Lemke enters race
William Lemke, Fargo attorney and North Dakota congressman, announced that he would be entering the race for the United States presidency on this date in 1936. The news was announced in an evening radio address, and shocked even Lemke’s wife. “The news that she might someday be First Lady came as a complete surprise to Mrs. Lemke” on that evening. She had been told in a recent letter from her son, Robert, to listen to the radio program for a ‘surprise.’ She had no idea that the surprise would include the newly-formed Union Party’s endorsement of her husband as a presidential candidate. Mrs. Lemke remained unexpectedly grounded after the announcement, and an interviewer from the Fargo Forum found “life in the home [of the Lemke’s] …untouched by political fervor.”
The fledgling third party under which Lemke ran was the creation of the popular Louisiana Senator Huey Long. Long’s “Share our Wealth” platform urged for the creation of several well-liked programs aimed at ending the Depression. Long was assassinated in September of 1935, and the party recruited Lemke to run as their candidate for the 1936 election against Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and Republican Alf Landon. Regarding his nomination, Lemke agreed to run “…in accordance with the thousands of messages and requests [he had] received from all over the nation.” He declared that the issue at hand was “economic slavery” and that his 15-point platform was “intended to ‘save democracy and put a permanent end to the so-called depression.” Several regarded Lemke’s experience as an Attorney General of North Dakota and Representative in the U.S. Congress as excellent credentials for his nomination. Upon hearing of the nomination, North Dakota Secretary of State J. D. Gronna said “Lemke…will be the first candidate for president North Dakota ever had and we should certainly wish him well.” Railroad Commissioner S. S. McDonald replied “I hope he gets it. We’d have a whole lot better country if Bill Lemke were president.”
Several members of Congress believed that Lemke’s decision to run was affected in part by the decision of President Roosevelt to kill the Fraizer-Lemke Bill that Lemke had introduced into Congress. The bill would have provided government refinancing of farm mortgages.
Although the election proved a landslide for President Roosevelt, Lemke managed to secure 892,378 votes, or two percent of the vote nationwide. Lemke continued to serve as North Dakota Representative until his death in 1950.
Fargo Forum, Morning Ed., June 20, 1936: p. 1-2.
Fargo Forum, Morning Ed., June 21, 1936: p. 1, 10.