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Hubert Humphrey

U.S. Senator, Vice-President, Democratic nominee for President

Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. was born in Wallace, South Dakota, on May 27, 1911, the son of Hubert H. Humphrey, a pharmacist, and Christine Sannes. The family moved to Doland, South Dakota, after his birth, and he attended that city's public schools.

Hubert Humphrey

Humphrey followed in his father's footsteps by graduating from the Capitol College of Pharmacy in Denver, Colorado, and in 1933 and then going to work in his father's store. On September 3, 1936, he married Muriel Fay Buck, in Huron, South Dakota. The couple eventually had one daughter and three sons.

Humphrey did not really desire a career in pharmacy, so in 1937 he and Muriel moved to Minneapolis, Minneosta, so he could attend the University of Minnesota, from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1939. He went on to get a master's degree from Louisiana State University, in 1940, after which he returned to the University of Minnesota for doctoral studies. World War II and politics interrupted his studies and he never received his doctorate.

Rejected for military service due to color blindness and a failed physical exam, he instead served the war effort by serving as the state director of new production training and reemployment and chief of the Minnesota war service program (1942) and as assistant director of the War Manpower Commission (1943). From 1943 to 1944 he was a professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He then worked as a news commentator for a Minneapolis radio station, until 1945.

Humphrey first became interested in politics during the 1940 presidential campaign, as a supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1943 he ran for Mayor of Minneapolis. Although he lost, his poorly funded campaign captured almost 47% of the vote. In 1944 he served as the Minnesota campaign manager for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which capacity he was instrumental in merging the state's Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties. His 1945 campaign for Mayor of Minneapolis was successful, and he served as such until 1948.

Humphrey's rise to political prominence began at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. A number of delegates, including Humphrey, wanted the party platform to include aggressive opposition to racial segregation. Despite vigorous opposition from the majority, which included supporters of incumbent President Harry Truman, Humphrey and his colleagues managed to get the issue introduced for debate. That debate and the subsequent addition of a strong civil rights plank in the platform led the entire Mississippi and half the Alabama delegation to walk out of the convention and form their own party. The Dixiecrats managed to take many Southern votes away from Truman, but those lost votes more than made up for by the black votes he gained and he easily defeated Republican Thomas E. Dewey.

Humphrey at the 1948 Democratic National Convention
Humphrey at the 1948 Democratic National Convention

In addition to attending the Democratic National Convention, Humphrey also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1948. After defeating James M. Shields in the primary with 89% of the vote, he defeated incumbent Republican Joseph H. Ball with 60% of the vote in the general election to become the first Democrat to represent Minnesota in the Senate since before the Civil War. He took his seat on January 3, 1948, won re-election in 1954 and 1960, and ultimately served until December 29, 1964. During his tenure he continued to support strong civil rights legislation. He became assistant majority leader in 1961, and in that capacity achieved bipartisan support for the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (1963) and the Civil Rights Act (1964). He also served as chairman of the Select Committee on Disarmament (in the Eighty-fourth and Eighty-fifth Congresses).

In 1960, Humphrey ran for the Democratic presidential nomination against fellow Senator John F. Kennedy. Their first direct "confrontation" was in the Wisconsin Primary, where Humphrey's energetic but poorly funded campaign went head-to-head against Kennedy's well-organized and well-funded campaign. Kennedy won the primary, but by a much smaller margin than many had expected. Taking his campaign to West Virginia, Humphrey believed his "folksy stump style" would appeal to that state's predominantly rural, Protestant voting population more than Kennedy's flamboyance and good looks. Kennedy's campaign, however, raised the issue of Humphrey's failure to serve in the military during World War II, and even accused him of dodging the draft. Although Humphrey had in fact been denied entry into the armed forces, his campaign was unable to overcome the false accusations, combined with Kennedy's much larger campaign fund, and he lost the primary by a significant margin. Humphrey formally withdrew from the race after the West Virginia votes were counted, but still got 41 votes at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, thanks to wins in the South Dakota and District of Columbia primaries (Kennedy was not a candidate in either of those primaries).

Humphrey campaigning in West Virginia
Humphrey campaigning in West Virginia

Humphrey did not contest President Lyndon Johnson's bid for re-election in 1964, but did make it known that he would like to be Johnson's running mate. The three most likely candidates for Vice-President at the Democratic Convention were Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, and Humphrey. Johnson waited until his formal nomination to name Humphrey as his running mate, and the Johnson-Humphrey ticket defeated the Republican ticket of Barry Goldwater and William E. Miller, with 486 electoral votes out of 538.

Prior to his vice-presidential nomination, Humphrey with his wife and, from left, son Robert, son-in-law C. Bruce Solomonson and wife Nancy, son Hubert III and wife Nancy Lee, and son Douglas
Hubert Humphrey with his family

Vice-presidential candidate Humphrey campaigns in Georgia
candidate Humphrey

As Vice-President, Humphrey was one of Johnson's strongest supporters, especially of the President's policies regarding the Vietnam War. An active participant in Johnson's administration, he served as chairman of the National Advisory Council of the Peace Corps, as coordinator of the anti-poverty program, and as chairman of the Civil Rights Council. Although his support of American involvement in Vietnam cost him some support in Congress, Vice-President Humphrey maintained enough stature to convince Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act and the Medicare Act.

Vice-President Humphrey at a Cabinet meeting
Vice-President Humphrey at a Cabinet meeting

Vice-President Humphrey with Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King in Harlem on December 17, 1964
Vice-President Humphrey with Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King in Harlem on December 17, 1964

On March 31, 1968, President Johnson surprised most of the nation by announcing that he would not be a candidate for re-election. On April 27, Humphrey announced that he was once again seeking the Democratic nomination for President, with Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy as his principal opponents. Having entered the race too late to participate in the Democratic primary elections, Humphrey concentrated on winning delegates in non-primary states. The "strategy" worked, as Humphrey was ahead in the delegate count by early June. The most crucial contest for the three men was the California primary, held on June 4. A win by McCarthy would have prevented Kennedy from securing enough delegates to secure the nomination, making the contest a two-man race between Humphrey and McCarthy, with Humphrey the favorite. Kennedy won the California primary, but was assassinated that same night. Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie, went on to easily win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The general election campaign pitted Humphrey against Republican Richard Nixon during a time of general public protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. Many Democrats resented the fact that Humphrey had secured the nomination without entering a single primary, making Humphrey's third bid for the presidency even more difficult, and trailed Nixon in the polls by a large margin until the end of September. An announcement that he would end the bombing of North Vietnam if elected gave him a major boost in the polls, but he ultimately lost the election by 510,000 popular votes. Humphrey carried just 13 states with 191 electoral college votes, Nixon carried 32 states and 301 electoral votes, and American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace carried 5 states in the South and 46 electoral votes (270 were needed to win).

Humphrey campaigning for President in 1968
Humphrey campaigning for President in 1968

After the 1968 elections ended, Humphrey taught at Macalester College and the University of Minnesota and served as a consultant to Encyclopędia Britannica. Minnesota returned him to the U.S. Senate in 1970, and he served there from January 3, 1971 to his death. He made another bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, but was this time beaten by George McGovern. In 1974, Humphrey and Representative Augustus Hawkins authored the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, which proposed to guarantee full employment to all citizens over 16 and set up a permanent system of public jobs to meet that goal. The original bill failed, but a watered-down version called the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act was passed by both houses in 1978. The passed bill set the goal of 4 percent unemployment and 3 percent inflation and instructed the Federal Reserve Board to try to produce those goals when making policy decisions.

Humphrey briefly considered another run for the presidential nomination in 1976, but chose to support Jimmy Carter instead. He did run for Senate Majority Leader that year, but lost to Robert Byrd. The Senate created the post of Deputy President pro tempore of the Senate for him, and he assumed the position on January 5, 1977. His autobiography, The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics, was published in 1976.

Senator Humphrey and Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, National Convention, 1976
Senator Humphrey and Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, National Convention, 1976

On August 16, 1977, Humphrey revealed that he was suffering from terminal bladder cancer. President Carter honored Humphrey by giving him command of Air Force One for his final trip to Washington on October 23.On October 25 he addressed the Senate, and on November 3 he became the first person other than a member of the House or the President of the United States to address the House of Representatives in session.

Humphrey with President Carter aboard Air Force One, 1977
Humphrey with President Carter aboard Air Force One, 1977

Hubert H. Humphrey died in Waverly, Minnesota, on January 13, 1978. His body lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol January 14-15, and he was interned in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. After Humphrey's death, the Governor of Minnesota appointed Humphrey's wife, Muriel Buck Humphrey, to fill the vacant Senate seat. She served until November 7, 1978, and was not a candidate for the unexpired term. Hubert Humphrey was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 9, 1980.


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
LBJ Presidential Library

See Also

World War II
President Franklin Roosevelt
President Harry Truman
Civil War
John F. Kennedy
President Lyndon Johnson
Robert F. Kennedy
Edmund Muskie
Richard Nixon
George C. Wallace
1972 Presidential Election
Federal Reserve Board
Jimmy Carter
Air Force One

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This page was last updated on December 28, 2018.