Humphrey, Hubert Horatio
Humphrey, Hubert Horatio (1911-1978), 38th vice president of the
United States. He was elected with President Lyndon B. Johnson on the
Democratic ticket in 1964, and he was his party's unsuccessful
presidential candidate in 1968.
A leading champion of civil rights and other liberal causes, Humphrey
made his national reputation as a U.S. senator, serving from 1949 to
1964 and from 1971 until his death. Despite his sometimes
controversial stands, especially his support of the Johnson
administration's Vietnam policy, and a hearty personality that
bothered some with its exuberance, Humphrey became in his later years
one of the most respected and beloved figures in American political life.
An indication of that respect and love was bestowed on Humphrey after
his death, when he was given a funeral worthy of a head of state. His
body lay in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, and his last rites in
Minneapolis were attended by the nation's leaders. President Jimmy
Carter eulogized Humphrey by saying: "From time to time, our nation is
blessed by the presence of men and women who bear the mark of
greatness, who help us see a better vision of what we can become.
Hubert Humphrey was such a man."
Youth and Early Career. Born in Wallace, S. Dak., on May 27, 1911,
Humphrey grew up in Doland, S. Dak., where his father ran a drugstore.
He dropped out of the University of Minnesota because of the
Depression but later (1933) received a degree from the Denver College
of Pharmacy. In 1936 he married Muriel Buck (1912[en_dash]1998).
Returning to the University of Minnesota, he graduated magna cum laude
with a major in political science in 1939. In 1940 he received a
master's degree from Louisiana State University. He also taught at
both institutions and at Macalester College. In 1941 he joined the
Work Projects Administration in Minnesota.
In 1943, Humphrey ran for mayor of Minneapolis and narrowly lost. He
then helped unite the Minnesota Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties,
and after their merger in 1944 he became a state party leader. In 1945
he was elected mayor by more than 30,000 votes. While mayor, he
secured passage of the nation's first municipal fair employment
practices ordinance. He helped wrest control of the Minnesota
Democratic Farmer-Labor party from Communist influences and was a
cofounder (1947) of the Americans for Democratic Action, a national
liberal, anti-Communist organization. In 1947 he was reelected by a
record 50,000-vote plurality.
Rise to National Prominence. A delegate to the 1948 Democratic
national convention, Humphrey was instrumental, through his
evangelical oratory, in having the convention override the platform
committee and include President Truman's civil rights proposals in the
platform. Humphrey's convention triumph preceded his election to the
U.S. Senate that year and gave him a reputation as a fire-breathing
His Senate record reinforced his liberal reputation. His first
legislative proposal was for medical care for the aged (a medicare
bill was eventually enacted, in 1965, after Humphrey had become vice
president). Although initially he earned the antipathy of his
colleagues because of his brashness, he sought the tutelage of another
new senator, Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, and by the end of his first
term he had gained the respect of Senate elders. He was reelected in
1954 and 1960. He became assistant majority leader in 1961 and helped
win Senate approval of the nuclear test ban treaty of 1963 and of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Although disappointed in his bid for the vice presidential nomination
in 1956 and for the presidential nomination in 1960, Humphrey had
enhanced his national stature. After Vice President Johnson became
president in 1963, Humphrey was the most likely 1964 vice presidential
nominee. At the national convention President Johnson appealed for
Humphrey's nomination, and the convention chose him by acclamation.
Vice President. Vice President Humphrey served as chairman of several
official bodies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Council.
He was a prominent spokesman for the administration's legislative
program and helped dramatize the administration's efforts to secure
civil rights for minorities and to reduce poverty.
Johnson sent Humphrey on many foreign missions, including trips to
several Asian nations to explain U.S. positions on the war in Vietnam.
At home Humphrey staunchly defended administration policies in
Vietnam, and thereby alienated many of his former liberal supporters.
He attempted to dissuade "peace" candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy of
Minnesota from challenging Johnson's renomination in 1968.
The 1968 Campaign. After a strong showing by McCarthy in the New
Hampshire primary, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York also challenged
Johnson. Then, to almost universal astonishment, Johnson announced
that he would not run again. Anticipating urban, liberal, labor,
university, and business support in all regions, Humphrey announced
his candidacy. When Kennedy lost the Oregon primary to McCarthy,
Humphrey's nomination was virtually won. A week later Kennedy defeated
McCarthy in California, only to die from an assassin's bullet.
Humphrey held his delegates through a stormy Democratic convention
that included a fight over the Vietnam plank in the platform.
McCarthy's supporters complained that Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago
and other convention officials had managed the
proceedings[em_dash]which had been nearly overshadowed by antiwar
protests in the streets[em_dash]to suit the interests of the Johnson
administration and Humphrey's candidacy. Humphrey and his
vice-presidential candidate, Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, set out to
restore party unity. Ex-Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a third-party
candidate, threatened to cut into the Democratic vote in Northern
industrial areas. The country was in a mood for change. Humphrey lost
by 1% of the popular vote to Republican Richard Nixon. Humphrey
carried 13 states, mostly in the East, and the District of Columbia,
for 191 electoral votes. Nixon won 301 electoral votes, and Wallace 46.
In 1969[en_dash]1970, Humphrey taught again at Macalaster, before
being reelected to the Senate in 1970. He unsuccessfully sought the
Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, and decided not to
challenge the front-runner, Jimmy Carter, for the nomination in 1976.
He underwent an operation for cancer late in 1976, but was reelected
to the Senate. In 1977 he was elected deputy president pro tem of the
Senate, a new position created for him.
Humphrey's cancer proved to be terminal, but he exhibited unusual
fortitude and good cheer as he faced the end. He died at his home in
Waverly, Minn., on Jan. 13, 1978. His widow was appointed to fill out
his Senate term.
James A. Robinson, *
President The University of West Florida
Solberg, Carl, Hubert Humphrey (Norton 1984).