North Dakota Nonpartisan League

The North Dakota Nonpartisan League was an American left-wing populist political party that existed in North Dakota from 1915–1956.

North Dakota Nonpartisan League
LeaderArthur C. Townley
Founded1915 (1915)
Dissolved1956 (1956)
Preceded byNonpartisan League
Succeeded byNorth Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party
IdeologyLeft-wing populism
Democratic socialism
Political positionLeft-wing
National affiliationNonpartisan League
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North Dakota


When Arthur C. Townley came to Bismarck, North Dakota in 1915, he saw strife between a conservative legislature and farmers' interest groups. With his background in organizing farmers for the Socialist Party, Socialist activity had begun in North Dakota in 1900 when Arthur Basset organized a socialist club in Fargo.[1] Townley brought his expertise to North Dakota.[2] He knew that with the recent strife in Bismarck between a conservative legislature and the American Society of Equity and its farm following, the time was ripe for a political revolution. Townley resolved to organize the farmers, so that they could control the primaries, whether it be Republicans or Democrats or both. This was the organization of the Farmers Nonpartisan League (later called the National Nonpartisan League). Townley organized the farmers of the state together for united action in nominating at the primaries and electing at the polls the men of their own choosing and men who would carry out their programs.[2]

The Method of Organization was simple, scientific and successful. Organizers carefully went forth in ever increasing numbers to sell the idea to the farmers and to get their support for the new movement. The league grew in leaps and bounds. The first members were pledged in February 1915. Before midsummer, there were 10,000 members, and before winter set-in, there were 26,000 names enrolled.[2]

The Nonpartisan League membership pledge was $2.50 a year, it later rose to nine dollars a year. The goals of the league were to use their collective best efforts to secure the nomination and election of men for office within the state. Men whom the investigations of the League have show by conviction, record and conduct do approve and will support legislation necessary for the purpose of saving millions of dollars each year for the farmer and were to be nominated and elected to carry out the league program.[2]

The League Program was concise and to the point. It consisted of five planks, as follows:

  1. State Owned and Operated elevators, flour mills, and packing plants
  2. State hail insurance
  3. Exemption of farm improvements from taxation
  4. Fair grain grades, based upon milling and baking values
  5. Rural Credits at cost

Each was designed to remedy what the farmers conceived as an abuse, and each was to lower the cost of producing and marketing grain.[2]

The determination of the league fulfilled their pledge and many of their planks passed legislation. The growth of far left sympathies was on the rise in North Dakota. The Socialists had considerable success. They brought in many outside speakers; Eugene V. Debs spoke at a large antiwar rally at Garrison in 1915. By 1912, there were 175 Socialist locals in the state. Rugby and Hillsboro elected Socialist mayors. The party had even established a weekly paper, the Iconoclast, in Minot, North Dakota.[1]

Throughout the decades, the League pushed for the establishments of State operated mills, elevators, and banks. While the state was not entirely isolationist, just as it was neither entirely liberal nor entirely conservative. By 1952, the Non-partisan league was itself divided.

Toward a two-party system

Two factions divided the traditionally liberal Nonpartisan League, on one side the insurgents on the other the old guard.[1] Those that called themselves insurgents aligned liberally with pro-farmers' union, pro-organized labor, and pro-Democratic party groups. The Insurgents wanted to take the league into the Democratic Party. In 1952, the "insurgents" formed the Volunteers for Stevenson Committee, to help elect then Democratic Candidate Adlai Stevenson. To the contrary the members of the old guard, also known as the Capitol Crowd, were more conservative, anti-farmers' union, antilabor, and pro-Republican segment of the league, these members wanted to keep the Nonpartisan League in the Republican Party; they supported Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential race. Over the next four years legislative polarization grew and the Nonpartisan League eventually split in two, in 1956 North Dakota was fundamentally realigned into a two party system. That year, the Nonpartisan League finally moved into the Democratic Party, and all Republicans joined in one organization. Two statewide parties vied for the votes of North Dakota citizens. Creation of the Democratic Nonpartisan League Party was codified in March during the League Convention, 173 to 3 voted yes to file candidates in the Democratic column. The new party introduced a full slate of candidates for state office and adopted a liberal platform that included the repeal of the Taft–Hartley Act, creation of a minimum $1.25 an hour wage, and a graduated land tax on property worth $20,000 or more. Two months later in May 1956 the Democratic Convention accepted the Nonpartisan League's candidates and adopted its platform. Republicans in North Dakota also united after conservative supports broke away from the league.[1]

The Executive Committee of the NPL still formally exists within the party structure of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL. It is headed by former State Senator S. F. "Buckshot" Hoffner (D-NPL, Esmond), Chairman, and former Lt. Governor Lloyd B. Omdahl, Secretary.

Although the Democratic Party was still the minority, the number of Democrats in the state legislature increased greatly. Before the league moved into the Democratic Party, there were only five Democrats among the 162 members of both houses of the legislature in 1955. In 1957 the number grew to 28, 1959 the numbers continued to grow reaching 67, despite a drop to 62 members in 1961, nevertheless, for the first time in history, North Dakota was becoming a two-party state.[1]


  1. Robinson, Elwyn (1966). History of North Dakota. University of Nebraska Press.
  2. Tostlebe, Alvin (1969). The Bank of North Dakota: An experiment in agrarian banking. New York: AMS Press.
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