National Democrats had been reluctant to support the idea of free land for settlers prior to the Civil War, and that combined with their party’s identification with slavery led to their decline in Minnesota. The strength of the Republican Party, however, which in the late 19th century generally supported limited government activity, did not prevent Minnesota voters from supporting third-party movements that favored government action to meet the individual needs of citizens. Protest politics grew out of the economic clash between wheat farmers and the businesspeople who ran the railroads, flour mills, and the farm-equipment and banking industries. Many farmers believed that big businesses and banks located in the East had too much economic power. In 1867 Oliver Hudson Kelley of Elk River founded the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry in Washington, D.C. Better known as the Grange, more than 20,000 local granges existed in 32 states by 1874, chiefly in the Midwest and the South.
These groups attempted to ease the financial difficulties of farmers by establishing cooperative stores, purchasing agencies, and factories for the manufacture of farm machinery, and also started a system of fire and windstorm insurance. In the early 1870s the Grange influenced the Minnesota legislature to enact the state’s first laws regulating the business practices of railroad companies. The Grangers’ ideas became increasingly liberal (they supported government solutions to economic problems) and continued through successive reform movements, including the Anti-Monopoly Party (or Independent Party), the Greenback Party, Farmers’ Alliance, and the Populist Party. These organizations were dominated by the colorful Minnesotan Ignatius Donnelly, who was at that time one of the nation’s greatest public speakers. Donnelly played a major role in writing the national Populist Party platform in 1892 and later that year was the unsuccessful Populist candidate for Minnesota governor.
Populist aims were carried into Minnesota politics in the early 20th century. Particularly during the governorships of Democrat John A. Johnson (1905-1909) and Republican Albert O. Eberhart (1909-1915), Minnesota legislators attempted to curb the power of particular industries. They imposed further regulations on railroads, banks, and insurance companies and emphasized political independence, including, in 1913, the dramatic move of banning party affiliation in the legislature. In 1912 former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) won the electoral votes of Minnesota as the presidential candidate of the Progressive Party.
Progressive disenchantment with both Republicans and Democrats encouraged the farm protest movement, which was particularly strong among those who relied on a single crop such as flax or wheat. In 1917 Arthur C. Townley, who had founded the Nonpartisan League in North Dakota two years earlier, moved its national headquarters to Saint Paul. The league aimed to reduce economic class distinctions, which strongly appealed to wheat farmers and organized workers. The Nonpartisan League hoped to win control of Minnesota’s strong Republican Party. After Republicans rejected league overtures, however, Townley helped form the Farmer-Labor Party, which fielded a gubernatorial candidate in 1918.
By 1923 both U.S. senators from Minnesota were Farmer-Labor Party members. The party had surpassed the state’s Democratic Party and mounted a serious challenge to the Republicans. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression ruined the reputation of the Republican Party across the nation, and Minnesota was no exception. Farmer-Laborite Floyd B. Olson won the governorship in 1930, was reelected in 1932, and again in 1934. The dynamic, personable Olson was one of the most popular governors in Minnesota history, and the legislature, controlled by Farmer-Laborites, enacted a state income tax.
Olson, who died during his third term, brought the Farmer-Labor Party closer to the national Democratic Party during the Great Depression, and the Democrats, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, became dramatically more liberal as they enacted the domestic relief program, called the New Deal. Roosevelt was the first Democrat to win Minnesota’s presidential vote, carrying the state in all four of his campaigns. Lieutenant Governor Hjalmar Petersen completed Olson’s third term, and in 1936 Elmer Benson was elected governor.
A Republican resurgence began with the election of 31-year-old Governor Harold Edward Stassen in 1938. Twice reelected, Stassen became a nationally recognized leader of progressive Republicans, who accepted most important New Deal measures such as the Social Security system, but strenuously criticized the Farmer-Labor Party’s system of awarding state jobs to people loyal to the party, a practice called patronage. Stassen streamlined the administration of state government, championed involvement in international affairs, and was the keynote speaker at the 1940 Republican National Convention. While Stassen was governor both the Democrats and Farmer-Laborites lost strength. Their diminishing prestige, the philosophical similarity of Democrats and Farmer-Laborites since the New Deal, and pressure from the Roosevelt Administration caused the parties to unite in April 1944 as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL). The DFL won two congressional seats in 1944 and in 1945 young DFL member Hubert H. Humphrey was elected mayor of Minneapolis.
The DFL showed its strength in 1948 with the election of Humphrey to the U.S. Senate and Eugene McCarthy and two other candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives. The DFL was long dominated by leaders involved in the election of 1948. As U.S. senator between 1949 and 1964, Humphrey became nationally famous for championing liberal causes, especially civil rights for black Americans, and as vice president from 1965 to 1969, he was a strong supporter of President Lyndon Johnson and his policy of United States involvement in the Vietnam War (1959-1975). In 1968 Republican Richard M. Nixon narrowly defeated Humphrey in a presidential campaign that featured strong opposition from Eugene McCarthy, a vigorous opponent of U.S. participation in Vietnam. Reelected to the Senate in 1970, Humphrey served until his death in 1978.
McCarthy, who served ten years in the House of Representatives (1949-1959) and two terms in the Senate (1959-1971), became the nation’s foremost critic of Johnson’s Vietnam policy. Orville Freeman, chairman of the state DFL in 1948, served as Minnesota governor for three terms (1955-1961) and later as secretary of agriculture in the administrations of John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) and Lyndon Johnson. Walter F. Mondale, who while a college student worked with Freeman in 1948, served as the state’s attorney general (1960-1964) and as United States senator (1964-1976) before being elected vice president in 1976 on the Democratic ticket headed by Jimmy Carter. He was unsuccessful in his 1980 vice-presidential reelection bid and as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. "Minnesota" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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