NPL born in Minot

ND Heritage Center & State Museum exhibit tells story of Nonpartisan League

Eloise Ogden/MDN The Nonpartisan League adopted the goat as its symbol. An exhibit about the NPL is located in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck.

BISMARCK – Something many people may not know is when the Nonpartian League formed in North Dakota, it got its start in Minot.

NPL founder Arthur C. Townley, often referred to as A.C. Townley, told a college student during an interview in the offices of the Minot Daily News in November 1956:

“The League was born in Minot. The winter of 1915 was when I shaped it up. I was in Minot all that winter and all that I did was mull the thing over. I started the organization work when the legislative session ended in Bismarck in 1915. It was the farm price situation that brought about the League, as well as total lack of participation by the farm crowd in anything. They didn’t have any one man in the legislature or anywhere else, who spoke for them.”

NPL was founded as a farmers’ organization and had considerable political success in North Dakota and Montana in the late teens and early 1920s.

Townley headed the NPL during its heyday from 1916-1921 and William Langer led the NPL revival in the 1930s. Langer was elected North Dakota governor in 1932 with strong NPL support, and in 1941 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, according to State Historical Society information.

The NPL is featured in a display in the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck.

Mark Halvorson, curator of Collections Research for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, said the NPL is featured as an important part of North Dakota history due to the legacy of the Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator.

The Bank of North Dakota was established by legislative action in 1919 and the State Mill and Elevator was established by state government and opened in 1922.

Information in the exhibit in the N.D. Heritage Center & State Museum reads:

‘A New Day for North Dakota’

The Nonpartisan League

“By 1919 the Nonpartisan League (NPL) elected the governor and controlled both legislative houses. The legislature passed many of the economic reform measures that farmers had wanted for years, including a state-owned flour mill and grain elevator and a state-owned bank.

“The NPL faced strong opposition, and by 1920 many of its own members turned against the organization. Some NPL leaders were charged with corruption and mismanagement. The nation’s fears of socialism in the years following the Russian Revolution of 1917 also weakened the NPL, though NPL members denied any relationship with the Socialist Party.

“In 1921 voters forced a recall election of NPL Governor Lynn Frazier and other state officials. The NPL lost much of its membership and political power, but continued to influence North Dakota politics for many years. In 1956 the Nonpartisan League merged with the Democratic Party. The Democratic-NPL Party candidates for governor and US Senate were successful in 1960.” William L. Guy was elected governor and Quentin N. Burdick was elected to fill the vacancy caused by Langer’s death.”

Townley and Langer both died within hours of each, according to the Minot Daily News files. Townley died Nov. 7, 1959, in a traffic accident near Makoti and Langer died Nov. 8, 1959, in his sleep at his Washington, D.C., home.

“Their deaths came at a watershed period in North Dakota political history,” wrote Dick Dobson, political writer for the Minot Daily News in his Prairie Perspective column published Nov. 3, 1979. “The Nonpartian League was being absorbed into the Democratic organization and North Dakota was on the threshold of becoming the highly competitive two-party state that it now is.”

The November 1956 interview with Townley at the Minot Daily News offices was done with assurances being given to him that it would not be published by the newspaper until after his death. The interview was published Nov. 9, 1959.

The NPL exhibit is located in the main gallery in the N.D. Heritage Center and State Museum.