Mike Mansfield

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Mike Mansfield (1903-2001) a Democrat, represented Montana in the House (1942–52) and Senate (1952–76), serving as Senate Majority Leader (1961–76); he ended his career as ambassador to Japan (1977–88), appointed by Jimmy Carter.


He was born to a poor Irish Catholic family in New York City. When his mother died in 1906 he was sent to live with relatives in Butte, Montana. He lied about his age and joined the military in 1917, serving in the Navy, Army and Marines until 1922. After years as a copper miner in Butte, he graduated with BA and MA degrees from Montana State University in 1933 and 1934. Mansfield stayed on a s a professor of Latin American and Asian history. He defeated Republican Jeannette Rankin for Congress in 1942, and was assigned to the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he specialized in Asian issues.

Elected to the Senate in 1953 following ten years in the House, Mansfield gained a reputation for his expertise in foreign policy, particularly in the Far East, and for his informality and low-keyed effectiveness. He voted with the liberals on domestic issues, but formed his own opinions on foreign policy. In 1957 Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson selected Mansfield as Majority Whip, the #2 spot, giving him numerous duties and little power. Mansfield was elected by the Democrats as Majority Leader in 1961 following Johnson's election as Vice President.

The Majority Leader has enormous power in controlling the flow of legislation, and making committee assignments. Mansfield immediately replaced Johnson's bullying, highly partisan style with one of respectful collegiality and openness. Mansfield shared power with his whips, Hubert H. Humphrey (Whip 1963-64) and Russell Long (Whip 1964-69), Ted Kennedy (whip 1969-71), and Robert Byrd (Whip 1971-76). Unlike Johnson (who dealt with a Republican White House), Mansfield had Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy (1961–63) and Johnson (1963–68) to contend with. Although criticized by some as overly accommodating, Mansfield's leadership paved the way for cross-party alliances, particularly with GOP leader Everett Dirksen on civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, and his style has been adopted by most of his successors in the post.

Mansfield was a mild critic of Johnson's Vietnam policy until 1966, when he decided the war was unwinnable and the U.S. should seek a negotiated settlement. When Richard Nixon became president in 1969, Mansfield stepped up his critique of the Vietnam War. He engineered laws to prevent the military from aiding South Vietnam in its death struggle with Communism. mansfield did support Nixon's détente policy with China and the Soviet Union. He also pushed to reduce or eliminate the Amrerican military presence of 600,000 troops in Western Europe, mostly in West Germany where a Communist invasion threatened. The European Allies rejected that notion, and Mansfield failed to remove the troops.

Further reading

  • Baldwin, Louis. Hon. Politician: Mike Mansfield of Montana. (1979). 362 pp.
  • Olson, Gregory Allen. Mansfield and Vietnam: A Study in Rhetorical Adaptation. (1995). 349 pp.
  • Valeo, Francis R. Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader: A Different Kind of Senate, 1961-1976 (2000) excerpt and text search