Mike Mansfield and John F. Kennedy entered the Senate together as freshman senators in 1953 and maintained a close friendship and working relationship throughout their careers. Just two years into their Senate careers, Mansfield remarked to a reporter that “Kennedy was a charmed person and would be president someday.” (Don Oberdorfer, Senator Mansfield (Washington: Smithsonian, 2003)).
Mike Mansfield strongly supported Kennedy in his unsuccessful vice presidential campaign in 1956 and again in his 1960 presidential campaign. After his election, President Kennedy strongly pushed Mansfield to accept his appointment as Senate Majority Leader, a post he would hold for 16 years.
Mike Mansfield also served as a trusted advisor to the president during the Kennedy administration. He privately counseled President Kennedy on a number of issues spanning domestic and international politics. President Kennedy relied heavily on him as an expert on Asian affairs, and sent Senator Mansfield on a number of foreign policy assignments abroad, including a mission to Vietnam. Mike Mansfield’s expertise on East Asia helped shape U.S. foreign policy during this period, and helped President Kennedy pursue a policy of negotiation, not conflict, in Laos.
Photo credit: 85-211, Mansfield Collection, K. Ross Toole Archives, Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana.