Political Pulse: The NPL's Road to Ruin

MINNIE CRAIG OUSTS MACDONALD
Bismarck
November 8, 1918

Minnie Craig, supported by anti-NPL forces, defeated NPLer Neil Macdonald for state superintendent for schools by 5,000 votes. Macdonald had played an important role in school reform since 1911.

THREE OFFICIALS EXIT NPL
Bismarck
April 1, 1919

Attorney General William Langer, Auditor Carl Kositzksy, and Secretary of State Thomas Hall have declared their separation from the NPL. They support the League program but maintain that they can no longer tolerate Townley and his dictatorial methods. Langer has openly attacked Townley as a liar who has deceived North Dakota’s farmers. Townley responds that Langer is a traitor.

IVA GAINS STRENGTH IN DEFEAT
Bismarck
June 26, 1919

The Independent Voters’ Association’s attempt to kill the League program through a special referral election has fallen short. The voters upheld the laws that were passed during the last legislative session. The election campaign, however, has solidified the IVA’s resolve to unseat League officials. The IVA now has 20,000 members.

NEW MAGAZINE ATTACKS NPL
Minot
November 18, 1919

North Dakota has been blanketed with issues of a magazine called The Red Flame. Begun by Langer and Kositzky the 40-page publication, which will be published monthly, is devoted to destroying the NPL. This first issue especially emphasizes the League’s radicalism, asserting that Townley and his followers are communists who have nothing in common with North Dakota farmers.

SPECIAL SESSION CONTROVERSY
Bismarck
December 16, 1919

When Governor Frazier called a special session of the legislature, it was to ratify the national women suffrage amendment and to refine measures that were passed during the last session. It, however, has gone much further. The NPL slashed the budgets of Langer, Kositzsky, and Hall and removed them from important boards. Of the 72 bills passed, four especially are seen as NPL efforts to hold its power.

One, any woman living one-half mile or more from a voting place may cast an absentee ballot. Two, a legislative investigation committee is empowered to probe any public official or department. Three, the “anti-liars law” makes it a felony for a state employee to publish false statements about the state’s industries. Four, the position of state sheriff was created to have direction over all the state’s deputies and sheriffs.

These new laws have aroused a storm of protest from the IVA. Theodore “Two Bit” Nelson has told the North Star Dakotan: “This is the end of democracy. Nothing is sacred.”

IVA CONVENTION PACKS ‘EM IN
Grand Forks
May 5, 1920

Boasting a membership of more than 25,000 and sensing that many people are disturbed by the results of the legislative special session, the IVA believes that, to use “”Two Bit” Nelson’s words, “the Socialists are on the run.” The convention selected William Langer to run against Governor Frazier in the primary election.

IVA ASSURED TO HOUSE CONTROL
Bismarck
June 30, 1920

After a heated campaign in which name-calling was the chief issue, the primary election votes are counted and things are looking good for the IVA. Frazier edged out Langer by only 5,000 votes, a clear indication that the NPL is losing support. The IVA has nominated enough members of the House of Representatives to assure control of that body, thus giving it the ability to block any NPL legislation.

NPL LOSES HOUSE
Bismarck
November 10, 1920

The League has elected by slim majorities those candidates whom it nominated last June. Frazier, however, defeated Democrat J.F.T. O’Connor by less than 5,000 votes - the strongest showing a Democrat has made since 1910. To no one’s surprise the IVA now holds the House of Representatives. The NPL no longer has an iron grip on the legislature.

FISTFIGHTS MAR SESSION
Bismarck
March 4, 1921

NPL Supreme Court
Justice James Robinson told lawmakers: “Throw politics to the wind. Repeal the bad laws; reorganize and put on a solid not a sandy foundation the state bank and state industries.” No one listened. Fistfights and parliamentary feuding were commonplace. Although the state is facing a difficult economic slump, the legislators did nothing but bicker. Politics of the worst kind took precedence over the good of the state.

MINNESOTA COURT SENDS TOWNLEY TO JAIL
St. Paul
April 29, 1921

The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s conviction of A.C. Townley for seditious activity in 1918. He has been fined $500 and is to begin a 90-day jail term.

FRAZIER, LEMKE, HAGAN OUSTED
Bismarck
October 29, 1921

Using the recall, which the NPL earlier introduced, the IVA has thrown the members of the Industrial Commission out of office and elected its own slate. Ragnvold Nestos defeated Frazier by 4,102 votes. Attorney General Lemke lost to Sveinbjorn Johnson by 6,787 and Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor Hagan to Joseph Kitchen by 5,335. The IVA’s measure to kill the state businesses, however, failed. It seems that the people want the bank and the mill but think that the IVA can do a better job of running them.

The Industrial Commission members: William Langer, Governor Frazier, John Hagan. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

William Lemke. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

IVA SMASHES NPL
Bismarck
November 10, 1922

It’s over. The Nonpartisan League, as we know it, is dead. A. C. Townley has resigned as its head and the IVA has completely swept the NPL out of office. Governor Nestos has been reelected and other IVAers have won statewide offices. The Independent Voters Association has won both houses of the legislature and the Supreme Court. It has done this year what the NPL did four years ago - win control of all three branches of state government.

Governor Nestos. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton

Source

Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-5, 7-12

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

Related Media

  1. Dakota Datebook: NPL vs IVA
    Audio: The Nonpartisan League and Independent Voters Association battled for control of North Dakota in the 1920s.

Related Links

“An Interview with Henry R. Martinson” (Spring 1976) with Robert Carlson, pp. 188-192. Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains.