Dakota Datebook

A Political Insurgency

Thursday, March 16, 2017

 

The political scene in North Dakota has always been turbulent.  Only a year after gaining statehood, the Farmer’s Alliance formed an independent party to challenge Republican control.  In 1892, they joined with the Democrats to gain control of the state, but the success was short-lived, with Republicans regaining the edge in 1894.

There was another political upheaval in 1905 when progressive Republicans united with Democrats.  Many people felt that out-of-state business owners were given preference over North Dakota citizens.  They formed the North Dakota Socialist Party.

But North Dakota’s greatest insurgency came ten years later when progressives, reformers, and radicals united to demand reforms including full suffrage for women and state control of banks, mills, and elevators.  Together they formed the Non-Partisan League in 1915.

On this date in 1916, the NPL’s newspaper, The Nonpartisan Leader, printed a special St. Patrick’s Day issue.  The front page featured a nod to St. Patrick, with a cartoon showing a farmer with a club labeled “The Nonpartisan League.”  He wielded the club against the snakes infesting North Dakota: Big Business, Professional Politicians, Land Hogs, Grain Speculators, and Railroads.  The newspaper explained that just as St. Patrick had driven the snakes out of Ireland, a new St. Patrick – the state’s farmers – would drive the snakes out of North Dakota.  Farmers would use the powerful club of the Nonpartisan League to rid the state of those who preyed on the farmers and robbed them of the profits of their hard work.

Throughout the newspaper there were articles, letters, and editorials urging farmers to band together.  One writer said farmers should “remain a solid block no matter what comes over the hill.”  Another wrote, “Let us stand shoulder to shoulder.”  The editor assured readers, “The hour is at hand when the greatest movement of the producers will be carried forward to success.”

But by the end of World War I, people were once again looking for a change.  They faced problems caused by the drop in grain prices and a severe drought.  North Dakotans wanted immediate change, and the NPL lost support.  Opponents coalesced into the Independent Voters Association.  The era of the NPL was over, but the party left its mark, as evidenced by the Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator, which continue to serve the state today.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.

Sources:

The Nonpartisan Leader. 16 March, 1916.

State Historical Society of North Dakota. “Summary of North Dakota History.” http://history.nd.gov/ndhistory/statehood.html Accessed 11 February, 2017.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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