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Hubert Humphrey, The Happy Warrior

March 17, 2012

Minnesota elected Humphrey to the United States Senate in 1948 on the DFL ticket, unseating incumbent Republican Joseph H. Ball with 60% of the vote, and he took office on January 3, 1949. He was the first Democrat elected senator from the state of Minnesota since before the Civil War. Humphrey's father died that year, and Humphrey stopped using the "Jr." suffix on his name. He was re-elected in 1954 and 1960. His colleagues selected him as majority whip in 1961, a position he held until he left the Senate on December 29, 1964 to assume the vice presidency. During this period, he served in the 81st, 82nd, 83rd, 84th, 85th, 86th, 87th, and a portion of the 88th Congress.

Initially, Humphrey's support of civil rights led to his being ostracized by Southern Democrats, who dominated most of the Senate leadership positions and who wanted to punish Humphrey for proposing the successful civil rights platform at the 1948 Convention. However, Humphrey refused to be intimidated and stood his ground; his integrity, passion and eloquence eventually earned him the respect of even most of the Southerners. His acceptance by the Southerners was also helped a great deal when Humphrey became a protege of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. Humphrey became known for his advocacy of liberal causes (such as civil rights, arms control, a nuclear test ban, food stamps, and humanitarian foreign aid), and for his long and witty speeches. During the period of McCarthyism (1950–1954), Humphrey was accused of being "soft on Communism", despite having been one of the founders of the anti-communist liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action, having been a staunch supporter of the Truman Administration's efforts to combat the growth of the Soviet Union, and having fought Communist political activities in Minnesota and elsewhere. In addition, Humphrey "was a sponsor of the clause in the McCarran Act of 1950 threatening concentration camps for 'subversives'", and in 1954 proposed to make mere membership in the Communist Party a felony — a proposal that failed. He was chairman of the Select Committee on Disarmament (84th and 85th Congresses). Although "Humphrey was an enthusiastic supporter of every U.S. war from 1938 to 1978", in February, 1960, he introduced a bill to establish a National Peace Agency. As Democratic whip in the Senate in 1964, Humphrey was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of that year. Humphrey's consistently cheerful and upbeat demeanor, and his forceful advocacy of liberal causes, led him to be nicknamed "The Happy Warrior" by many of his Senate colleagues and political journalists.

While President John F. Kennedy gets credit for creating the Peace Corps, the first initiative came from Humphrey when he introduced the first bill to create the Peace Corps in 1957—three years prior to JFK and his University of Michigan speech. In his autobiography, The Education of a Public Man, Humphrey wrote:

"There were three bills of particular emotional importance to me: the Peace Corps, a disarmament agency, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The President, knowing how I felt, asked me to introduce legislation for all three. I introduced the first Peace Corps bill in 1957. It did not meet with much enthusiasm. Some traditional diplomats quaked at the thought of thousands of young Americans scattered across their world. Many senators, including liberal ones, thought the idea was silly and unworkable. Now, with a young president urging its passage, it became possible and we pushed it rapidly through the Senate. It is fashionable now to suggest that Peace Corps Volunteers gained as much or more, from their experience as the countries they worked. That may be true, but it ought not demean their work. They touched many lives and made them better."

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