Hubert Humphrey

Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. (1911-1978), the pharmacist turned politician, served different constituencies as mayor of Minneapolis, United States senator from Minnesota, and vice-president of the United States. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1968.

For 35 years, 1943-1978, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr., held various public offices. At all times he was the liberal candidate for these public positions. Rather early Humphrey knew the meaning of the term "empirical collectivism," which, applied to government, meant providing answers to various bona-fide public problems that confronted the American people. When the people were faced with problems to which they could not find solutions individually or by group actions, they could call upon government to resolve those problems. On various occasions Humphrey proposed that government take over responsibility from the individuals or the groups.

Probably the experiences of his family and of neighbors and farmers in the state of South Dakota were responsible for Humphrey's proposals. The people of the state ran into problems of various kinds, including dust bowls, bank failures, farm failures, and depressed economic situations.

Hubert's father was a small businessman, a pharmacist and owner of several different drug stores in South Dakota, first in Wallace, then in Dorland, and finally in Huron. Actually, he was not successful before the 1930s. The Huron drug store succeeded, becoming the first Walgreen Agency in the United States. Before this there were ups and downs in the business which reflected economic conditions in South Dakota. They also affected the family and Hubert. For example, in 1927 Humphrey's father was forced to sell their home to pay off debts of his business. The same thing had happened in 1932, when Humphrey was forced to withdraw from the University of Minnesota.


Education for Public Service

Humphrey was educated in the Dorland public schools and graduated from high school in 1929. He enrolled at the University of Minnesota in that year, remaining as a student for the next three years. Failure of his father's business forced Humphrey out of the university in 1932. In December of 1932 he was enrolled as a student at Capitol College of Pharmacy in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from this intensive program in six months. He then returned to the new drug store in Huron and was employed by his father. In Humphrey's words, "The drug store was my life and it seemed then it might always be." He remained as a druggist during the years 1933-1937. He was married to Muriel Buck in 1936, and they became a small town family. But Humphrey proved that he could do other things. Again he enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1937 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939. He entered the master's program in political science at Louisiana State University and was awarded his graduate degree in 1940. He and his family returned to Minneapolis, and Humphrey did further graduate work at the University of Minnesota. He did not receive his Doctor of Philosophy degree because he did not complete his dissertation.

Other things were more important than becoming a professor of political science. From 1941 to 1945 Humphrey had various public service jobs, including state director of war production training and reemployment, assistant director of the War Manpower Commission, and mayor of Minneapolis. These positions served as stepping stones in his later political career.


Political Career

Humphrey's first attempt at elected public office occurred in 1943 when he attempted to win election as a mayoral candidate. He was narrowly defeated, but he benefitted from his loss. In 1945 he was elected mayor and won reelection in 1947.

Humphrey had his first chance to put at least one of his proposals into practice. He believed in the civil rights of all Americans, including African Americans. He successfully proposed to the city council that it adopt a fair employment practices ordinance. In 1948 Humphrey had an opportunity to do something about civil rights at the Democratic national convention. He and other liberal Democrats who were members of the platform committee were opposed to the proposed weak plank on civil rights. These liberals challenged the leadership of the party, and Humphrey gave a minority report before the convention. Among other things, he said, "There are those who say: This issue of civil rights is an infringement on State's rights. The time has arrived for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of State's rights and walk forth-rightfully into the bright sunshine of human rights."

The delegates were so excited at Humphrey's statements that they paraded around the convention floor and voted in favor of the stronger civil rights position set forth in the minority report. One of the consequences was that conservative Southern Democrats walked out of that convention and established a splinter party, the Dixiecrats. President Truman had to face the Republican candidate (Tom Dewey) and two splinter party candidates from the right (J. Strom Thurman) and the left (Henry A. Wallace) of the Democratic Party. He won reelection in part because of the victories of various strong senatorial candidates, including Guy Gillette of Iowa, Paul Douglas of Illinois, Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Bob Kerr of Oklahoma, Matt Neely of West Virginia, and Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota.

Although the Democrats were in complete control of the Congress, no law guaranteeing the civil rights of African Americans could be passed. The first modern civil rights law was adopted in 1957 under a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower. This law of 1957 was followed by other civil rights and voting rights laws in 1960, 1964, 1965, 1968, and 1972.

Civil rights was only one of the political goals of Hubert Humphrey. On other occasions he proposed the establishment of the Peace Corps, the creation of a Food for Peace program, and legislation favoring labor unions, farmers, and the unemployed. Humphrey was concerned about the bigotry confronting Jews, discrimination against African Americans, better working conditions for labor, economic protection for American farmers, and laws in the public interest.

Humphrey was in the Senate from 1949 to 1965 and from 1971 to January 1978. He was vice president from 1965 to 1969. During those years Humphrey had a number of opportunities to talk about his proposals. His reelections went hand in hand with his concerns about these various groups. The question was whether these groups would follow a two way street, maintaining their support for Humphrey and his political success.


Communists, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats

Humphrey was challenged by, and in turn challenged, three major groups of foes at some time in his political life. During World War II, and especially in 1943 and 1944, Humphrey had trouble with the Communists and the extreme left wingers. He was chiefly responsible for the establishment of a non-communist liberal organization, Americans for a Democratic Society. During the same period of time Humphrey expressed concern over the two progressive parties in the State of Minnesota, the Democrats and the Farmer-Laborites. He had recognized that the left wing of the Farmer-Labor Party was controlled by the left, and he and others wanted to unify these two parties without any support from the radicals. Humphrey and others had gone to a state party convention in 1944, but they were forced to withdraw and establish a "rump convention" elsewhere. This was just one occasion when Humphrey was called a fascist and a war monger.

While Humphrey believed that he was an anti-communist, conservatives within the Democratic and Republican parties would not accept his claim. This was especially true within that period known as McCarthyism (1950-1954), when Humphrey and the liberal Democrats were accused of being "soft on Communism." It was at this time that the liberals under the leadership of Senator Humphrey proposed that Congress adopt the toughest anti-communist bill, the Communist Control Bill. What the liberals had done was to accuse the conservatives of being "soft on Communism," and they forced Congress to adopt this legislation. So many constitutional questions were present in this law, it was never enforced.

The conservatives and Humphrey challenged each other on other occasions. For example, as a freshman senator Humphrey had spoken about a conservative, Senator Harry Flood Byrd of Virginia, who was not present in the Senate. Humphrey was not concerned about the rules of the Senate nor the fact that he did not have the support of the inner circle in the Senate. Humphrey had made mistakes in this attack, and he decided thereafter to follow the Senate rules. He later became a member of the inner circle, as was demonstrated in 1961 when he was chosen the majority whip of the Senate.

Whenever Humphrey wanted to run for the presidency of the United States he was challenged by liberal Democrats, including Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Gene McCarthy, and George McGovern. In 1960 Humphrey entered several state presidential primaries. He did not have much money and had to campaign on a bus. Jack Kennedy flew from place to place and campaigned with the support of celebrities from Hollywood. In Humphrey's words: "I heard a plane overhead. On my cot, bundled in layers of uncomfortable clothes, both chilled and sweaty, I yelled, 'Come down here, Jack, and play fair."'

Humphrey almost lost the 1960 presidential primary in Wisconsin and did lose the presidential primary in West Virginia. Immediately thereafter he withdrew from that presidential race and ran again for the United States Senate. He believed that he would spend the rest of his political life in the Senate. In 1964 this changed once again. President Lyndon Johnson selected Humphrey to be his running mate. While Johnson was overwhelmingly reelected, he still lost the confidence of the American people in the next four years as a consequence of increasing involvement in the war in Vietnam. Johnson almost lost the 1968 presidential primary in New Hampshire, and then he told the American people that he would not run for reelection.

Humphrey and other liberals—Gene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Bobby Kennedy—entered the 1968 primaries. Because Humphrey was part of the establishment and therefore responsible for the Vietnamese venture, he was opposed by many liberals, including McCarthy, McGovern, and Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy's effort ended in June when he was assassinated, but Kennedy's supporters would not join with Humphrey. Humphrey became the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1968, but during the national convention the streets of Chicago were filled with anti-war rioters. At most Humphrey could only count on lukewarm support from McCarthy and McGovern. When Humphrey campaigned on college campuses and in major American cities he was heckled by anti-war activists. So many of these people refused to vote in that year that Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon.

Defeated and no doubt disappointed Humphrey returned to Minnesota and for the next two years served as a professor of public affairs at the university. This career did not last long, because in 1970 and again in 1976 Humphrey was reelected to the U.S. Senate.

In 1968 and again in 1977 doctors operated on Humphrey for cancer. In October 1977 Humphrey knew that his death was imminent and made his last trip to the Senate. On October 25 Humphrey was applauded by the senators and their guests, and several praised him in their speeches. On January 14, 1978, there was to be a tribute to Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey died the evening before. His Senate term was completed by his wife.


Further Reading on Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr

There are various books by Humphrey and about Humphrey and his ideas. There is an autobiography, The Education of a Public Man (1976), and a biography, Hubert Humphrey: The Man and His Dream (1978) by S. D. Engelmayer and R. J. Wagman. Humphrey was the author of Beyond Civil Rights: A New Day of Equality (1968), Intergration vs. Segregation (1964), War on Poverty (1964), and Young American in the "Now" World (1971). Humphrey was an able orator, and his notable statements were compiled by Perry D. Hall, The Quotable Hubert H. Humphrey.