Richard Nixon & Hubert Humphrey: A Lasting Friendship

Richard Nixon’s cousin Jessamyn West, the famed author of Friendly Persuasion, commented: “I am a democrat and have always been. I was a socialist when I was very young. Some people write about Richard as if he were a kind of colorless, grim, self-contained person. I find him enormously quite different from that; quite funny, quite open. Far from being the cold or prim or restrained fellow that people have Nixon pegged as being, he is a man full of passion, a man full of feeling.”

Who else knew this about Richard Nixon?

Hubert Humphrey.

Humphrey and Nixon had been friendly since at least 1954 when Senator Humphrey made a point of telling Pat Nixon how well her husband did on his Far East trip as vice president. At the time, Pat barely knew Humphrey.

When Humphrey was elected vice president in 1964, Nixon congratulated Hubert: “When you were nominated for the vice presidency, I predicted to newsmen that you would be one of the most effective speakers on the campaign trail. Based on my visits to 36 states in the past month, I regretfully concluded that my prediction was confirmed completely! While we are political opponents. I want you to know that as a fellow practicing politician, I salute you for your tireless campaigning on behalf of your party and I congratulate you on your victory.”

In reply, Hubert thanked Nixon: “I am delighted that your prediction was borne out, but even more pleased at your praise as a practicing politician. Between the two of us, we provided an easy opportunity for anyone who wanted to hear a political speech to hear one. It was good to see you [recently] and I do hope we will have a chance to talk here in Washington in the near future.”

Later, in June 1965, Hubert wrote Nixon: “Word has reached us about your 25th wedding anniversary. Muriel joins me in extending you congratulations and our very best wishes. I understand that you will be spending the week in the same place where you spent your honeymoon 25 years ago. That’s the way to keep young. Just make time stand still but enjoy every minute of your life.” Hubert concluded his letter by telling Nixon “Whenever you are in Washington, stop by to say hello. Vice Presidents ought to commiserate and have a fraternity of their own that knows no partisan politics.”

In reply, Nixon both demonstrated his appreciation and humor: “You were most thoughtful to write to Pat and me on the occasion of your 25th Wedding Anniversary. We greatly enjoyed our visit to Mexico especially because it allowed us to take our daughters to some of the same places which were our favorites when we were there in 1940. One of these days when I am in Washington, I shall drop in to see you as you so thoughtfully suggested. Perhaps we should form a new union – The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vice Presidents! From the reports I see in the Washington press, incidentally, you are handling your difficult assignment with your usual great energy and political skill.”

After they both attended a Christmas party Nixon revealed his self-deprecating sense of humor: “It was a pleasure to see Muriel and you at the Pakistan Embassy. I hope the press coverage of our meeting did not embarrass you.”  

Vice President Hubert Humphrey was the Democrat candidate for president in 1968, running against Richard Nixon. A few days after Nixon defeated Humphrey in the November election, the two met at the Opa-locka Airport, near Miami. President Johnson refused to provide Humphrey with a jet, so he traveled in a prop plane instead. Nixon arrived ahead of Humphrey and the two met privately in a nondescript office. Nixon had planned for a ten-minute meeting, knowing it would be uncomfortable for Humphrey as he had just lost the presidential election. When aide Nixon aide Dwight Chapin entered their meeting room at the ten-minute mark, Nixon told him to give them another ten minutes. This happened again ten minutes later.

When Chapin entered after thirty minutes, Dick and Hubert were standing together, with Dick’s arm around Hubert’s shoulders, embracing him as Hubert sobbed. Hubert told Nixon: “Dick, I want to do whatever I can to help you.” Nixon consoled his friend: “Hubert, I’ll be in touch. You and Muriel go have a good vacation.”

Nixon walked Humphrey out to his plane, and as he watched his friend and former opponent board his plane, Nixon told his aide, “Dwight, believe me, that is so, so hard. I remember.”

At his inauguration, Nixon continued to express a sensitivity toward Hubert by providing him with an Air Force jet on which to travel home. He also selected a bouquet of Muriel’s favorite flowers to be handed to her along with a handwritten note thanking her and the vice president for their years of public service as they boarded the aircraft.

By the end of 1977, Hubert was terminally ill with cancer and knew his time was short when he called Nixon on Christmas Eve and again Christmas morning to personally invite Nixon to attend what he knew was his impending funeral.

Hubert called Dick because he knew that Dick was in self-imposed exile in San Clemente, and had not yet returned to Washington D.C., where Democrat Jimmy Carter was now president, and the democrats controlled the House and Senate, and none of whom would invite Nixon back to the Nation’s Capitol. Hubert wanted Dick to be present and to stand in the place of honor of a former president at Hubert’s funeral. Hubert did this because knew that his friend Nixon was not a dark, flawed, evil man. According to Senator David Durenberger, from Humphrey’s home state of Minnesota, Hubert “realized that whether you share Nixon’s views or not, you have to recognize his value to public life. Humphrey had known Nixon for decades–and knew that ostracizing Nixon would hurt America’s future more than it would help.”

Truer words have never been spoken.