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Exemptions and Townley


On this date in 1917, draft registration was over and North Dakota fell slightly short of its goal; but with many already enlisted, Registration Day was deemed a success. Most registrants did not seek exemptions, however, there were some North Dakotans who came up with original excuses. First there was the man engaged to a girl who was a conscientious objector, and he could not go to war against her wishes. Another fellow stated that he had already been dismissed by the army because of health reasons, but upon questioning, it was learned that the army in question was the Salvation Army. One gentleman wished to be excused because blood made him sick, and another had a numb trigger finger. Several stated their church forbid it, but failed to name the church. Then there was the man who needed to remain home because he was the only barber in town. Possibly the most original was the Fargo man who could not go to war because he had planted a victory garden that only he could maintain. Upon inspection it was learned the so-called garden consisted of several stalks of beans, a few radishes and a couple of onions.

With the state preparing to help in the war effort, anti-war sentiment was not well received. Once such voice was prominent in North Dakota. The echoes of the patriotic celebrations of Registration Day had barely faded away, when Arthur Townley … the founder of the Non-Partisan League … proclaimed that the “Flower of the nation was going to die for the profit of the rich.” He said farmers are willing and able to increase crop production ten-fold, but he condemned the middlemen who bought the grain at $1.50 a bushel and sold it for $5.00. Townley warned farmers that they should think of themselves and not increase production unless they were handled fairly, arguing that it was not the farmer who benefited from the high price of wheat. Lewis Crawford, President of the State Board of Regents, called Townley’s word treasonous and stated, “All of our enemies are not in Germany.” Townley countered that war profiteers will saddle the country with a huge debt which the soldiers, returning without arms, legs or eyes, would have to face … a debt that could keep them slaves for decades. He believed big business, supported by corrupt government officials, were responsible.

Traveling with Townley, Governor Lynn Frazier, in a prophetic statement, advocated for the recall of government officials who did not do their duty as their constituents believed they should. Frazier himself, would be the subject of a recall only five years later.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


“Find Numerous Excuses For Not Going to the Front”, Bismarck Tribune, June 13, 1917

“Flower of the Nation to Die for Profits of the Rich,” Grand Forks Herald, June 7, 1917

“Townley Fears War Will Boot Millionaires,” Bismarck Tribune, June 12, 1917