Langer’s Wheat Embargo
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Governor William Langer issued an embargo on North Dakota wheat on this date in 1933, stopping all shipments from the state of Number One Dark North Spring Wheat and Number Two Amber Durum. North Dakota National Guardsmen were placed on active-duty at midnight and posted at all state border crossings in order to enforce the order.
In one of his most radical moves yet, Governor Langer hoped the Wheat Embargo would help the ailing farmers of the state who were facing bank foreclosures, drastic interest rates, and rock-bottom wheat prices. At current prices of 75ȼ a bushel, most farmers would actually incur a loss on their wheat and other agricultural products.
Langer intended to hold back the wheat supply until prices rose. He defended the legality of the embargo, since the last state legislature had passed a statute granting him powers to restrict “an unwarranted drain upon the natural resources of the State” and granted him the authority of the National Guard to do so. Langer considered the state’s farmers, and their agricultural products, to be its greatest natural resource, and so his actions to protect them were, in his estimation, completely within the confines of state law.
A staunch supporter of North Dakota farmers, Langer became known for his Depression-era legislation to protect them. Earlier that year, he passed a moratorium on farm foreclosures, authorizing the National Guard to prevent foreclosures on any small business or farm. During the 1932 gubernatorial campaign, he became infamous for telling farmers, “Shoot the banker if he comes on your farm; treat him like a chicken thief.” When bankers and businessmen fought against his foreclosure moratorium, he cited an 1862 territorial law that “disallowed all foreclosures when farmers could not get a fair price due to circumstances beyond their control.” Calling the farmer “the forgotten man of the New Deal,” Langer believed it was up to him to protect them; his embargo and foreclosure moratorium were, quote, “…unmatched by any other politician nationwide.”
No other states would join in the embargo, and although wheat prices rose a few cents by November, prices never rose enough for farmers to make a profit on that year’s crop. The three-month embargo officially ended January 15th, when Langer’s actions were declared unconstitutional.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
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