Muskie enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters until his discharge in 1945. He returned to Maine, where he became involved in local politics. In 1946 he was elected to the Maine legislature, winning reelection in 1948 and 1950. He then set his sights on the governorship, an office he won in 1954. He served in the governor's mansion until 1959, when he was sworn in as the junior U.S. senator from Maine. His political ascendancy was particularly noteworthy because he was a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican state.
Muskie was an effective senator and served on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Governmental Affairs Committee, and the Environmental Committee, which helped him hone his skills as an environmentalist. In the contentious 1968 presidential election, he was the Democratic nominee for vice president. Hubert Humphrey—the Democratic presidential nominee—and Muskie lost a close election to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
On 7 May 1980, Muskie ended his long senatorial career to take on the position of secretary of state. Sworn into office on 8 May, he retained his post until January 1981, when a change in administrations necessitated his resignation. He assumed his new office under extremely trying circumstances. President Jimmy Carter had chosen Muskie to replace Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who had resigned in protest over a failed attempt to gain the freedom of fifty-three U.S. hostages being held by student radicals in Tehran, Iran. Muskie left no major impact on U.S. foreign policy, but he worked tirelessly to end the hostage crisis. Carter's inability to bring this affair to a satisfactory conclusion probably cost him the 1980 election.
After leaving office in January 1981, Muskie practiced law, wrote, and spoke on a variety of topics. He died in Washington, D.C., on 26 March 1996.
Paul Pierpaoli Jr.
Muskie, Edmund. Journeys. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.