Despite not hosting a presidential candidate since 1992, Wheaton College has a rich history of hosting, producing and gaining support from prominent political leaders since its foundation by Jonathan Blanchard — who once ran for president himself — in 1860.
Of all of Wheaton’s renowned visitors, perhaps the most impressive are the nine presidential candidates who visited Wheaton’s campus between 1960 and 1992. The first was Richard M. Nixon, the Vice President and 1960 Republican presidential candidate at the time. Nixon appeared at a rally on McCully field and, according to the Wheaton College Archives, encouraged the crowd to “strengthen the faith of America” and “see that young people grow up with faith in God.” Nixon later won the presidency.
President Jimmy Carter was the last president to visit Wheaton. He delivered the February 1992 LeRoy H. Pfund Lecture. Other visitors with presidential aspirations included Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, 1964 Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, 1972 Democratic candidate George McGovern, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a populist Democrat who ran for president in 1896, 1900 and 1908, was also a guest of Wheaton. Most recently, 2012 Republican Vice Presidential and current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave a speech at a Wheaton breakfast in spring of 2015.
Many alumni have also gone on to become recognized public figures. Disgraced ex-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was a 1964 graduate. At one point, Hastert served in Congress alongside three other Wheaton graduates: Republican Indiana Senator Dan Coats ’65, Republican Michigan Representative Paul B. Henry ’63 and Democratic Washington Representative Jim McDermott ’58.
Other alumni in politics include Michael Gerson ’86, chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush who helped write Bush’s memorable post-9/11 speeches. More infamously, David R. Young Jr. ’59 was a special assistant at the National Security Council in the Nixon Administration. Young co-founded the White House Special Investigations Unit — known as “The Plumbers” — known for breaking into a psychiatry office and later attempting to break into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex, instigating the Watergate scandal.
Additionally, several public figures have supported Wheaton financially in the past as Trustees. Owen Lovejoy was a founding Trustee of Wheaton College, U.S. Congressman and friend of Abraham Lincoln. A scholarship was later presented in his name. Another trustee, Salmon P. Chase, was a Senator, governor of Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chase was the great-great uncle of Wheaton’s sixth president and the great-great-great uncle of Ken Chase, current chair of the Communication department at Wheaton. He is also the face of the $10,000 bill.
David Iglesias, current director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics and professor of politics and law, graduated from Wheaton in 1980. In 2001, Iglesias was appointed the U.S. State Attorney for the District of New Mexico under the Bush administration. He also served in the U.S. Navy in 2008 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom as a terrorism and war crimes prosecutor and has held various other national and state positions. Iglesias said Wheaton helped prepare him for public service in three ways: “It gave me the confidence to speak in public; it gave me the Biblical basis for getting involved in the political process; it helped me organize my thoughts and ensure I was focusing on facts, not arguments.”
Politics and international relations department chair and associate professor of politics Bryan McGraw said Wheaton tries to “prepare all of our students to exercise leadership in whatever field they choose to go into.” Specifically, Wheaton equips aspiring political leaders to use the gifts given to them to effect justice worldwide, according to McGraw. “We would hope that Wheaton graduates — and Christians more broadly — would be more likely to grasp that call clearly and have the freedom and courage to put it into effect.”