Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Education of a Public Man

The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics

HUBERT H. HUMPHREY
Copyright Date: 1991
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttv87
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Education of a Public Man
    Book Description:

    A candid look into the private and political life of Minnesota's native son.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8358-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)

    “If you are never more than you have been, you will be a footnote in American history. But if you will tell honestly what you have seen and felt and learned for a quarter of a century of American life, people may read you a hundred years from now.

    When my friend who was to edit this book said that to me in 1969,I was insulted and put off by what I considered gross impertinence. After all, I thought, I have been senator and Vice President and the Democratic candidate for President, and I am proud of what I have...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    H.H.H
  5. PROLOGUE: A Day of Waiting
    (pp. xv-xxiv)

    “I have done my best. I have lost. Mr. Nixon has won. The democratic process has worked its will, so now let’s get on with the urgent task of uniting our country.”

    In a lifetime of thousands of speeches and millions of words, those were the hardest ones I have ever had to speak.

    They came at the end of the longest day of my life, the day during which 73 million citizens cast their ballots for me or for someone else for President of the United States. It was a day when every minute lingered, when time was suspended,...

  6. BOOK ONE “In the Middle of This Great Big Continent”

    • CHAPTER ONE Prairie Land, Prairie People
      (pp. 3-5)

      In 1906, Lily, South Dakota, had a population of 175 people. Two of those people were my father and mother.

      He was twenty-five years old, a druggist, one of five children of a Minnesota farmer whose Quaker traditions and family went back to the Revolutionary War period in America.

      She was six years younger, a country teacher in a one-room school, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants who had herself been born in Kristiansand, Norway, and only recently come to America. She had ten brothers and sisters.

      They, Hubert Humphrey and Christine Sannes, were married in April 1906 in the Highland...

    • CHAPTER TWO Never a Pill without an Idea
      (pp. 6-11)

      My father was a man in love his whole life. He had an unshakable faith in his own strength, in other people, and in this country. He had a sense of wonder about the United States that rubbed off on all of us, the kind of love and obligation that was true of a lot of immigrants. Though mother was born in Norway, and my father in Oregon, it was father who used to speak about our country with the reverence of the immigrant.

      “Just think of it, boys,” he said once, “here we are in the middle of this...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Banks Closed Early
      (pp. 12-14)

      Although farm prices rose slightly after 1921, the farmers were caught in a vise of high costs and low prices. And drought made life and economic conditions even worse.

      As the land and profits dried up, banks began to fail. In this, we were ahead of our time in South Dakota, presaging the acute banking failure throughout the Midwest.

      Banks were almost like the trade centers, appearing and disappearing. The movement of people and the opening of lands had created a euphoric banking climate. Little towns had three and four banks. (In 1921 in Massachusetts, there was one bank for...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Loss of Home
      (pp. 15-18)

      The first time I ever saw my father weep, I was sixteen years old and he was forty-five. It is something I have never forgotten not just because it moved me deeply, but because what followed was so typical of my father’s approach to life.

      The place we lived in was the kind of home every lucky child has in his life—not just a house but a warm nest for all the excitement and love of growing up.

      It wasn’t a showplace but it was a pretty good house, as good as any in Doland. It was a two-story,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE “Don’t Ever Admit That You Don’t Know How to Dance”
      (pp. 19-21)

      My father drove me to Minneapolis in his new Model A Ford, a shiny green car of which we were both terribly proud. It was the car’s first long trip,*and we had to drive slowly to break it in. We did the three hundred miles from Doland to Minneapolis at 25-35 miles an hour, and after many hours on the road, registered at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis where they had elevators. (If you grow up in a small town with buildings rarely over two stories high, an elevator is an exciting device.)

      The next morning, we drove to...

    • CHAPTER SIX Eating Mistakes
      (pp. 22-25)

      During my first quarter at the university, my father paid my tuition and I was given about ten dollars a week to live on—a considerable amount of money. But, during the Christmas holiday, Dad said he could no longer afford that. He’d try to help me as much as he could with tuition, but I’d have to earn my board and room and other expenses.

      Back in Minneapolis, I discovered that a drugstore was about to open just about a block from where I lived. With my years of drugstore experience, I thought getting a job would be a...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Pills, Hogtone, and Nose Drops
      (pp. 26-29)

      Back in Huron after graduating, the drugstore was my life and it seemed then that it might always be. I was, like Dad, a small-town businessman, and I absorbed certain attitudes from that experience that permanently shaped my political philosophy.

      I never got hooked in those chaotic times, as so many people did, on Marxism or other radicalism as a way out of the depression. Had I continued at the university uninterrupted, I might have, but I was involved instead in a business whose purpose was to make a profit, and I frankly liked the system even if we weren’t...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT “Together We Can Do Things”
      (pp. 30-33)

      My own life became much more tolerable when I met a young woman in 1932. She was a student at Huron College, where I went to dance whenever I could. Muriel Buck was a shapely, attractive girl, shyly charming and independent.

      I liked her immediately and was pleased when she started dropping into the drugstore with her friend Betty Halpenny to have an ice cream soda or a Coke. They would dawdle and I would dash around the store trying to look important, stopping to talk as often as I could.

      Soon I asked her for a date, and she...

    • CHAPTER NINE With Dad’s Blessings, with Muriel’s Bounty
      (pp. 34-38)

      During the next year, South Dakota wore us down. The depression, the dust storms, and the demands of family on a newlywed couple were finally too much.

      Each dust storm left me more depressed. I became ill*when one began, as they always did, west of town. A deep-purple cloud would roll across the flat land, getting darker as it built up with more dirt. It would become a massive black wall, blotting out the sun even at noon so that it was a dully shining disk barely visible.

      People walked around holding a wet handkerchief over mouth and nose....

    • CHAPTER TEN Into Huey Long’s South
      (pp. 39-42)

      A bachelor’s degree in political science didn’t prepare you for much, so Muriel and I decided I should do graduate work, aiming for a doctorate and a teaching career. While I had a choice of several midwestern universities, I decided to go to Louisiana State University. I had never been to the South, and LSU, where Charles Hyneman, a friend and former professor of Kirkpatrick’s, was chairman of the Political Science Department, offered me a $450 fellowship.

      I left for Louisiana alone. (Muriel and Nancy were to follow several weeks later, after I’d had a chance to find a place...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER ELEVEN “I’ve Got a Job Now, and I’m Paying Taxes”
      (pp. 43-46)

      In June 1940, after finishing my course work for a master’s degree, we headed back to Minnesota, where I intended to continue my graduate study. Through William Anderson, the chairman of the Political Science Department, I found a $200-a-month summer job training adult-education teachers under the Work Projects Administration (WPA) program in Duluth. The students were all unemployed people who had a teaching background or suitable training for teaching duties in various WPA education, art, and writers’ projects.

      The last time I had been in Duluth was on my honeymoon with Muriel, so it was particularly lonesome when she and...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE “We’re Trying to Find a Candidate for Mayor”
      (pp. 47-52)

      I began 1943 confused and unsure of my immediate direction. I became assistant director of the Minnesota War Manpower Commission but, like many men, I still didn’t know whether I’d be called into service or not. In 1940, when the draft began, I had been classified 3A, the status given men who were married and had children. But the war was heating up, the draft situation seemed to be changing, my younger friends were going into service, and I was torn between responsibility to my family and a desire to be a part of our military effort.

      Filled with uncertainty...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN “We Must Unite”
      (pp. 53-58)

      Something had to be done about our party, and I took the lead. In July, after my defeat, I sent a twelve-page, handwritten letter to Frank Walker, Postmaster General and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, appealing for help in bringing the Minnesota Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties together. I belabored the obvious: Democrats never won in Minnesota, because the vote was split three ways: Republican, Democratic, and Farmer-Laborite. If liberals were going to win any significant election, Democrats and Farmer-Laborites had to work together.¹

      When a perfunctory reply to my letter arrived from the national committee, taking about seventy dollars...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN I’m the Mayor
      (pp. 59-62)

      What I did think about was myself as potential mayor. We had come a long way from the 1943 campaign, when I had learned as much as I could about the formal structure of city government. In the intervening time, I had turned my attention to understanding the people behind the structure, those who caused government to operate. I followed local news more closely than before, figuring out who the real leaders were in the city—in more current terms, “defining the power structure.” Then I set out to meet them—bankers, publishers, businessmen of other sorts—and at the...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN “Why Would Anyone Shoot at Me?”
      (pp. 63-68)

      Analysts of government describe the municipal structure of Minneapolis as a weak mayor form of government. That may overstate the mayor’s role. He has no control over the budget, no power of the purse strings, and no vote in the city council (he does not participate in their deliberations). With one exception, he appoints no city department heads. He appoints the police chief, and thus the quality of law enforcement is as good or bad as he decides.*

      For years, Minneapolis had been wide open. Prostitution, gambling, liquor sales to minors and after-hours joints flourished openly in violation of the...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Bringing a Party Together
      (pp. 69-74)

      Cities in war years, though untouched by bullets and bombs, go through odd and awkward adjustments. Men leave who are in their prime: their twenties, thirties, forties. The men who remain are, for the most part, the young and the old. Marriages and families are delayed or interrupted.

      To Minneapolis, crowded already with women left alone, had come many more young women from the rural areas to work at the defense plants, to fill in the jobs from which men had gone to war. Everything hovered in impermanence; no one seemed to be where he had been or where he...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Bright Sunshine of Human Rights
      (pp. 75-82)

      In Minnesota, we were called moderates or even right wing by some. But the Minnesota delegation to the National Democratic Convention in 1948 was liberal-left in regular-party terms. Many of us had been active in the formation of the Americans for Democratic Action, and we went to Philadelphia unsure of whom we would support for President.¹

      James Roosevelt, a leader in ADA, had traveled across the country urging the draft of General Dwight Eisenhower, whose party preference was unknown. Eleanor Roosevelt herself had called several times to discuss it, and I had toyed with the idea, saying publicly it was...

  7. BOOK TWO On the Banks of the Potomac

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN My Principles Offended, My Personality Enraged
      (pp. 85-92)

      Washington is a beautiful city filled with monuments and fountains. Verdant parkways and wide streets separate public buildings which, if not always beautiful, are impressive. In the spring, forsythia and dogwood and, briefly, cherry blossoms fill the city with color; later there are roses and azaleas and lilacs.

      It is, of course, also filled with history—the White House, the Capitol, Ford’s Theatre. Plaques and monuments everywhere tell you of life and death. Here Lincoln was shot and here he died. Here John Hay lived, here Henry Adams, here Stephen Decatur. There was even a plaque in the Roger Smith...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN Compromise Is Not a Dirty Word
      (pp. 93-102)

      In 1949, Senator Richard Russell was the most powerful man in the Senate. He directed a band of a score or so of southern senators in a coalition with about the same number of Republicans led by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. While Taft more often got the headlines as the Republican leader, Russell was really the master strategist and tactician for the conservative coalition. Even Senator Scott Lucas, who, as majority leader, spoke as though he were in charge, always checked any important or controversial question with Russell, or in his absence with Walter George or Harry Byrd.

      The...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY Tolerance If Not Affection
      (pp. 103-107)

      The Senate is a unique political forum, filled with many tensions. It has qualities of both stability and spontaneity. It can be parochial, and it can be, in a sense, universal. It reflects at most times the aspirations and fears of most geographical and ideological sections of the United States. The House of Representatives, much larger, may mirror better the makeup of the country at any given moment, but it is too large to be in focus.

      Further, the six-year term permits a senator, if he wishes, to think ahead, to be creative, to design new proposals, to test them,...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Three Wise Men
      (pp. 108-114)

      Though I was much closer politically, personally and philosophically to such senators as Herbert Lehman, Paul Douglas, William Benton, Wayne Morse, Lister Hill and Brien McMahon, there were several other men who were special creatures in Congressional life and history.

      During my first term in the Senate, I met three men who had been elected to the House of Representatives for the first time when I was about a year old. In the intervening decades, each had attained substantial power in Washington and had influenced Congressional life and national legislation tremendously. They were very different men in style and interests,...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO “Quit Fooling Around with People You Can’t Depend On”
      (pp. 115-118)

      My life as a senator, though still difficult, improved a bit as I learned what was productive and what was not. My apprenticeship of isolation drew to a close as I got to know Lyndon Johnson, and that changed my role in the Senate. During my first year, Johnson and I had virtually no contact, reflecting, I suppose, the general attitude of the senators toward me. And we might not have had any then except for a suggestion by Senator Russell Long, whom I had known slightly at Louisiana State University and who was now a neighbor of mine in...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE “Feel Free to Attack Me Anytime”
      (pp. 119-128)

      As I look back on those first four years, the Truman years, I see relatively little that had my design on it. While I worked hard on committees, tried to perform as a liberal spokesman, a freshman senator had in those days few levers of power and so little seniority and status, that any senator, including the most innovative, was restrained.

      When the Hoover Commission on Reorganization of the Executive Branch issued its findings, I worked hard to get their reports adopted, and received a citation for my work. Among other things, I worked with Mike Monroney on getting the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR The Loyal Opposition
      (pp. 129-141)

      As the presidential primaries of 1952 drew near, I found myself in an awkward position. I was devoted to President Truman and had been prepared to support him again, but he had not publicly stated whether he would run or not. Senator Kefauver had already said he would challenge Truman in the primaries, and his friends in Minnesota said he would enter our primary.

      What happened in Minnesota was of great political concern to me, and I asked Truman’s political advisers what they wanted done. They urged me to become a favorite-son candidate as a holding operation until Truman made...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE “It Is a Bone in My Throat”
      (pp. 142-148)

      For twelve years, as a liberal spokesman, I had been on the front page of the New YorkTimesand the WashingtonPostfrequently. I had spoken in every region of the United States. I had appeared before hundreds of national conventions of every conceivable sort. I had been on “Meet the Press” and other public-issues programs more than any of my colleagues.

      Yet, when a poll was taken in 1959 on simple name recognition, very few people polled could identify me. That was difficult to believe and accept. Surrounded by people who tell you that you are important, fed...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX A Cold Winter in Wisconsin
      (pp. 149-155)

      Sometime in mid-1959, I started to give really serious thought to entering the presidential primaries. I talked to many friends, but possibly the most important was James Rowe, a Washington attorney and good friend who had been around politics since he worked as a young man in the Roosevelt White House.¹ He seemed to have contacts with every important politician in the country and was much wiser than most. Rowe felt that I had to enter some primaries to give my candidacy credibility. He insisted that there was no way I could be successful by going to Democratic state conventions...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN In the Hills and Hollows of West Virginia
      (pp. 156-179)

      I needed time to think. I had much to consider and couldn’t do it in the pressure chamber of Washington. So Muriel and I went to the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia for a couple of days of rest and contemplation. The Greenbrier is an expensive resort, dripping Old South gentility, an oasis of affluence in a desert of poverty. Nevertheless, it seemed useful politically to be there rather than in some Florida hotel, our only warm alternative.

      We had already paid the one-thousand-dollar fee to enter the West Virginia primary, but my closest advisers continued to be virtually unanimous...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Cracking the Whip
      (pp. 180-189)

      John Kennedy, as everyone says, brought to the office of President excitement and glamour that have not been present in Washington since and rarely before in this century. He also brought it a kind of distinction. It has almost nothing to do with competence and accomplishment. He had a spark that reignited American hopes, and particularly the hopes of the dispossessed. There is debate now about “the politics of expectation,” but it is important as well as ironic that this wealthy, educated, sophisticated man established an almost instant bond with those who were none of those things.

      Even his inauguration...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE “Let Us Continue”
      (pp. 190-197)

      John Kennedy had been dead in Dallas less than an hour when I walked the corridors of the White House talking with White House staff and Cabinet officers—none of us with words to describe our feelings. We moved compulsively, because we could not stand still for very long or talk at length to anyone. Strong men wept.

      As I moved past the President’s office, I saw on the corridor wall two Texas Ranger pistols buckled to a piece of Texas ranch fence. Above them was a little sign that said THE TEXAS PEACEMAKERS.

      “How in God’s name,” I thought,...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY “Out of the Shadows”
      (pp. 198-213)

      By the early 1960s, civil rights, equality under the law for black Americans, had become a central issue for all America, growing slowly but steadily from the Supreme Court decision in 1954 that “separate, but equal” education facilities were not constitutionally valid.

      Until then, civil rights legislation was doomed not because the Congress opposed it (which it did), but because there was little pressure from outside. Most churches had been essentially indifferent, a few liberal church leaders providing limited support and demand.

      The American labor movement, again with a few important exceptions, had been concerned with other questions: housing, education,...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE “Let’s Go Over to the White House for a Nightcap”
      (pp. 214-230)

      The period from President Kennedy’s death until Lyndon Johnson was elected in his own right, almost a year later, was a strange one. On the surface, the transition was smooth. Johnson moved slowly in replacing Kennedy people both at the White House and in the executive agencies. But, below the surface, there was constant tension caused by the yearning for an attractive, fallen leader and the reservations and suspicions about his successor.

      Johnson, although a man of immense ego, felt threatened both by his unnatural accession and by the spoken and unspoken comparisons to Kennedy. He sought desperately and sincerely...

  8. BOOK THREE Next Door to Power

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO Vice President: And One Viewpoint on Vietnam
      (pp. 233-263)

      In a long public life, there are naturally a number of special days that stand out in memory. But inauguration day 1965, when I was sworn in as Vice President of the United States, was more special than any other. It was a day of immense satisfaction, of success without struggle or other distracting circumstances. It was a moment of pure joy.

      There is something expansive about that scene. You stand where others have stood and you repeat an oath that they, too, have taken. You are surrounded by your own family and by your official family, members of Congress,...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE One Place, One Man
      (pp. 264-275)

      In the chaos of 1968, one place and one person dominated my life that election year. The place: Vietnam. The person: Lyndon Johnson. One was a disaster; the other, a distinctly mixed blessing.

      To open the year:

      In January 1968 there were 492,900 American men and women at war in Vietnam. Nearly seventeen thousand of their compatriots had already died there. President Johnson had only 48 per cent approval in the Gallup Poll, Gene McCarthy had announced for the presidency, and Bob Kennedy, waiting in the wings, had not.

      By late that month, the war had taken a terrible turn...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR The Politics of Joy
      (pp. 276-285)

      Within days after Johnson’s withdrawal, I had decided to run. The question then became how and when to declare. We went through a period searching for the right way. You don’t just come down to the street after breakfast some morning and say, “Good morning, world. I am seeking the Democratic nomination for President.” Many people counseled us: some wanted me to go on national television; others thought a simple press conference would do; there was even the suggestion that I get away from the Washington environment, picking a middle American city for the announcement.

      Finally, after endless debate on...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE “I Gather You Are Not Asking My Advice”
      (pp. 286-305)

      The Republican convention looked like a tranquil interlude in the chaos, riots, killings, fighting, crime, and war—all identified with Democrats—that filled the year 1968.

      Their convention was held in the attractive surroundings of Miami Beach—a resort city with clean, gleaming buildings, with waterways and ships and boats, expensive hotels and swimming pools, and palm trees and beautiful girls.

      Well covered by television, the convention had just enough activity to make it interesting, with Reagan forces showing some life and with the Rockefeller forces coming down with all the fanfare that good public relations can stir up, but...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX The Better Part of Being Vice President
      (pp. 306-317)

      Despite the immense miseries of the Vietnam years for our country, for the Johnson administration, and for me personally, I liked being Vice President.

      There is a special kind of excitement, tension, and drama in being so close to executive power. You cannot escape the recurring thought that you could be President someday and, as elections draw near, possibly soon. But even when that is far from your mind, even while you realize a Vice President’s “power” is for the most part derivative, you do have some authority, some political and governmental clout if used carefully. Further, the vice presidency...

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN A Lesson or Two
      (pp. 318-323)

      Are there lessons from the Vietnam experience? Will there be no more Vietnams? We all hope so. One wishes we could all answer with absolute assurance. I wish I could say to myself and the world that we have now learned enough and the world has moved enough to guarantee no further American military entanglement abroad.

      Unfortunately, no man can in conscience and in honesty say, “Never again.” For one thing, it doesn’t always depend on us. For another, prophecy in foreign affairs is unreliable and deceptive.

      Almost surely, we will not walk into an Asian mantrap the same way....

    • CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT The Privilege
      (pp. 324-330)

      When I began this book, seven years ago, no longer Vice President, I had been out of public office for less than a month.*Since then, whatever we accomplished, whatever our problems, the events that followed cast a new light on them. The war in Vietnam went on, then struggled to a close. The episodes called “Watergate” and the resignation of a President and a Vice President dominated the news for several years. An unelected President and Vice President oversee an economy in trouble.

      I again became a teacher¹ and again a candidate for the Senate and for the presidency....

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  9. Afterword
    (pp. 331-340)
    Norman Sherman

    When Hubert Humphrey died in January 1978, his body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. He was the twenty-second person in our history to be saluted that way, and it was a measure of his special qualities that the honor seemed natural and deserved beyond question. It was his hold on America’s affection that brought thousands of people past his flag-draped bier through the day and night he lay there.

    Some people, mostly older blacks, came because they knew him as the champion of civil rights when few in political life had the courage and commitment to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 341-376)
  11. Index
    (pp. 377-391)