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A Social Republic


When most people hear the words, “socialist” and “republican,” they do not think of those words as going together. However, here on the plains of North Dakota, these concepts work in tandem in certain domains. While the state almost always votes red in the general election, it has a strong state bank that works with businesses and local governments to create thriving agriculture, industry, and commerce. It’s also known for guaranteeing student loans for North Dakota college students.

The socialist ideals began to emerge around 1915 when A.C. Townley formed the Nonpartisan League. One goal of the League was to create a state-owned bank along with a state-owned grain mill. The idea was that North Dakotans were being unfairly exploited by out of state businesses. Townley recruited Democrats and Republicans to run under his ideas in order to avoid running as a third party. This strategy must have worked, because within a few years all state offices were under Nonpartisan League control.

However, support varied for these types of measures, and within a few years, the party began to fall apart. It seemed that socialism was on the way out, but the 1921 election proved the people of North Dakota had mixed feelings. While all of the statewide NPLers were voted out of office, four initiatives that would have eliminated the state bank all failed. And all those election results were close. The officials and measures were defeated by margins varying from 1 to 5%. The close results show that the philosophy behind the NPL still resonated for many of the state’s residents.

Though Puerto Rico and some American Indian Nations have their own banks, North Dakota’s State Bank is the only one among the states – and despite its support from various political sides in North Dakota, it’s unlikely any other state will be starting one soon.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas.


"North Dakota › Initiative & Referendum Institute." North Dakota › Initiative & Referendum Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2016.

"North Dakota 1921 Ballot Measures - Ballotpedia." North Dakota 1921 Ballot Measures - Ballotpedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2016.

Dykstra, Gretchen. "Pragmatism on the Prairie." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2016.

"Special Recall Election Oct. 28,1921" (PDF). North Dakota Secretary of State. October 28, 1921. 12 June 2016.