James R. Thompson was among the foremost crusaders against organized crime in Chicago. Working as a federal prosecutor, he convicted many prominent and powerful politicians of Illinois for corruption. These cases generated a lot of attention and formed the foundation for Thompson’s candidacy as ‘Governor of Illinois’. Such was his reputation that he won the elections by garnering a record number of votes. During his tenure, Thompson handled effectively the finances of Illinois at a time when the entire country’s economy was going through a difficult phase. His effective campaigns, where he used his witty and charismatic personality to full extent, were vital for the Republican Party to win in Illinois. After serving as Governor for a staggering fourteen years, Thompson quit politics and returned to his career of an advocate and joined a law firm. He always held high positions in the firm, which handled cases of both state and national importance. His standing as a successful politician and legal officer was reaffirmed as he was on an elite panel of ten people chosen to the ‘9/11 commission’. Not the one to sit back and rest, he continues to be involved in various organizations in diverse fields, providing his skills to further various important causes.
Childhood & Early Life
James Robert Thompson was born in Chicago, Illinois, to pathologist Dr. James Robert Thompson and Agnes Josephine Thompson. James spent his childhood in the Garfield Park area and had the ambition of becoming ‘President of the US’ at a very young age.
In 1953, after graduating from high school, Thompson enrolled at the ‘University of Illinois’ in Chicago for his pre-law studies. He studied there for two years and then at ‘Washington University’ in St. Louis for a year.
He next studied at the ‘Northwestern University Law School’ and got his Juris Doctor Degree in 1959. The same year, he joined the Illinois bar and worked for five years as a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s office in Cook County.
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In 1964, he joined ‘Northwestern University’ as an ‘Associate Professor’ of criminal law and taught at the University for five years.
He was appointed by President Nixon as an ‘Assistant Attorney General’ in 1969, following which he fought over 200 cases in the ‘Illinois Supreme Court’.
In 1975, Thompson quit his job and became a counsel with a law firm in Chicago. The next year, due his popularity which he earned by handling high-profile cases, he was elected as a Republican candidate for the post of ‘Governor of Illinois’.
In the 1976 elections, he defeated Democratic candidate Michael Howlett by a comfortable margin, securing about 65 percent of the votes. The next year, he assumed the office of ‘Governor of Illinois’.
His first term lasted only for two years as the state of Illinois shifted the timing of gubernatorial election to coincide with the midterm Congressional election. He was re-elected three more times and served as the ‘Governor of Illinois’ for a total of fourteen years.
President George H.W. Bush appointed Thompson as the Chairman of the ‘President’s Intelligence Oversight Board’ in 1989. The board advises the President regarding the legality of workings of foreign intelligence agencies. Thompson worked in this role for four years.
In 1991, he left politics and joined a Chicago law firm called ‘Winston & Strawn LLP’. He served in various high-profile positions for the firm and is currently the Senior Chairman. Under him, the firm handled cases related to government regulations.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on USA, he was appointed to the 9/11 Commission in 2002. The commission prepared a report on the cause and nature of the attacks and the response to be undertaken.
Thompson currently heads the Audit Committee for the Chicago-based media company ‘Hollinger International’, founded by businessman Conrad Black who was convicted of fraud.
He is a member of many public-service boards such as ‘JBT Corporation’, ‘Navigant Consulting Group, Inc.’, ‘Rare Isotope Accelerator Task Force’ and ‘ABA Committee on Sentencing Reform’.
During his tenure as an ‘Assistant Attorney General’, he successfully tried and convicted many prominent politicians on charges of corruption, such as Mayor Richard Daley, former Governor Otto Kerner Jr. and former U.S. Senator William Rentschler. He also fought the ground-breaking ‘Escobedo versus Illinois’ case in the ‘Supreme Court of the United States’.
He served as the ‘Governor of Illinois’ for fourteen years during which he settled complicated Labor-management issues, regularly travelled abroad to further the business interests of Illinois and also organized many trade missions to Europe, Mexico, Canada, Asia and the Middle East.
Awards & Achievements
He was chosen as one of the USA’s 100 most influential lawyers by the ‘National Law Journal’ in 1997, and again featured in the list after three years.
Personal Life & Legacy
Thompson married an attorney, Jayne A. Carr in 1976 during his campaign for Governorship. The couple has a daughter, Samantha Jane.
This respected and long-serving former Illinois Governor wanted to become ‘President of the U.S’ when he was just eleven years old and wrote in his high school yearbook, ‘1984, President of the U.S’.