 presidential candidate) Mitt Romney. Ashbrook's papers are maintained at the center, consisting of 309 feet of documents (mostly congressional papers) and personal documents spanning 1950 to 1982.

See also


  • American National Biography, Volume I, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (Oxford University Press, 1999)


External links

  • Profile at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress