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John Moses


Born and raised in Norway, John Moses, the future governor of North Dakota, first arrived on America’s shores in 1905. After a brief stint with the Great Northern Railway, and while maintaining both a farm and a family of four, John Moses established a law practice in Hazen, North Dakota. The ambitious Norwegian next turned to politics, quickly shooting up the political ladder. In 1936 he secured the Democratic nomination for governor, losing to William Langer in a close race. By 1938, with William Langer’s attentions focused on a US Senate seat, John Moses won what had been denied him two years earlier, and was sworn in as North Dakota’s twenty-second governor on this date in 1939.

Much of Moses’ early efforts as governor were a refutation of his predecessor, William Langer. Moses believed it essential for the state’s future to cut expenditures, and so vehemently opposed his predecessor’s initiatives. Langer, who still had many supporters in the North Dakota legislature, prepared his side for battle. Langer had already undermined a previous governor and was prepared to fight Moses to the finish. Moses however was prepared for battle and proved himself to be both a capable politician and state leader. Rallying support throughout the state, Moses handily defeated Langer on all fronts, revealing Langer’s diminishing state influence.

Having defeated the old governor legislatively, Governor Moses next turned to repairing the state government. The new governor successfully turned around the State Mill and Elevator, which after years of decline finally began to make a profit. He successfully and radically reduced political influence in state administration, slashed government expenses, streamlined state accounting, balanced the budget and brought the state out of debt. In 1938 North Dakota owed its creditors twenty-three million dollars. By the end of Moses’ term in 1945, the State treasury had reserves of fifty-four million.

Blessed by bountiful rain and good markets, North Dakota prospered throughout Moses’ administration. But the governor was not only a capable leader, he was an effective politician. He succeeded in gaining support across party lines and appealed to a wide demographic base, giving speeches in English, German or Norwegian to suit any particular audience. In 1944, with the goodwill of both the state populous and political leadership, Moses decided it was time to leave the governorship and so took his talents to the US Senate.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall


"North Dakota Governors", State Historical Society of North Dakota http://history.nd.gov/exhibits/governors/governors22.html (accessed December 28, 2010).

Robinson, Elwyn B. History of North Dakota. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.