Hubert Humphrey, The Happy Warrior
March 17, 2012
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.
"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."