Hubert Humphrey

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Hubert Humphrey
Hubert humphrey.jpg
38th Vice-President of the United States
Term of office
20 January 1965 - 20 January 1969
Political party Democratic
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Lyndon B. Johnson
Succeeded by Spiro Agnew
Born May 27, 1911
Wallace, South Dakota
Died January 13, 1978
Waverly, Minnesota
Spouse Muriel Buck Humphrey
Religion United Church of Christ/United Methodist

Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. (May 27, 1911 – January 13, 1978), called HHH, was a leading New Deal liberal Democrat of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, serving as Vice President under Lyndon Johnson from 1965 to 1969. He was defeated for the presidency by Republican Richard M. Nixon in 1968. As senator from Minnesota he spoke for all the liberal causes, especially on behalf of organized labor and civil rights. He helped purge the Democratic party of its far-left elements in the 1940s and supported the containment policy in the Cold War. He tried but failed to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, 1972, and 1976 as the old New Deal Coalition fell apart.


Humphrey was born in Wallace, South Dakota, the son of a small-town druggist. His father was a literary aficionado, classical music enthusiast, strong proponent of religion, egalitarian, and fervent local Democrat who inculcated the values of the New Deal Coalition into the son. The family shared in the hardships of the drought and Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, thus shaping Humphrey's liberal political philosophy. He entered the University of Minnesota in 1929, but withdrew in his sophomore year because of financial hardship and was not able to resume his studies for six years. In 1939 Humphrey graduated, magna cum laude, and in 1940 he received a master's degree in political philosophy at Louisiana State University, where he subsequently taught. He later taught at the University of Minnesota and at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. While teaching, he became active in Minnesota politics and helped merge the Democratic party with the far-left "Farmer Labor" party in Minnesota; Humphrey served as state DFL campaign chairman for the Roosevelt-Truman ticket in 1944.


He ran for mayor of Minneapolis in 1943 and lost, but won in 1945, at age 34. He was always an energetic and accessible candidate, going to his constituents rather than waiting for them to come to him. He had already developed the tendency to orate at great lengths. Humphrey was endlessly cheerful, forceful, energetic, witty and concerned with the well-being of his campaign workers. He was fastidious in his personal appearance and preferred neat and clean surroundings even at his campaign headquarters. Humphrey failed in 1943 to gain the support of the far-left-wing leadership of the Minneapolis CIO nor did he receive Teamster leadership backing. Perhaps he would have won if he had not been bluntly honest in informing a gathering of bartenders that he would eradicate vice, gambling, and liquor law abuses once he took office.

Once in office his efficiency and volubility attracted statewide attention. As mayor, he championed the causes of police and city charter reform, adequate housing, and labor-management cooperation. He led the fight against racial discrimination in the city.


He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948, becoming the first Democrat to win a Senate election in the state. Farm cooperatives played an important role in his win. The normally nonpartisan Minnesota cooperatives entered the campaign in order to combat Republican proposals to tax patronage rebates. Joining with labor unions, the cooperatives sided with Humphrey in the factional battle within the DFL Party between Humphrey's anti-Communist wing and far-left supporters of Henry Wallace and Elmer Benson. With the cooperatives' help, Humphrey won control of the party and extended his influence into rural areas. Cooperatives also helped to defeat Congressman Howard Knutson, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who supported the taxation of patronage rebates.[1]

He was reelected in 1954 and 1960. Humphrey was an outspoken liberal on any and all issues. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee he was known for his "Food for Peace" and multilateral disarmament proposals, as well as for his sponsorship of farm and welfare measures. Having seen the perverse ability of the Communists to infiltrate organizations like CIO labor unions and farmer Labor groups, he helped drafted and promoted the "Communist Control Act" of 1954 as a civil libertarian measure.[2]

Underfunded, he was defeated by John F. Kennedy for the presidential nomination in 1960. As Senate majority whip in 1961–64, Humphrey proved efficient in organizing support for the passage of major legislation, especially Johnson's liberal Great Society. He had been one of the most zealous advocates of a strong civil rights bill ever since his successful effort in 1948 to write an unprecedented civil rights plank into the platform of the Democratic Party. To assure passage of the Civil Rights bill in 1964, Humphrey permitted Republicans such as Everett Dirksen to take credit for the bill by turning active sponsorship over to them. He also actively supported the Peace Corps, urban renewal, federal aid to education, and the nuclear test ban treaty.

Vice president

Hubert Humphrey booted Fannie Lou Hamer out of the 1964 Democrat convention, seated the all-white Mississippi delegation, and was rewarded with the VP spot.[3] In 1968 HHH was nominated despite never appearing on any ballot in any primary.
See also: United States presidential election, 1964

In 1964 he was selected by Lyndon B. Johnson as vice president. His advice was completely ignored by Johnson, 1965–1968. Privately, he was increasingly dissatisfied with Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War, but told no one.

1964 Convention: Mississippi Freedom Party

See also: Black history

The Mississippi Freedom Party was organized by African Americans to challenge the establishment Democratic Party, which allowed participation only by whites. The party ran a slate of delegates with close to 80,000 people casting ballots.[4] The party hoped to replace the Regular Democrats as the official Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

At the convention the party challenged the Regular Democrats' right to be seated, claiming that the Regular Democrats were illegally elected in a segregated process that violated both party regulations and federal law.[5] The Equal Protection Clause had been on the books for nearly 100 years already. The Democratic Party referred the challenge to the credentials committee,[6] which televised its proceedings and allowed the nation to see and hear the moving testimony of several delegates and the retaliation inflicted on them by Democrats for attempting to vote.[7]

After that, most observers and pundits thought the credentials committee were ready to unseat the Regular Democrats and seat the Freedom Party delegates in their place. But some Democrats from other states threatened to leave the convention and bolt the party if the Regular Democrats were unseated. President Johnson wanted a united convention and feared losing support. To ensure his victory in November, Johnson maneuvered to prevent the Mississippi Freedom Democrats from replacing the all-white Regular Democrats.

Two future Democrat Presidential nominees, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, denied Blacks equal protection and made a mockery of the civil rights movement.[8] Johnson held a private meeting with Humphrey, Mondale, Roy Wilkins, Andrew Young, United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther and Martin Luther King Jr. A plan was hatched to offer the Freedom Democrats two non-voting At-Large seats with observer status, rather than replace the all-white delegation which had been undemocratically and illegally elected.[9] Johnson arrogated to himself the right to pick which two, and Johnson chose one white and one black. Johnson dispatched Humphrey and Mondale and ordered them to make sure that “that illiterate woman," Fannie Lou Hamer would never be a delegate. Dr. King protested and was told by Reuther to shut up.

The offer was rejected, but Humphrey and Mondale remained powerhouse liberals in the Democratic party for another 20 years.


Time May 3, 1968 suggests HHH has seen better days; the picture is askew (tilted right); the poster is old and worn; the left side of HHH's face is creased or perhaps wounded. The "Happy Warrior" is glum.

see United States presidential election, 1968

When Johnson was forced to pull out of the 1968 election by a poor showing in the first primary, Humphrey became the choice of labor unions, Democratic party officials, and city machines. He won the nomination without entering any primaries. After an intense campaign, in the closing days he repudiated Johnson's policy on the Vietnam War, thus winning back some disaffected voters on the far-left. Meanwhile, his union allies managed to undercut George Wallace's appeal to white ethnics. Once far behind Nixon, Humphrey almost caught up, but failed as the New Deal Coalition collapsed and the Fifth Party System ended.

Re-election to the Senate

He won election to the Senate again in 1970 and 1976. In 1977 he tried to become Senate majority leader. As an advocate of activist government, Humphrey campaigned on a traditional liberal agenda. Humphrey's association with Johnson's discredited big-government policies, the war in Vietnam, and the New Deal tradition hurt his campaign. Democratic senators, especially the newer and younger members, wanted a Senate leader who would assist them in pursuing the legislative interests of their constituency rather than one who would advocate for an ideological agenda. Exalted Cyclops Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia was elected Democrat Senate Majority Leader because he favored a more limited role for government and would facilitate the programs of his peers rather than the traditional policies of his party.[10]

Humphrey died in office of cancer.

See also

Further reading

  • Converse, Philip E.; Miller, Warren E.; Rusk, Jerrold G.; Wolfe, Arthur C. "Continuity and Change in American Politics: Parties and Issues in the 1968 Election." American Political Science Review 1969 63(4): 1083–1105, uses advanced statistics.
  • Fleming, Dan B., Jr. Kennedy vs. Humphrey, West Virginia, 1960: The Pivotal Battle for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. (1992). 216 pp.
  • Garrettson, Charles Lloyd, Hubert H. Humphrey: The Politics of Joy. (1993). 372 pp.; emphasizes Humphrey's religiosity
  • Mann, Robert. The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell and the Struggle for Civil Rights. (1996) 609 pp.
  • Natoli, Marie D. "The Humphrey Vice Presidency in Retrospect." Presidential Studies Quarterly 1982 12(4): 603–609. 0360-4918
  • Solberg, Carl. Hubert Humphrey (2003), scholarly biography excerpt and text search
  • Thurber, Timothy N. The Politics of Equality: Hubert H. Humphrey and the African American Freedom Struggle. (1999) 352 pp.
  • White, Theodore H. The Making of the President 1968 (1969), sophisticated reporting

Primary sources

  • Humphrey, Hubert H. The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics (1976), autobiography. excerpt and text search
  • Kampelman, Max M. Entering New Worlds: The Memoirs of a Private Man in Public Life. (1991). 402 pp, by a top HHH adviser
  • "The Once & Future Humphrey" Time May 3, 1968

Notes & References

  1. John Earl Haynes, "Farm Coops and the Election of Hubert Humphrey to the Senate" Agricultural History 1983 57(2): 201-211. 0002-1482
  2. Mary S. McAuliffe, "Liberals and the Communist Control Act of 1954." Journal of American History 1976 63(2): 351-367. 0021-8723
  3. Fannie Lou Hamer's Powerful Testimony, American Experience, PBS. youtube.
  4. Freedom Ballot in MS ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  5. The Mississippi Movement & the MFDP ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  6. Branch, Taylor (1998). Pillar of Fire. Simon & Schuster. 
  7. Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, (New York: Random House, 1967), p. 90.
  9. Mills, Kay, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, (New York: Plume, 1994), p. 5.
  10. Iwan W. Morgan, "Hubert Humphrey's Last Hurrah: The 1977 Senate Leadership Election and the Decline of the New Deal Tradition." Mid-America 1997 79(3): 287-317.