Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

William N. Roach


William Nathaniel Roach, early North Dakota politician, passed away on this date in 1902. Although his later career was tainted by political scandal, Roach served in political office for sixteen years, until his retirement in 1899.

Roach was born on September 25, 1840 in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. There, he attended Gonzaga College and Georgetown University. Following his graduation, he served as a clerk in the quartermaster's department during the Civil War. In 1879, he moved to Larimore, then in Dakota Territory, and took up farming. A lifelong businessman, Roach also worked with mail contracts for several years. As one of the area's earliest settlers, he soon decided to pursue a career in politics. He was successfully elected Mayor of Larimore in 1883. While Mayor, he was also elected to serve as a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1885. When North Dakota became a state in 1889, Roach ran as the Democratic candidate for governor. Running against the immensely popular and wealthy Republican candidate, John Miller, Roach lost the election. When Miller refused to run for re-election in 1891, Roach again joined the race, but the resolute Democrat failed once more to secure the governorship, losing to Republican Andrew Burke.

In 1893, however, Roach became the first Democratic candidate from North Dakota elected to the U. S. Senate. Soon after his appointment, Roach became the subject of an investigation charging the Senator with embezzlement. He remains one of only a handful of Senators ever charged while in office. The charges claimed that Roach committed the crime thirteen years before, soon after his arrival to Dakota Territory while he was dabbling in the business of mail contracts. Ultimately, the Senate failed to acquire the two-thirds majority needed to expel Roach from office, most believing that, although guilty, Roach could not be punished for crimes committed before his election to the Senate. The entire affair left a black mark on Roach's political career, and he failed to gain re-election after his six-year term expired. He retired from politics and business and returned to Washington, D.C. While on a trip to New York City on this date in 1902, Roach died suddenly, only "...two weeks shy of his sixty-second birthday." He is buried at the Congressional Cemetery near his hometown of Washington, D.C.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Grossman, Mark, 2003. Political Corruption in America: an Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed: pg. 281-2.

Lounsberry, C. A., 1919. Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History: pg. 442.