Political Pulse: The Saga of Bill Langer


Bismarck, N.D.
November 11, 1940

What William “Bill” Langer could not do in 1938 against Senator Gerald P. Nye, he has done against former friend William Lemke who gave up his race for reelection to the House of Representatives to run against Langer as an independent. After defeating his old friend Lynn J. Frazier in the primary election in a three-way race, Langer got only 38 percent of the vote—enough to send him to Washington as North Dakota’s new senator. Langer ran as a supporter of the New Deal. He told the North Star Dakotan, “I believe that, like most thinking people, the social objectives and political objectives of the New Deal are properly directed.”

William and Lydia Langer cast their ballots in November 1940. Courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota (0276-38).


Washington, D.C.
January 3, 1941

Today Senator-elect William Langer walked down the aisle to take his oath of office as the United States senator from North Dakota. As he was about to take his oath, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, the Democratic party’s majority floor leader, jumped to his feet, interrupting the proceeding. He told his fellow senators that some North Dakotans had filed petitions with the secretary of the Senate, protesting the seating of the state’s newly elected senator. After a brief conference the senators seated Langer, but the Committee on Privileges and Elections will investigate the charges that the petitions raised. Even though the citizens have elected Langer, the Senate has the power not to seat him if the charges, when revealed and investigated, prove him to be unfit to hold office.


Washington, D.C.
May 8, 1941

Today the Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections selected two investigators to go to North Dakota in order to interview people who may have information about the allegations brought against Langer. The main charge reads “for the past twenty years respondent’s [Langer’s] public and private life has been of such a character that he has been repeatedly suspected and accused of conduct involving moral turpitude.” The original petitions against Langer, the North Star Dakotan has learned, allege wrongdoings going back to 1916. The petitioners charge that Langer bribed jurors and used undue influence to obtain a favorable judge in his second conspiracy trial, stole money from several clients as a lawyer, committed adultery with a client, lowered taxes for the Great Northern Railroad as governor because its lobbyist was a friend. Langer has thus far remained silent, but his supporters point out that over his long and often embattled political career he has made many enemies and those enemies are out to get him.


Washington, D.C.
November 18, 1941

The Committee on Privileges and Elections has just completed two weeks of hearings concerning the seating of William Langer. The investigators who spent considerable time in North Dakota interviewed 160 people who were involved in Langer’s legal and political affairs. They presented 4,000 pages of testimony to the committee. Langer supporters claim that the investigators interviewed mostly anti-Langer witnesses, many of whom came from a list submitted by William Lemke, an arch-enemy of Langer. Texas Senator John Connolly, the outgoing chair of the committee, has told the North Star Dakotan, “As a matter of fact, this record, taken by these investigators, it seems to me from the start the investigators went out there with the idea, ‘Now we have got to get something on this fellow.’”

During the last two days the committee, which includes North Dakota Senator Gerald P. Nye, no friend of Langer, has heard open testimony from both sides of the case. Langer himself testified at length about his legal and political careers, refuting the charges that have been leveled against him.

The work of the committee is completed. In addition to the investigators’ 4,000 pages, the committee now has heard from witnesses and has compiled an additional 850 pages of testimony to consider. No decision is expected until early 1942.


Washington, D.C.
January 29, 1942

Thirteen senators have signed the majority report that calls upon the Senate not to seat William Langer. Scott Lucas of Illinois told the assembled lawmakers: “Your committee finds that the charges of moral turpitude have been proven beyond all reasonable doubt and recommends that the integrity of the United States Senate be upheld by denying William Langer the right to be a United States senator.”


Washington, D.C.
March 4, 1942

Two members of the Committee on Privileges and Elections have filed a minority report, urging their colleagues to seat the North Dakotan. In part the report concluded, “To find Senator Langer guilty on the charges referred against him requires that we indulge in presumptive imagination, which we do not feel we are justified in and therefore refuse to do. We therefore recommend that the proceedings against Senator Langer be dismissed.”


Washington, D.C.
March 27, 1942

By a vote of 57 to 32 the senate rejected the majority report of the Committee on Privileges and Elections and permanently seated William Langer of North Dakota. His long ordeal is over and North Dakota voters have been vindicated.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


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

3-4, 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 Links

“United States v. Langer, et al.: The U.S. District Attorney’s Files”

By Lawrence H. Larsen, The Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains (Spring 1984), pp. 179-184. [PDF]

“A Diamond in the Rough”

William Langer Reexamined by Charles M. Barber, pp. 2-18.

Unequal Contest: Bill Langer and His Political Enemies

By Robert Vogel (2004), Crain Grosinger Publishing.