Edmund Muskie

A Politician of Polish Origin, One of the Most Influential Senators of the 20th Century in the USA

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I cannot answer the question why so few Poles, both those living in Poland and those permanently residing in the United States, remember this significant tenure in the area of American politics by a longtime senator, as well as the governor of Maine, and the secretary of state in US diplomacy.

Muskie's legacy portrait to commemorate his term as the 64th Governor of Maine (1955 to 1959)

Although many years have passed since Edmund Muskie was a significant politician of Polish origin in the American government, it is worth recalling his biography and achievements.

His father, Stefan Marciszewski, left the Polish territory, then under the Russian rule, at the age of 17 in order not to be forcibly conscripted into the army of the Russian Empire. Initially, he stayed in England for several years, before emigrating from Europe to the United States. After arriving on the American continent, Stefan changed his family name Marciszewski to Muskie, as he thought it would be much easier to pronounce for Americans.

As a professional tailor, he established his own workshop in Rumford, Maine. In 1911, Stefan married Józefina Czarnecka, who came from a Polish-American family. It was from this union that Edmund "Ed" Muskie was born on March 28, 1914. Brought up in a Polish family in Rumford, Ed graduated from Bates College, where he proved to be an excellent, gifted and socially active student.

Although Ed Muskie initially did not wish to continue his education, he decided to enter Cornell Law School as he received a scholarship to continue his studies. It was in the 1930s when America, like many other countries in the world, was struggling with the great economic crisis.

Muskie graduated from Cornell Law School in 1939 and became a lawyer.

In 1942, shortly after the United States joined the Second World War, Ed Muskie joined the US Navy. From April 1944 to November 1945, Muskie served on the warship USS Brackett and took part in the hostilities in the waters of the Pacific.

After the end of the war, even though his home state of Maine was traditionally a Republican state, Ed Muskie joined the Democratic Party. He entered the state House of Representatives for that party and was elected Governor of Maine in 1954. Re-elected in 1956, he held this honorable position until the end of 1958.

Muskie For Maine campaign for the governorship of Maine

On January 2, 1959, Muskie resigned as governor to sit in the United States Senate following successful senatorial elections in 1958.

Ed Muskie married Jane Gray Muskie. They were married for 50 years and raised five children together.

Muskie won the US Senate elections multiple times in 1964, 1970, and 1976.

In 1968, the whole of America learned of Edmund Muskie's name and personality when he entered the presidential campaign. The candidate for the presidency of the United States from the Democratic party, Huber H. Humphrey, who was running at that time, invited him to participate in the campaign for the position of the Vice-President.

The presidential election was then won by a pair of candidates: Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Nevertheless, Edmund Muskie earned the respect and recognition of numerous voters. Many remembered him as an outstanding politician, an excellent speaker, convinced of the rightness of his political views. In his speeches, he emphasized how important it is for him to mobilize the American people in the fight against social injustice, racial tensions, economic problems, and the progressive destruction of the natural environment.

Edward Muskie with George Mitchell

During his last term in the US Senate, after 21 years, he resigned as a senator, as he was appointed by the then president, Jimmy Carter, the Secretary of State, i.e. the head of diplomacy of the United States. He held this position from May 1980 to January 1981! On January 6, 1981, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It was a great success because, for the first time, an American with Polish roots held such a high position in the US government.

After ending his political career, Edmund Muskie was active in many organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. He was also an active attorney, partner at Chadbourne & Parke, and has never ceased to work to protect the environment, which earned him the nickname "Mr. Clean."

Edmund Muskie as Secretary of State (1980)

Edmund Muskie died of a heart attack on March 26, 1996, at the age of 82 in Washington, D.C. He went down in history as an outstanding politician, and his numerous achievements, intelligence and integrity of character have earned him a permanent place in the memory of the American people.

Will we soon see a politician of Polish origin who would occupy such a significant place in the political arena of the United States?

All hope rests in our young generation of Polish-Americans.

All photos: Wikipedia.

Translation from Polish by Andrew Woźniewicz.