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Farm, Labor and the NPL


“Go home and slop the hogs and leave the lawmaking to us!” That’s what Treadwell Twitchell, a Republican Cass County legislator, supposedly said to a group of angry farmers in 1915. The farmers were arguing their case for a state-run grain elevator at a legislative meeting. Whether Twitchell uttered those exact words is unsure, but farmers across North Dakota, and across the country, heard the sentiment loud and clear.

This story is often cited as the birthing moment of the Non-partisan League, a North Dakotan farmers’ movement that soon inspire similar organizations in 13 states and 2 Canadian provinces. The NPL achieved success by establishing a platform -- mostly but not entirely centered around farmer control of agricultural prices -- and supporting allied politicians in both major parties.

A few days ago, we told you about an issue of the “Non Partisan Leader” that came out on April 1st, 1918. It featured its normal “Farm Woman’s Page,” but instead of homemaking advice, it contained essays about political empowerment for women.

And that wasn’t all -- the same issue featured a political cartoon showing a farmer shaking hands with a city laborer. The message was clear: farmers and laborers were in the fight together, uniting against who they saw as the corporate elites.

An alliance seemed natural to many, but old prejudice kept the two constituencies apart for some time. Ultimately though, as politicians launched joint attacks on farmers and laborers, the two groups came to see their respective fights for representation as connected.

In Minnesota, farmers and laborers came together to publish a series of resolutions that would be the basis for today’s “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party. They said “we pledge our candidates to the faithful service of the interests of the workers on the farms, the railroads, the shops, the mines, and the forests.”

In North Dakota, during the 1919 National Coal Miners Strike, NPL Governor Lynn Frazier took radical action to show his support for miners. With a blizzard about to hit the state, he declared martial law and took over the state mines that had contracts with the United Mine Workers. The state ran the mines in cooperation with the union, keeping the mines open during the blizzard to prevent suffering for a lack of coal.

The NPL argued for permanent state control of coal mines, but unlike the state-run bank, grain elevator, and flour mill, this dream of the League never came to fruition.

Dakota Datebook written by Leewana Thomas


“Insurgent Democracy: The Nonpartisan League in North American Politics,” by Michael J. Lansing.

Library of Congress: “Nonpartisan Leader” April 1, 1918 issue.

Library of Congress: “Nonpartisan Leader” April 18, 1921 issue.

Library of Congress: “Nonpartisan Leader” February 23, 1920 issue.

North Dakota State Historical Society: The Strike of 1919: http://ndstudies.gov/gr8/content/unit-iii-waves-development-1861-1920/lesson-2-making-living/topic-9-industries-coal-and-brick/section-3-coal