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Political Maelstrom

9/9/2014:

Politics reigned supreme this week in 1889. The election was only three weeks away. One of the decisions to be made by each party was the choice of the three candidates for the US Congress. The Congressman would actually be chosen by the new state legislature when it convened in November, but the nominations were critical at this time to allow the other contenders to raise their political profile, positioning themselves for state offices or legislative seats. There was no shortage of Congressional timber as one newspaper put it. The woods were full of them. By the end of the second week of September there were thirteen Republican candidates, and the Democrats were fielding three announced candidates with others on the sideline.

Although the Democrats were not overly confident in their efforts to capture state offices or legislative seats, their hopes rested upon the popularity of the Democrats in the recent Constitutional Convention. They also reasoned that because of the political dominance of the Republicans in the past, two-party politics had not played a significant role in any elections in Dakota Territory. Many Republicans, especially in rural areas, voted for the person and not the party line, a distinct advantage for the Democrats.

The newspapers were having a field day supporting their party while at the same time extolling the virtues of each candidate through the paid political ads. It was difficult to stay on top of the changing political scene. There were thirty-one legislative districts, each with one Senate and two House positions to fill. With the two parties, it made a total of one hundred and eighty-six candidates. Members of the Farmer’s Alliance, the Prohibitionists and Independents were also adding candidates. In addition there were twelve state offices, three Supreme Court judgeships and six district court judgeships to fill. It was a political maelstrom. Behind or, as some claimed, under every rock was a politician.

In selecting John Miller, the manager of the Dwight Farm and Land Company, to run for governor, the Republicans gained a significant advantage as he was quickly proclaimed the farmer’s candidate. In an attempt to discredit him, some Democrats launched a smear campaign stating that he was the “hired man” for Congressman John W. Dwight of New York. It backfired! The Republicans quickly seized upon the concept of the hired man and countered that in the Dakotas there was nothing wrong with being a hired man. In fact, farms could not run without them. It became a campaign issue, and ties that bound the Farmer’s Alliance with the Democrats were slowly unraveling.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune September 13, 1889

Grand Forks Weekly Herald September 13, 1889

North Dakota Capital September 13, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert September 13, 1889