Discontent and Reform Politics

In the late 19th cent. farmers suffered from such natural disasters as the blizzard of 1873 and insect plagues from 1874 to 1876. To these were added the miseries that accompanied the downward trend of the national economy, and Minnesota became a center of farmers’ discontent, expressed in the Granger movement. The opening of the iron mines gave new impetus to Minnesota’s economy but conditions in these mines also created discontent among the laborers. They joined forces with the farmers in the 1890s in the Populist party, one of several third-party movements that challenged the Republican party’s traditional leadership in Minnesota. Ignatius Donnelly was one of the Populists’ most powerful figures.

Renewed agrarian discontent led to the founding of the Nonpartisan League in 1915. Farmers and laborers joined forces again in 1920 in the Farmer-Labor party, which was dominant in the 1930s. The Republicans returned to power in 1939 with the election of Harold Stassen as governor. In 1944 the Farmer-Labor party and the Democrats merged. Probably the most successful leader of the new party, the Democratic Farmer Labor party (DFL), was Hubert H. Humphrey, who was elected to the U.S. Senate four times and was vice president from 1965 to 1969. Orville Freeman, DFL governor from 1955 to 1961, was secretary of agriculture from 1961 to 1969.

Walter F. Mondale, a Humphrey protégé, was a U.S. senator from 1964 to 1977. He was elected vice president as Jimmy Carter’s running mate in 1976 and ran for president in 1984, losing to incumbent Ronald Reagan. Since the 1950s the DFL and the Republicans have vied sharply in contests for state offices. In the 1970s the Republican party changed its name to the Independent Republican party. With the exception of 1952, 1956, and 1972, Minnesota has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1932.

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