Mike Mansfield

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Mike Mansfield : biography

March 16, 1903 – October 5, 2001

After his retirement as ambassador, Mansfield worked as an advisor to Goldman Sachs on East Asian affairs.

Congressional service

House

In 1940, Mansfield ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives in Montana’s 1st congressional district. However, he ran for the same seat in 1942 and won, handily defeating Republican businessman Howard K. Hazelbaker. He succeeded Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the Congress, who had decided not to seek re-election.

Mansfield served five terms in the House, being re-elected in 1944, 1946, 1948, and 1950. His military service and academic experience landed him a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He went to China on a special mission for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, and served as a delegate to the ninth Inter-American Conference in Colombia in 1948. In 1951, he was appointed by President Harry S. Truman as a delegate to the United Nations sixth session in Paris. During his House tenure, he also expressed his support for price controls, a higher minimum wage, the Marshall Plan, and aid to Turkey and Greece; he opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Taft–Hartley Act, and the Twenty-second Amendment.

Senate

In 1952, Mansfield was elected to the U.S. Senate after narrowly defeating Republican incumbent Zales Ecton. He served as Senate Majority Whip under Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson from 1957 to 1961. In 1961, after Johnson resigned from the Senate to become Vice President, Mansfield was unanimously elected the Democratic floor leader and thus Senate Majority Leader. Serving sixteen years, from 1961 until his retirement in 1977, Mansfield is the longest-serving Majority Leader in the history of the Senate. The Washington Post compared Mansfield’s behavior as Majority Leader to Johnson’s by saying, "Instead of Johnson’s browbeating tactics, Mansfield led by setting an example of humility and accommodation."

An early supporter of Ngo Dinh Diem, Mansfield had a change of heart on the Vietnam issue after a visit to Vietnam in 1962. He reported to President Kennedy on December 2, 1962, that US money given to Diem’s government was being squandered and that the US should avoid further involvement in Vietnam. He was thus the first American official to comment adversely on the war’s progress.

As the President of the Senate, Mansfield delivered the lead eulogy on November 24, 1963, witnessed by Jacqueline Kennedy, as President Kennedy’s casket lay in state in the Capitol rotunda: "And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands, and kissed him, and closed the lid of a coffin. A piece of each of us died at that moment."

During the Johnson presidency, Mansfield became a frequent and vocal critic of US involvement in the Vietnam War. In February 1965 he lobbied against escalating aerial bombardment of North Vietnam in the aftermath of Pleiku, arguing in a letter to the president that Operation Rolling Thunder would lead to a need for "vastly strengthened . . . American forces."Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), 103.

In 1964, Mansfield, as Senate Majority Leader, filed a procedural motion to have the proposed Civil Rights Act discussed by the whole Senate rather than by the Judiciary Committee, the latter having killed similar legislation seven years prior.

He hailed the new Nixon administration, especially the "Nixon Doctrine" announced at Guam in 1969 that the US would:

  1. honor all U.S. treaty commitments against those who might invade the lands of allies of the United States;
  2. provide a nuclear umbrella against threats of other nuclear powers;
  3. supply weapons and technical assistance to countries where warranted but without committing American forces to local conflicts.

In turn Nixon turned to Mansfield for advice and as his liaison with the Senate on Vietnam. Nixon began a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops shortly after taking office in January 1969, a policy supported by Mansfield. During his first term, Nixon reduced American forces by 95%, leaving only 24,200 in late 1972; the last ones left in March 1973.