Gingrich, Newton Leroy

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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With his election as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 1995, Newton Leroy Gingrich (R-Ga.) became a powerful politician. Assuming control of the first Republican majority in the House since 1952, Gingrich ruled that body during his first year with an authority not seen since the nineteenth century. The veteran congressman from Georgia used his new position to proclaim the arrival of an era in which his conservative agenda?including lower taxes, decentralized government, and deep cuts in social programs?would fundamentally alter the fabric of U.S. society.

Since his arrival on the Washington, D.C., scene in 1979 as a brash and combative new member of Congress, Gingrich has shaped and guided Republican efforts on Capitol Hill. With an affinity for both intellectual debate and back-room deal making, this white-haired former professor provided the vision, verve, and ideas that built a Republican majority. His opponents, however, accuse him of a lack of concern for poor and disadvantaged persons as well as an overly optimistic view of technology and the free market. Observers have described his actions in Congress as alternately brilliant and petty, leaving many to wonder whether he will be a passing footnote or a pivotal chapter in U.S. political history.

Gingrich was born June 17, 1943, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His parents, Newton C. McPherson and Kathleen Daugherty McPherson, were separated after only three days of marriage. Gingrich's mother remarried three years after his birth, and her new husband, Robert Bruce Gingrich, adopted Gingrich. Gingrich's adoptive father was a career army officer, and the family moved frequently, living in Kansas, France, Germany, and Fort Benning, Georgia.



In 1958, the 15-year-old Gingrich accompanied his family on a trip to Verdun, France, site of the bloodiest battle of WORLD WAR I. Deeply moved by the story and scene of the battle, along with a visit to rooms filled with bones of the dead, Gingrich experienced an epiphany that he later described as "the driving force which pushed me into history and politics, and molded my life." The day after this visit, he told his family that he would run for Congress because politicians could prevent such senseless bloodshed. Later, as both a student and a young professor, he would tell others of his desire to become Speaker of the House.

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Newt Gingrich.


At age 19, Gingrich, who was then an undergraduate at Emory University, married his former high school math teacher, Jackie Battley. The couple had two daughters, Linda Kathleen and Jacqueline Sue. Gingrich completed his bachelor of arts degree at Emory in 1965 and a doctor of philosophy degree in modern history at Tulane University in 1971. A liberal, reformminded Republican in these years, Gingrich worked for Nelson A. Rockefeller's 1968 presidential campaign in Louisiana.

Gingrich took his first college teaching job at West Georgia College, in Carrollton, Georgia, with one eye toward an eventual seat in Congress. He nevertheless became a popular teacher at West Georgia, and founded environmental studies and future studies programs.

In 1974 and 1976, Gingrich ran for a seat in the U.S. House from Georgia's Sixth District, a rural and suburban region on the northern outskirts of Atlanta. Still voicing moderate and even liberal positions, he was endorsed in 1974 by the liberal newspaper the Atlanta Constitution. He narrowly lost both elections. In a move that some have called a calculated ploy to gain political office, Gingrich cast himself as...

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