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May 10: The Birth of the Nonpartisan League

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In 1902, Indiana seed merchant James A. Everitt organized the American Society of Equity, one of the first organizations formed to improve conditions for American farmers. Everitt believed that if farmers organized, they would become a powerful political force. By 1906, the Society claimed there were almost three thousand local chapters, with almost every state represented.

On this date in 1907, the Society announced it was embarking on a major campaign to improve prices for agricultural products. James Holt, president of the North Dakota chapter, said organizers sent throughout the state were meeting with great success in signing up new members, even at the cost of six dollars, which, at the time, was a substantial cost. Holt said farmers were ready and willing to band together in an effort to improve their lot.

In 1914, Governor Hanna had campaigned on the promise of a state-owned elevator, but once elected, Hanna took no action to fulfill that promise. Farmers were tired of waiting. They believed the time was right for action. In 1915, when the North Dakota chapter of the American Society of Equity held its state convention in Bismarck, a new idea began to surface. The plan was to organize farmers into a nonpartisan political party. Republican legislator Treadwell Twichell learned of the plan and addressed the farmers. It was reported that he said the farmers should go home and slop the hogs and leave governing of the state to the politicians. Twichell later denied making that statement, but Society members believed he did and their anger grew.

Farmers were determined to unite in order to force the state to address their grievances. Albert Bowen and Arthur C. Townley resigned from the Socialist Party to devote their efforts to the Nonpartisan League. The NPL platform included a state-owned flour mill and elevator, state grain inspection, state hail insurance, and low interest loans for farmers. Critics of the NPL focused on what they viewed as socialist characteristics, but the organization quickly grew. In 1916, the NPL put a farmer into the governor’s office, and won several state offices, including control of the House of Representatives.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


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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