Born in Wallace, South Dakota, on May 27, 1911,
Humphrey grew up in Doland, South Dakota., 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. 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 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.
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 Midwestern liberal.
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 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
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
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--which had been nearly overshadowed by antiwar protests in the
streets--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 1969-1970, 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.
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."