Thorstein Thoresen | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Thorstein Thoresen

Jan 5, 2018


On January 6, 1919, Thorstein Thoresen took over the Dunn County states attorney post. A man of high principles and morality, Thoresen was a statesman and politician.

He was also a fine orator, becoming a colorful figure in North Dakota politics.

Born in December 1885 in Norway, Thoresen immigrated to Minnesota with his parents and attended St. Olaf Academy at Northfield, graduating in 1909. In 1910, he moved to Dunn County, bought a quarter section, farmed, and taught school.  He entered the University of North Dakota Law School in the fall of 1911, graduating in 1916. While in Grand Forks, he married Inga Mendine Vigen in 1912 and, in between stints at UND, helped on his brother’s farm near Dalton.

Thoresen eventually established a law office in Dunn Center, where he became active in social and community life. He was also interested in politics, especially the Nonpartisan League. In 1918 he ran for states attorney and took office on January 6, 1919.

One of Thoreson’s first acts was to uphold prohibition. He also dealt with gambling, trespassing, illegal cohabitation, farm foreclosures, school attendance and filed suits against the railroad.

After two terms as states attorney, Thoresen moved on to state politics. His first statewide campaign was for attorney general on the NPL ticket in 1924. Though defeated, Governor Arthur Sorlie appointed him as tax commissioner.

Thoresen gained tremendous statewide support as tax commissioner, so he decided to run for governor. He lost the June 1928 primary to George Shafer.

Thoresen was again appointed as tax commissioner in 1927. However, when Governor Sorlie died in 1928, Thoresen decided that the new governor, George Schafer, should be able to appoint his own tax commissioner. Thoresen resigned and opened a law office in Bismarck, later moving to Grand Forks in 1930.

He continued his political involvement, running against William Langer for the NPL endorsement for governor in 1932. When Langer was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal election laws in June 1934, Thoresen supported Thomas Moodie’s gubernatorial run against Lydia Langer.

Moodie’s victory was short-lived, and Lieutenant Governor Walter Welford became the fourth North Dakota governor in seven months.

Thoresen spent two years in Minnesota, then returned to North Dakota where he served in both elected and appointed positions until his death on April 16th, 1956, ending over 40 years in North Dakota politics.

Dakota Datebook by Cathy A. Langemo