Even though he has not declared himself a candidate, recent polls show the well-known actor in the top tier of Republican candidates, placing in the top two or three in some states. Already, he is a favorite of U.S. conservatives who are underwhelmed with the current candidates.
Thompson's papers — donated to the University of Tennessee four years ago when he gave up his political career in favor of acting — reveal a candidate whose record on public issues is sometimes inconsistent, often nuanced and occasionally surprising.
As a senator, Thompson voted for legislation to ban so-called partial-birth abortion and to prohibit federal funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
But he also told a 1994 questionnaire, "I do not believe abortion should be criminalized. This battle will be won in the hearts and souls of the American people."
In a candidate survey the same year for The Tennessean newspaper, Thompson said states should have the right to impose "reasonable restrictions on abortions such as parental notification." But he said, "The ultimate decision on abortion should be left with the woman and not the government."
Thompson, 64, represented Tennessee in the Senate from 1994 to 2002.
"There is nothing in there that I can say is going to be earth-shattering or reveals something that people don't already know," Thompson said as he formally presented the papers to the university in 2005.
Chief archivist Bobby Holt said the papers are on loan and the former senator could recall any of the files at any time, but so far Thompson has left them alone.