Mike Mansfield

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Mike Mansfield : biography

March 16, 1903 – October 5, 2001

Michael Joseph Mansfield (March 16, 1903 – October 5, 2001) was an American politician and diplomat. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a U.S. Representative (1943–1953) and a U.S. Senator (1953–1977) from Montana. He was the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader, serving from 1961 to 1977. During his tenure, he shepherded Great Society programs through the Senate, but strongly opposed the Vietnam War.

After retiring from the Senate, Mansfield served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1988, and upon retiring as ambassador, was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989), in part for his role in the resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon. Mansfield is the longest serving American ambassador to Japan in history.

After his ambassadorship, Mansfield served for a time as a senior adviser on East Asian affairs to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment banking firm.


The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library at the University of Montana, Missoula is named after him and his wife Maureen, as was his request when informed of the honor. The library also contains the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, which is dedicated to Asian studies, and, like the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, "advancing understanding and co-operation in U.S.-Asia relations." The Mike Mansfield Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Missoula was renamed in his honor in 2002..

The Montana Democratic Party holds an annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner named partially in his honor.

Mansfield retired in 1989. In that year he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He received the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award. In 1990, Japan conferred on Ambassador Mansfield the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers. This is Japan’s highest honor for someone who is not a head of state.Campi, Alicia. The Mansfield Foundation. May 17, 2007.

  • 1989 – Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • 1990 – United States Military Academy, Sylvanus Thayer Award.
  • 1990 – Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers, Grand Cordon (Japan).



Following his return to Montana in 1922, Mansfield worked as a "mucker," shoveling ore and other waste, in the copper mines of Butte for eight years. Having never attended high school, he took entrance examinations to attend the Montana School of Mines (1927–1928), studying to become a mining engineer. He later met a local schoolteacher and his future wife, Maureen Hayes, who encouraged him to further his education. With her financial support, Mansfield studied at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he took both high school and college courses. He was also a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1933, and was offered a graduate assistantship teaching two courses at the university; he also worked part-time in the registrar’s office. He earned a Master of Arts degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1934 with a thesis entitled: "United States-Korean Diplomatic Relations: 1866-1910". From 1934 to 1942, he taught classes in Far Eastern and Latin American history, and also lectured some years on Greek and Roman history. He also attended the University of California at Los Angeles (1936–1937).

Early childhood

Mansfield was born in the Brooklyn section of New York City to Patrick J. Mansfield and Josephine (née O’Brien) Mansfield, who were both Irish Catholic immigrants. His mother died from pneumonia in 1906, and his father subsequently sent Michael and his two sisters to live with an aunt and uncle in Great Falls, Montana. He attended local public schools, and worked in his relatives’ grocery store. He turned into a habitual runaway, even living at a state orphanage in Twin Bridges for half a year.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan

Mansfield retired from the Senate in 1976, and was appointed Ambassador to Japan in April 1977 by Jimmy Carter, a role he retained during the Reagan administration until 1988. While serving in Japan, Mansfield was highly respected. Mansfield is particularly renowned for describing the United States-Japan relationship as the ‘most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none’. Mansfield’s successor in Japan, Michael Armacost, noted in his memoirs that, for Mansfield, the phrase was a ‘mantra.’ While in office, Mansfield also fostered relations between his home state of Montana and Japan. The sister city of Helena, capital of the state, is Kumamoto city, on the island of Kyushu.