Michael Joseph Mansfield
(March 16, 1903 – October 5, 2001) was an American Democratic
politician and the longest-serving Majority Leader of the United States Senate
, serving from 1961 to 1977. Born in New York City
to Irish Catholic immigrants
, he was raised in Montana
, where he graduated from the University of Montana
and was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity
. Mansfield represented the state of Montana throughout his political career.
Mansfield was born in New York City, but moved to Montana at an early age. He was raised in Great Falls
. Mansfield traced his roots in Ireland to Lowhill, County Laois
, and it was from there that his ancestors immigrated from Ireland to the United States.
Mansfield left home in 1917, before completing the 8th grade. He joined the United States Navy
at 14 years of age on February 23, 1918. Ten months of Mansfield’s nineteen months of World War I
Navy service were spent overseas. He subsequently spent one year in the Army
On November 10, 1920, Mansfield enlisted a third time, now in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the Western Recruiting Division at San Francisco until January 1921, when he was transferred to the Marine Barracks at Puget Sound, Washington. The following month, he was detached to the Guard Company, Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California. In April, he boarded the USAT Sherman, bound for the Philippines. After a brief stopover at the Marine Barracks at Cavite, he arrived at his duty station on May 5, 1921, the Marine Barracks, Naval Station, Olongapo, Philippine Islands. One year later, Mansfield was assigned to Company A, Marine Battery, Asiatic Fleet. A short tour of duty with the Asiatic Fleet took him along the coast of China, before he returned to Olongapo in late May 1922.
That August, Mansfield returned to Cavite in preparation for his return to the United States and eventual discharge. On November 9, 1922, Marine Private Michael J. Mansfield was released on the completion of his enlistment. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, his character being described as “excellent” during his two years as a Marine.
Mansfield returned to Montana after his discharge where he worked in the Butte mines as a miner and mining engineer until 1930. Having never attended high school, Mansfield had to read and study to take the entrance examinations to become eligible to enter college. He attended the Montana School of Mines
from 1927 to 1928 and University of Montana
(known then as Montana State University) from 1930 to 1934. At the University, he was awarded the B.A. and M.A. degrees and went on to teach there for ten years. Before being elected to his first term in Congress in 1942, he was the Professor
of Latin American and Far Eastern History at the University of Montana and a member of the American Federation of Teachers
He served as a member of the Democratic Party
in the U.S. House of Representatives
from 1943 until 1953 and in the United States Senate
from 1953 until 1977. During his tenure in the Senate
, he served as the majority leader
from 1961 to 1977; he is the longest serving majority leader in the history of the Senate.
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.
During the Johnson presidency, Mansfield became a frequent and vocal critic of US involvement in the Vietnam War.
He hailed the new Nixon administration, especially the "Nixon Doctrine" announced at Guam in 1969 that the US would:
- honor all U.S. treaty commitments against those who might invade the lands of allies of the United States;
- provide a nuclear umbrella against threats of other nuclear powers;
- 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. However, by 1970, with Nixon still pursuing the war, he adopted the position that the Congress ought to pressure Nixon more, especially by stringent legislative limitations on the use of American forces and appropriated funds for the war. As a result, Nixon reduced American forces by 95%, leaving only 24,200 in late 1972; the last ones left in 1973.
Mansfield introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The controversial Mansfield Amendment of 1973 expressly limited appropriations for defense research (through ARPA) to projects with direct military application.
An earlier Mansfield Amendment, offered in 1971, called for the number of U.S. troops stationed in Europe to be halved. On May 19, 1971, however, the Senate defeated this amendment by a vote of 61-36.
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. 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'.
After his retirement as ambassador, he worked as an advisor to Goldman Sachs on East Asian affairs.
The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Memorial Library at the University of Montana
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 Montana Democratic Party holds an annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner named partially in his honor. Mansfield retired in 1989, received the United States Military Academy's Sylvanus Thayer Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1990, and died on October 5, 2001, at the age of 98. He was also awarded with the Grand Cordon of the order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers, which is Japan's highest civilian award, and has only been given to two other non-Japanese, former West Germany Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and General Douglas MacArthur.
This gentleman went from snuffy to national and international prominence. And when he died in 2001, he was rightly buried in Arlington. If you want to visit his grave, don't look for him near the "Kennedy Eternal Flame", where so many politicians are laid to rest. Look for a small, common marker shared by the majority of our heroes. Look for the marker that says "Michael J. Mansfield, Pfc. U.S. Marine Corps". Remarks by Col. James Michael Lowe, USMC, October 20, 2004.
The burial plot of Senator and Mrs. Mansfield can be found in section 2, marker 49-69F of Arlington National Cemetery.
- Michael Joseph Mansfield — Seaman, United States Navy — Private United States Marine Corps — United States Senator — United States Ambassador. Arlington National Cemetery. .
- Oberdorfer, Don (2003). Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat. ISBN 1-58834-166-6.
- Olson, Gregory A. (1995). 'Mansfield and Vietnam, a Study in Rhetorical Adaptation. Michigan State University Press.
- The Honorable Michael J. Mansfield. Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved on 2006-04-22..
- Thorne, Christopher "Laid to Rest, A Tribute to Mike Mansfield". Associated Press, .
- Valeo, Francis R. (1999). Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader: A Different Kind of Senate, 1961–1976. New York: M. E. Sharpe. ISBN 0765604507.
- Whalen, Charles and Barbara (1985). The Longest Debate: A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Cabin John, Maryland: Seven Locks Press.