Tom Cotton: A Biography of the Arkansas Senator

By | January 17, 2023

Early Life

Tom Cotton was born on May 13, 1977 in Dardanelle, Arkansas to a family of cotton farmers. In his early years, Cotton lived in Dardanelle, even going to the local highschool before eventually graduating from Harvard University. His time at Harvard included studying government and completing the ROTC program.

After his time at Harvard, Cotton served as a captain in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army and was deployed to Baghdad in 2006.

Family background

Tom Cotton was born on May 13, 1977 in Dardanelle, Arkansas. He is the son of Thomas Leonard Cotton Sr., a farmer and businessman, and Avis (Bunyard) Cotton. His brother Jonathan is currently serving as mayor of Dardanelle.

Cotton’s paternal grandparents immigrated to Arkansas from England during the period between World War I and World War II. His maternal grandfather was from New York City and worked as manager at an Arkansas sawmill; his grandmother was described as a Southern Quaker woman who helped former slaves learn to read and opened her home as a clinic for Confederate veterans after the Civil War.

The Cottons are distantly related to future president John F Kennedy; they share 8th great-grandparents in common.

Cotton’s parents were both influential members of the local landowning elite in Yell County, although his mother chose not to directly participate in politics until later life when she joined the Republican Party due to her opposition to President Bill Clinton’s policies.


Tom Cotton was born in Dardanelle, Arkansas in 1977. His family then moved to Arkansas when he was four years old. Cotton attended Harvard University, where he earned an A. B. cum laude in government with a concentration in history, graduating in 1998. Afterward, he was selected as a distinguished International Security Fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and also served as an editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy where his work included articles on constitutional law and federalism.

In 2004, Cotton graduated from Claremont Graduate University with a master’s degree in public policy and international affairs; finishing magna cum laude first in class and receiving the Claremont Institute Award for outstanding academic achievement and excellence of character by a political scientist graduating from the Public Policy Institute at CGU. He also attended the Claremont Institute’s Washington D.C.-based Lincoln Fellows Program during that time period, which prepares future leaders to guide America through her perilous present toward a more promising future based upon the country’s founding principles, natural law philosophy and all that is best about her past and tradition-oriented practices.

Cotton undertook additional post-graduate studies at Claremont McKenna College before enrolling at Harvard Law School in 2005; where he was awarded his J.D., magna cum laude, ranking first overall out of 560 students graduating in 2008 within the top percentile of his class with graduation awards including the Dean’s Scholar Prize for achieving “the highest grade point average among students who completed four years of legal education” as well as selection by faculty panelists one year earlier to receive The Ames Moot Court Award recognizing advocacy – one student per annum – “on behalf of appellant/petitioner over four semesters shown most consistent improvement throughout tenure entailing complex legal briefs written & outstanding oral arguments delivered before Supreme Court Justices & other court dignitaries…”

Military Service

Senator Tom Cotton is a veteran of the United States Army, having served from 2005 to 2009. During his time in the military, he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the Combat Infantry Badge, Ranger Tab, and Bronze Star. He was also awarded the prestigious Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and Overseas Service Ribbon.

Senator Cotton is an outspoken advocate for veterans, often talking about their challenges on the Senate floor.

Roles and responsibilities

Tom Cotton served as a part of the United States Military for five years, from 2005 to 2010. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry following his graduation from Harvard and was later promoted to first lieutenant.

Cotton’s primary roles were in leadership, training, and mentoring. He oversaw junior officers and enlisted soldiers while ensuring their preparedness for active duty missions and operations. He also developed leadership training programs that addressed:

  • Physical readiness
  • Combat skills
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Operations orders writing ability
  • Religious sensitivities
  • Inspections know-how
  • Family support preparedness
  • Response planning
  • Moral/ethical reasoning

In addition to these duties, Tom organized numerous motivational programs to inspire soldiers on deployment or facing challenging missions or extended tours at home and abroad. He additionally led efforts to develop effective practices within field operations that allowed for maximized productivity with minimized risk of harm or injury.


Throughout his career in the military, Senator Tom Cotton achieved numerous awards and honors. He was recognized with a number of decorations, among them the Army Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

He was also presented with Bronze Stars for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Cotton held several leadership positions within the United States military, including serving as a Platoon Leader in the Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery and as an Intelligence Officer on assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007-2008 he was assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – 82 in Afghanistan where he received several commendations.

Senator Cotton has also been awarded several medals related to leadership:

  • The Order of the British Empire (OBE)
  • The Army Achievement Medal (AAM)
  • The Air Assault Badge (AAB)
  • The Naval Achievement Medal (NAM)
  • The Meritorious Unit Citation (MUC)

Political Career

Tom Cotton is a Republican United States Senator from Arkansas, serving since 2015. He is a member of several Senate committees, including the Select Committee on Intelligence. His main focuses and priorities include:

  • Reversing the growth of federal spending
  • Reforming the tax code
  • Reducing burdensome regulations
  • Keeping taxes low

He has been outspoken in his criticism of many of the Obama-era policies and has been a staunch supporters of pro-growth policies since entering the Senate.

Early political involvements

Tom Cotton has been active in politics since an early age, having cultivated an interest in government and policy during his college years. From 2002 to 2003, he was a clerk for Judge J.L. Edmonds of the Supreme Court of Arkansas, working on appeals and other issues related to the judiciary. He held this position while also working towards earning his law degree at Harvard Law School, which he completed in 2002.

In 2004 Cotton ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a seat in the United States House of Representatives based in Arkansas’s 4th congressional district. His campaign was unsuccessful, but it inspired him to maintain his interest in public service and domestic policy issues. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Cotton decided to forgo pursuing a career as a lawyer instead choosing to enter the United States Army through its Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). He served two tours including one combat tour in Iraq from 2006-2007 and served as legal advisor during combat operations against al Qaeda militants.

While serving overseas he began planning his next political venture including:

  • Building relationships with key political operatives from both sides of the aisle.
  • Building relationships within Arkansas state politics.

His military service ended in 2009 and he immediately returned to Arkansas beginning work as a Political Director for U.S Representative John Boozman who held the State’s 3rd Congressional seat since 2001. Cotton developed policy positions on domestic issues such as healthcare and foreign investments which helped Boozman remain competitive against opponents while running campaigns for re-election between 2008–2010 before running successfully for Senate himself in 2012.

U.S. Senate career

Tom Cotton began his US Senate career in 2015 when he was elected to represent the state of Arkansas. During his time in office, he has been a strong proponent of conservative and constitutional values. He is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, armed services, intelligence and agriculture committees.

In the Senate, Tom Cotton has earned recognition for both his positions on domestic issues and foreign policy concerns. He voted against all Democratic measures that would have created higher taxes or increased spending and worked toward delivering relief from regulations that hurt Arkansas businesses – such as those related to health care and environmental protection. He also pushed for stronger security against illegal immigration and emphasized the importance of protecting our national sovereignty from threats like radical terrorism.

His influence on foreign policy matters has been notable as well – seeking to strengthen ties between countries throughout Europe, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa, while ensuring we address humanitarian needs abroad with compassion but also military security where necessary. Through his efforts on tough sanctions against North Korea to possible future trade deals with Asian counterparts or countering Russian aggression, Tom Cotton’s leadership has gained international attention. Since joining the senate he has defended US interests by seeking closer alliance with traditional trading partners while standing firmly against Iran nuclear deal agreements negotiated by President Obama’s administration in 2015.

Personal Life

Tom Cotton was born in Dardanelle, Arkansas, in 1977. He is the son of Thomas Leonard and Avis Cotton, both retired educators. He grew up in Yell County and attended Dardanelle Public Schools, where he was an honor student.

He attended Harvard University, where he completed a Bachelor’s degree in government in 1998. Cotton was an Army Ranger from 2004 to 2006 and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is married to Anna Peckham, and they have one daughter, Caroline.


Tom Cotton is the son of Avis and Len Cotton, who were both born in Arkansas. His father was an executive of a shipping company and his mother was a schoolteacher. He has three siblings – two brothers, James and Jonathan, and one sister, Catherine.

Cotton comes from a long line of military tradition: his father served as an Army signal officer in Germany during World War II and his grandfather was a pilot in the Navy during World War I. He was raised in Dardanelle, Arkansas with family values of faith, hard work, and servant leadership as the core inspiration for his life choices.

Cotton married Anna Peckham on June 2nd 2012 in Washington D.C., after meeting through their work at the White House in 2006. Since that time they have welcomed their first daughter Lucy into the world early 2019 – creating much joy within their family home near Capitol Hill.

Interests and hobbies

Senator Tom Cotton engages in a number of activities outside of his professional duties. He is an avid golfer and plays the game frequently. Additionally, he enjoys spending time outdoors and exploring nature, especially fishing in the nearby streams and lakes of Arkansas. He also reads regularly and is well-versed in several different topics from contemporary politics to classic literature.

Cotton is also deeply involved with charities like HUNT Across America, a faith-based outdoor adventure program that encourages outdoor activities among young people in rural areas. In his spare time, he likes to relax at home with his family as well as host dinner parties for friends and acquaintances.


Tom Cotton has a distinguished career in public service. He was elected in 2014 to represent Arkansas in the United States Senate, and he currently serves on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. He has earned both bipartisan support and recognition for his achievements in the Senate.

Awards and honors

Throughout his career, Senator Tom Cotton has been acknowledged for his public service with a variety of awards and honors. In 2003, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. In 2010, he received the Soldier’s Medal for heroism for rescuing an injured soldier from a burning vehicle. Other awards include the Annual Defender of Liberty Award from the Republican Liberty Caucus in 2013 and the Guardian of Small Business award from the National Federation of Independent Business in 2016.

In 2015, Senator Cotton was elected to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics’ Senior Advisory Committee to advise the institute on issues relating to American politics and public service. He began serving on this committee in 2016 and is still active as a member today. Additionally, he was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018 and was included as number thirteen on Politico’s list of “50 Politicos To Watch” that same year.

Additionally, several schools have honored Senator Cotton with honorary degrees or special recognition including:

  • Harding University which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree in 2017.
  • Hendrix College which bestowed upon him an Honorary Member degree from Phi Beta Kappa in 2019.
  • The Citadel where he served as the 2020 commencement speaker receiving an Honorary Degree in Social Science at the event held virtually due to covid-19 precaution concerns.

Notable legislative accomplishments

Throughout his time in politics, Tom Cotton has made several successful legislative achievements. One of the most notable accomplishments was his effort in crafting the bipartisan Iran deal, which effectively addressed the country’s nuclear program and ensured greater stability in the Middle East region. He also introduced The Investigating Russia’s Interference in the 2016 Election Act of 2018, a comprehensive bill that sought to address election meddling and national security threats by Russia.

In addition to introducing legislation, Representative Cotton was heavily involved with several Committees when he was in Congress. He served as vice chair on both the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform and House Committee on Intelligence, as well as being a member of numerous other congressional committees such as

  • Armed Services
  • Select Committee on Ethics
  • Small Business
  • Transporation and Infrastructure
  • Veterans’ Affairs
  • Ways & Means
  • Agriculture

During his many different roles he worked hard to ensure better infrastructure for veterans, reduce student loan debt for college students, increase access to telemedicine for those living in rural areas, support small businesses through tax reform incentives, initiate budget reforms and empower oversight of government agencies.

Tom Cotton has spent much of his career working toward reforms that will benefit Arkansas families as well as all Americans across the country through thoughtful legislation and advocacy. His dedication to public service can been seen throughout his time in office—from creating jobs and improving national security to assisting veterans—which highlights his commitment to public service.