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George J. Mitchell

Biography





Mitchell and Muskie

George Mitchell with Senator Edmund Muskie. 1972




Mitchell and Muskie

George Mitchell with Senator Edmund Muskie.




Mitchell and Cohen

Senator William Cohen with Senator Mitchell on the Brewer Bridge in Bangor, Maine. November 11, 1986




Mitchell and Cohen

Mitchell and Cohen look over the bill authorizing the settlement of the Maine Indian land claims. September, 1980




Mitchell at Iran-Contra hearings

Senator Mitchell at the Iran-Contra Senate hearings. Seated next to Mitchell left to right are Senator Warren Rudman, Chief Senate Counsel Arthur Liman and Senator Daniel Inouye. 1987




Swearing in as Senator

Senator Mitchell being sworn in as Senator. January, 1983




Mitchell and Clinton

Senator Mitchell with President Bill Clinton. 1993
This photograph has been modified to fit this format.




Mitchell at leisure

Senator Mitchell at leisure.

(All photographs from: The George J. Mitchell Papers, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library.)

George J. Mitchell was born on August 20, 1933, in Waterville, Maine, to Mary Saad, a factory worker, and George Mitchell, a laborer. Senator Mitchell spent his youth in Waterville. After receiving his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College in 1954, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps until 1956. In 1960 he earned a law degree from Georgetown University.

After serving as a trial lawyer in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department for two years, he took a position as executive assistant to Senator Edmund Muskie from Maine, who became Mitchell's most important political mentor.

Although he returned to Maine from Washington, D.C., in 1965 to work for the private law firm of Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry, he remained active in politics by serving as the state chairman for the Maine Democratic Party from 1966 to 1968. He then held the post of Democratic national committeeman from Maine between 1969 and 1977. In 1968 and 1972 Mitchell also served as deputy director for Muskie's respective vice-presidential and presidential campaign bids. Mitchell himself made an unsuccessful run for governor of Maine in 1974.

In the 1970s he returned to public law practice, serving as a part-time assistant county attorney for Cumberland County while still working for the law firm of Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry. Mitchell accepted the post of U.S. attorney for the state of Maine in 1977. Two years later President Jimmy Carter appointed Mitchell a U.S. district court judge.

In 1980 Senator Muskie was appointed Secretary of State. The senator recommended to Governor Joseph Brennan that Mitchell be appointed to complete the remaining two years of his term. This was the beginning of Mitchell's fourteen-year career in the Senate. He won the election in his own right in 1982 and was reelected in 1988 by a record 81%.

Senator Mitchell served on the Finance Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, the Governmental Affairs Committee, and the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. In 1980 Senator Mitchell worked with Senator William Cohen to achieve authorization of the settlement of the Maine Indian land claims. Other major legislation championed by Senator Mitchell included the first major acid rain bill, reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, an important transportation bill in 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Superfund toxic cleanup legislation, campaign finance reform, and universal health care in 1994. (Visit Senate Career Highlights to read more about George Mitchell's work in the Senate.)

In late 1984 he was appointed chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and led the Democrats in gaining eleven seats and majority control of the Senate in 1986. Following this effort, Senator Mitchell was appointed to the Select Committee on the Iran-Contra Affair in 1987. Mitchell provided one of the most memorable moments of the hearing when he admonished Oliver North to "please remember, that it is possible for an American to disagree with you on aid to the Contras and still love God, and still love this country, just as much as you do. Although He is regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics."

His performance on the Iran-Contra Committee propelled Senator Mitchell into the national spotlight and helped him win the post of Senate majority leader a year later. In electing George Mitchell as their Senate leader, the Democrats were looking for "an effective, articulate national spokesman," said Democratic Senator Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, who would succeed him in the post in 1995, "someone who could frame issues and project what the new Senate is and ought to be."

In March 1994 George Mitchell said he would retire from the Senate at the end of his term. Within a month of his announcement, Justice Harry A. Blackmun announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. Senator Mitchell quickly became President Clinton's top choice to replace Justice Blackmun. In Senator Mitchell, Clinton would have a moderately liberal justice with experience as a legislator, judge and prosecutor who also had the skill to build consensus among the other justices. However, Senator Mitchell turned down the President's offer of the nomination because he wanted to focus his efforts on health care reform. Mitchell noted that "although it would be an honor to be considered for the court, I believe I can best serve by concentrating this year on health-care reform and the rest of the president's agenda for change."

Despite his retirement from the Senate, George Mitchell has remained active in international politics. In November 1995 President Clinton appointed him special advisor to the president of the United States and the secretary of state for economic initiatives in Ireland. The Mitchell Report, released on January 24, 1996, called for a phasing-out of guerilla weapons in Northern Ireland in addition to elections prior to the opening of peace talks. The report was lauded by both British and Irish governments, but the end of a 16-month ceasefire by the I.R.A. in February of 1996 delayed the peace process. Mitchell's mission was eventually completed on April 12, 1998, with the signing of a three-stranded multilateral peace agreement which was approved by public referendum on May 22, 1998. For his service in Northern Ireland Senator Mitchell received numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor that the U.S. Government can give; the Philadelphia Liberty Medal; the Truman Institute Peace Prize; the United Nations (UNESCO) Peace Prize; and the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) highest honor awarded to former student-atheletes, the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

In mid-October of 2000, at the request of President Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, and president of the Palestinian Council Yasser Arafat, Senator Mitchell agreed to serve as chairman of the Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact-Finding Committee. The goal of the committee was to examine the continuing crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians, emphasizing, as stated by Senator Mitchell, the "strong belief that the violence between [the two parties] must be brought to an end." The committee released its report in May 2001.

In addition to his work as an international advisor, Senator Mitchell has also worked on a number of committees and boards both domestically and abroad. Upon leaving the Senate, Mitchell joined the Washington, D.C., law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, which merged with Piper Rudnick in 2003. In 2005, Piper Rudnick joined with the British firm DLA to become DLA Piper, one of the world's largest law firms; Senator Mitchell served as Chairman of the Global Board until his resignation in 2009. He has also served as a director of the Walt Disney Company, Federal Express Corporation, Xerox Corporation, UNUM Provident Corporation, Casella Waste Systems, Inc., Unilever, Staples, Inc., and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. He also serves as the chancellor of Queen's University of Belfast and as president of the Economic Club of Washington, and recently was chairman of the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of crises in international affairs, and chairman of the Special Commission investigating allegations of impropriety in the bidding process for the Olympic games. In December, 2001, Senator Mitchell accepted appointment as overseer of the American Red Cross Liberty Fund, which provides relief for September 11 attack victims and their families.

On March 30, 2006, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, asked Senator Mitchell to lead an investigation into the illegal use of performing enhancing substances in Major League Baseball. Senator Mitchell delivered his report to the Commissioner on December 13, 2007.

President Barack Obama appointed Senator Mitchell as his special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli affairs on January 22, 2009, a position he held until his resignation on May 20, 2011. In June 2011 Senator Mitchell returned to DLA Piper as Chairman Emeritus.

On August 1, 2012, the NCAA appointed Senator Michell to a five year term as independent athletics integrity monitor for Penn State University's athletic program, with the charge to oversee Penn State's compliance with NCAA sanctions.

Senator Mitchell is the author of four books:

  • Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story of the Iran-Contra Hearings (1988)
  • World on Fire: Saving an Endangered Earth (1991)
  • Not for America Alone: The Triumph of Democracy and the Fall of Communism (1997)
  • Making Peace (1999)
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