Childhood & Early Life
Edmund Sixtus Muskie was born on March 28, 1914, in Rumford, Maine, US. He was the second child of Russian Poland immigrant Stephen Marciszewski (later Muskie) and Josephine (née Czarnecka). He had five siblings: Irene, Eugene, Lucy, Elizabeth, and Frances.
Muskie graduated as a class topper from the ‘Stephens High School’ in 1932. He was named the valedictorian. While in school, he played baseball and took part in performing arts. He was made the student body president in his senior year.
He attended ‘Bates College’ in Lewiston, Maine, and graduated in 1936. During his time at the college, he took part in debates and various sports. He was elected to the student government and later became the class president and a member of ‘Phi Beta Kappa.’ Although he received a small scholarship and New Deal subsidies, Muskie had to work in the summers to sustain during his ‘Bates’ days.
A partial merit-based scholarship led him to join ‘Cornell Law School.’ However, his scholarship ran out following his second semester. Fortunately, he then heard of an "eccentric millionaire" and philanthropist named William Bingham II and gathered $900 from him, which helped him complete his studies at ‘Cornell.’ Muskie was elected to the ‘Phi Alpha Delta’ fraternity there and graduated “cum laude” in 1939. The same year, he was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar.
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While preparing for the Maine Bar examination, which he cleared in 1940, Muskie served as a high-school substitute teacher. He later relocated to Waterville, where in March 1940, he purchased a small law firm for $2000. It was renamed ‘Muskie & Glover.’
On March 26, 1942, he received a formal call for deck officer training. He then joined the ‘Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School’ as a diesel engineer. He received a call to attend the ‘United States Naval Academy’ on September 11, 1942. He was later assigned the rank of midshipman following a 6-week training as an apprentice seaman.
In May 1943, he was delegated to ‘First Naval District,’ Boston, following his 16-week tenure at the diesel engineering school. He worked on ‘USS YP-522’ and then served as an indoctrinator on the ‘USS YP-566,’ before being promoted to the post of deck officer in November that year. He took training at the ‘Submarine Chaser Training Center’ in Miami for 2 weeks, following which, in February 1944, he was sent to study reconnaissance in Columbus, Ohio.
He was made a lieutenant (junior grade) in March 1944. In April, 1944, he was temporarily stationed at Mare Island, following which he became involved in active duty warfare, touring aboard the destroyer escort ‘USS Brackett.’ It was sent off into the Pacific Ocean for protecting US convoys and other ships from Japanese aircrafts and submarines. On December 18, 1945, Muskie was released from the navy.
He formally joined politics in 1946, in pursuit of expanding his law practice. As a ‘Democrat,’ Muskie defeated ‘Republican’ William A. Jones to become a member of the ‘Maine House of Representatives’ from the 110th district on September 9 that year. He assumed office on December 5, 1946, and later resigned on February 8, 1951, to serve as the acting director for the ‘Maine Office of Price Stabilization.’ From 1951 to 1952, he served as the regional director at the ‘Office of Price Stabilization.’ He then served as a member of the ‘Democratic National Committee’ from 1952 to 1956.
Meanwhile, he suffered a damage of around $2,300 when his law firm was hit by fire on October 17, 1946. The following year, he unsuccessfully ran for the election for the mayor of Waterville.
Despite the ‘Republican’ stronghold in Maine, Muskie succeeded in winning the 1954 Maine gubernatorial election, defeating the ‘Republican’ incumbent governor Burton M. Cross. Muskie assumed office as the 64th governor of Maine on January 5, 1955, and was re-elected for a second term on September 10, 1956.
He stressed on the economic expansion of the region and instated environmental provisions. Authorized by the ‘Maine State Legislature,’ Muskie, on August 31, 1955, signed the ‘New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Compact.’ He also signed an executive order that extended the gubernatorial term to 4 years.
Other works of Muskie as the governor of Maine included developing the ‘Department of Development of Commerce and Industry’ and the ‘Maine Industrial Building Authority’; enforcing environmental standards; sanctioning a $29 million highway bond in 1957 that funded the largest road construction in the history of Maine; launching the ‘Maine Guarantee Authority’ in 1957; increasing minimum wage and labor protections; increasing expenditure on subsidized hospitals, public education, and modernized state facilities among others.
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He resigned as the governor of Maine on January 2, 1959, to assume office as a United States senator from Maine on January 3 that year, defeating incumbent ‘Republican’ senator Frederick G. Payne. He was re-elected in 1964, 1970, and 1976 and served till May 7, 1980.
Throughout his career as a senator, Muskie remained a ‘Committee on Public Works’ member. He earned the nickname "Mr. Clean" for his speeches on environmental preservation. In 1959, he sponsored the ‘Intergovernmental Relations Act.’ He served the ‘Committee on Banking and Currency’ (1959–1970) and the ‘Committee on Government Operations’ (till 1978), co-founded the ‘United States Capital Historical Society’ (1962), wrote and developed the ‘Clean Air Act’ of 1963 with aide Leon Billings, passed the ‘Civil Rights Act’ of 1964, sponsored the ‘Water Quality Act’ in 1965 (later referred to as the ‘Clean Water Act’), and drafted the ‘Model Cities Bill’ (which was passed in 1966).
He was the chairperson of the ‘Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’ from 1967 to 1969. He also chaired the congressional environmental committee. He came up with the ‘Clean Air Act’ of 1970 along with other committee members during his tenure.
He served as the first chairperson of the ‘Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’ from January 3, 1967, to January 3, 1969. He delivered the 1976 ‘State of the Union Response’ and served as the first chairperson of the ‘Senate Budget Committee’ from January 3, 1975, to May 8, 1980. He set up the United States budget process in the latter capacity.
Meanwhile, he unsuccessfully ran as a ‘Democratic Party’ candidate for the position of the vice president of the United States during the 1968 election.
The release of the "Canuck letter" on February 24, 1972 (2 weeks prior to the New Hampshire primary of that year’s US presidential election), which implied Muskie’s prejudice against Americans of French-Canadian descent, contributed to the derailment of his campaign as a candidate during the primary. It was reportedly a work of sabotage by Ken W. Clawson and Donald Segretti.
Muskie was nominated by President Jimmy Carter as the 58th United States Secretary of State, a position he held from May 8, 1980, to January 20, 1981. During his tenure, Muskie made an effort to negotiate the release of 52 Americans but failed.
Family & Personal Life
Muskie married Jane Frances Grey in 1948. They had five children: Stephen, Ellen, Melinda, Martha, and Edmund Jr.
He died on March 26, 1996, in Washington, D.C., US, and was interred at the ‘Arlington National Cemetery’ in Arlington County, Virginia.
Awards, Honors, & Legacy
He received several honorary degrees from institutes such as the ‘University of Maine’ (1956) and ‘Boston University’ (1969).
On January 16, 1981, he received the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ from President Jimmy Carter. In Maine, March 28 is observed as Edmund S. Muskie Day and is established by law as a public holiday.
The annual ‘Edmund S. Muskie Pro Bono Service Award,’ the ‘Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program,’ the ‘Edmund S. Muskie Distinguished Public Service Award,’ and the ‘Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service’ were named after him.
Muskie’s documents and personal belongings can be found at the ‘Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library’ located at ‘Bates College.’