American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview

EDMUND S. MUSKIE (1914-1996)

Served 1980-1981

Appointed by President Jimmy Carter

Democrat

Edmund Sixtus Muskie was born in Rumford, Maine, on March 28, 1914, the son of Polish immigrants Stephen and Josephine (Czarnecki) Muskie. Stephen Muskie's name was shortened from Marcizewski by U.S. immigration officials. Rumford, a paper mill town, served as the humble backdrop of Muskie's working-class upbringing. Muskie graduated cum laude with a Bachelor's degree from Bates College in 1936. He then studied law, receiving his degree in law from Cornell University in 1939. He started his law practice at Waterville, Maine, in 1940. With the outbreak of World War II, Muskie joined the Navy in 1942, serving on destroyer escorts in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. He left the service in 1945 at the rank of lieutenant to resume his law practice. He married Jane Frances Gray on May 29, 1948. The couple had five children.

Muskie began his political career as a Democrat and State Representative in the Maine House of Representatives from 1948 to 1951, the latter two years of which he served as the Democratic floor leader. Muskie served on the Democratic National Committee from 1952-1955. In 1955 he became Maine's governor, and only the second Democrat and the first Roman Catholic elected to serve in that capacity in the state's history. He served as governor until 1959. In that year he won his bid to become Maine's first Democratic senator, a position he held until named secretary of state in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter.

Muskie, an imposing man with a lanky six-foot-four frame and rugged facial features reminiscent of the mountains in his home state, was also a gifted orator with a strong moral sense and a legendary temper, leavened by a dry sense of humor and warm personal charm. He also developed a capacity for consensus building, a necessity for a Democrat attempting to carve out a political career in a predominantly Republican state. These personal attributes enabled Muskie to become one of the country's most effective legislators. After challenging the Southern Democ-rats and the Senate seniority system they dominated in his first vote as a senator, Muskie was relegated to committees then considered less consequential. But

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