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February 19: Bill Lanier Gloats

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This week in 1956, prominent Democrat Bill Lanier sent a letter by air mail to Senator William “Wild Bill” Langer. He wrote: “Just a short note to straighten out some of the habitual garbled reporting of the Fargo Forum.

“At the state-wide labor meeting held last Saturday in Fargo … I was quoted as having said, 'We have finally broken the back of the Nonpartisan League.' This is an entirely erroneous quote, as all who were at that meeting … will know. The proper quote was, 'We have finally broken the back of the Old Guard Republican Leaguers.' This quotation was followed by an explanation of the tremendous increase in League memberships which we have promoted in the state to the point that we now have 4,000 card carrying members and three times as many here in Cass County as at any time in the history of the League. Just thought you might be interested.”

If any edition of the Fargo Forum actually attributed such a quote to Bill Lanier, it apparently no longer exists at the North Dakota State Archives.

There had been no love lost between Senator Langer and the newspaper. According to the Forum, Senator Langer had dubbed the newspaper an “octopus around the neck of North Dakotans.” The Forum's editorial staff made it abundantly clear that the loathing was mutual.

Bill Lanier's letter to Senator Langer can be seen as an example of taunting and gloating toward a political rival. And letters from his son Bill Lanier Jr. to Senator Langer were, if anything, even more cocky, confidently predicting that it would not be long before NPL support would “carry every office in the state in the Democratic column.”

Bill Lanier had plenty to gloat about. Just one week earlier, State Senator Iver Solberg, a prominent Leaguer, had resigned his chairmanship of the Williams County Republican Party in response to overwhelming sentiment within the NPL to merge with the Democratic Party.

However, the Democratic Nonpartisan League's first election in 1956 would become a disaster, due in no small part to Senator Langer's open opposition. Yet, despite his popularity, most of the NPL still went over to the Democratic Party. And this would have a profound effect on North Dakota politics.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • Bill Lanier to Senator William Langer, 17 February 1956. P. W. Lanier, Jr. Papers. Box 1, Folder 2. OGLMC 85. Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota.
  • The Sunday morning edition of the Fargo Forum on February 12, 1956, extensively quoted P. W. Lanier, Jr.
  • “N. D. Labor Sets Sights On Defeating Sen. Young”; Fargo Forum; 12 February 1956; page A1, columns 3-4; page A7, column 1.
  • “Labor, Liberal Unity Sought”, Fargo Forum, page 1, column 2.
  • If the Fargo Forum had actually misquoted Bill Lanier, it would have been a Freudian slip for the newspaper. The Forum reported that Lieutenant Governor C. P. Dahl, prominent within the pro-establishment Republican Organizing Committee, praised the Nonpartisan League insurgents. He said, “If the League goes into the Democratic column, then the goals of the meetings held in January on Republican unity will be accomplished.”
  • Gifford Herron, “North Dakota Whirligig: United GOP Convention Looking Better To Dahl As Schnell Plugs Open Primary”, Fargo Forum, 19 February 1956, page C2, columns 2-5.
  • Gifford Herron, “North Dakota Whirligig: Old Guard And ROC Favor Unity, But Approach Cautiously”, Fargo Forum, 12 February 1956, page C1, columns 2-8.
  • “Langer Spouts Off In Senate On The Forum, 3 Magazines”, Fargo Forum, 15 February 1956, page 18, columns 2-3.
  • “Sen. Langer, In Shouting Senate Speech, Explains Those 11 Round Trips To N. D.”, Fargo Forum, 18 February 1956, page 2, columns 2-4.
  • “Langer Talks Of 'Subsidies' But Can't Explain His Own” (editorial), Fargo Forum, page A4, columns 1-2.
  • P. W. Lanier, Jr. to Senator William Langer, 8 April 1955. P. W. Lanier, Jr. Papers. Box 1, Folder 2. OGLMC 85. Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota.
  • P. W. Lanier, Jr. to Senator William Langer, 14 July 1955. P. W. Lanier, Jr. Papers. Box 1, Folder 2.
  • “NPL 'Switch' Begins: League Senator Quits GOP Job”, Bismarck Tribune, 11 February 1956, page 1, columns 3-4.
  • “Senator Solberg Resigns As Williams GOP Chairman”, Fargo Forum, 12 February 1956, page C1, columns 3-4.
  • “Official Abstract Of Votes Cast At The General Election Held November 4, 1958” in Ben Meier (Secretary of State), Compilation of Election Returns: National and State, 1946-1964 (Bismarck: North Dakota Secretary of State, 1 January 1965)
  • Agnes Geelan, The Dakota Maverick. (Fargo: Agnes Geelan, 1975), pages 126-127.
  • Ibid., page 146.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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