William Lemke

William Frederick Lemke (August 13, 1878 – May 30, 1950) was a United States politician. He represented North Dakota in the United States House of Representatives as a member of the Republican Party. He was also the Union Party's presidential candidate in the 1936 presidential election.

William Lemke
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Dakota's at-large district
In office
January 3, 1943  May 30, 1950
Preceded byCharles R. Robertson
Succeeded byFred G. Aandahl
In office
March 4, 1933  January 3, 1941
Preceded byOlger B. Burtness
Succeeded byCharles R. Robertson
11th Attorney General of North Dakota
In office
GovernorLynn Frazier
Ragnvald Nestos
Preceded byWilliam Langer
Succeeded bySveinbjorn Johnson
Personal details
William Frederick Lemke

(1878-08-13)August 13, 1878
Albany, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedMay 30, 1950(1950-05-30) (aged 71)
Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Union (1935–1936)
Progressive (1912)
Other political
Nonpartisan League
Spouse(s)Isabelle McIntyre
EducationUniversity of North Dakota (BA)
Georgetown University
Yale University (LLB)

Life and career

He was born in Albany, Minnesota, and raised in Towner County, North Dakota, the son of Fred Lemke and Julia Anna Kleir, pioneer farmers who had accumulated some 2,700 acres (11 km2) of land. As a boy, Lemke worked long hours on the family farm, attending a common school for only three months in the summers. However, the family did reserve enough money to send him to the University of North Dakota, where he was not only a superior student, but also well known for his ability to impersonate the professors. Graduating in 1902, he stayed at the state university for the first year of law school but moved to Georgetown University, then to Yale Law School, where he finished work on his law degree and won the praise of the dean. He returned to his home state in 1905 to set up practice at Fargo. Lemke was a Freemason.

Lemke was the attorney general of North Dakota from 1921 to 1922. He later was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1932, an NPLer. He served four two-year terms in Congress.

While in Congress, Lemke earned a reputation as a progressive populist and supporter of the New Deal, championing the causes of family farmers and co-sponsoring legislation to protect farmers against foreclosures during the Great Depression.

In 1934, Lemke co-sponsored the Frazier–Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act, restricting the ability of banks to repossess farms. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act into law on June 28, 1934. The Act was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford. Lemke tried to get the Act re-passed by Congress, but was stymied by the Roosevelt administration which privately told Congressmen that they would exercise a Presidential veto against the bill. The Act was eventually re-passed and later held constitutional by the Supreme Court. Lemke was a political friend and ally of Louisiana populist Huey Long prior to his assassination in 1935.

Later in 1936, Lemke accepted the nomination of the Union Party, a short-lived third party, as their candidate for President of the United States.[1] He received 892,378 votes, or just under two percent nationwide, and no electoral votes in the 1936 election. Lemke did outpoll Alf Landon in five North Dakota counties[2][lower-alpha 1] and remained the last third-party presidential candidate to outpoll a major-party nominee in any non-southern county[lower-alpha 2] until George Wallace outpolled Hubert Humphrey in Utah's arch-Republican Kane County in 1968 and his successor John G. Schmitz outpolled George McGovern in four Idaho counties in 1972.[3] Simultaneously, he was reelected to the House of Representatives as a Republican. Many believe Lemke's acceptance of the Union Party nomination in 1936 was out of bitterness toward Roosevelt over the farm mortgage issue. Through the Union Party, Lemke befriended other populists such as Fr. Charles Coughlin.

In 1940, after having already received the Republican nomination for a fifth House term, he withdrew from that race to launch an unsuccessful run as an independent for the U.S. Senate. He ran again for Congress in 1942 as a Republican and served four more terms, until his death in 1950.

From 1943 to 1948, Lemke was the champion for establishment of the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park (now Theodore Roosevelt National Park). The National Park Service did not support this proposal, and oddly enough Lemke was no admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, but he seems to have pursued the establishment of a park in anticipation of the economic benefits it might bring to the region. His efforts were ultimately successful, with the park established by act of Congress in June, 1948 [4].

Lemke died of a heart attack in Fargo, North Dakota and is buried in Riverside Cemetery.[5][6] Former Atlanta Braves baseball player Mark Lemke is Lemke's second cousin twice removed.


See also


  1. Lubell, Samuel (1956). The Future of American Politics (2nd ed.). Anchor Press. pp. 151–152.
  2. Scammon, Richard M. (compiler); America at the Polls: A Handbook of Presidential Election Statistics 1920-1964; pp. 339, 343 ISBN 0405077114
  3. Menendez, Albert J.; The Geography of Presidential Elections in the United States, 1868-2004, p. 100 ISBN 0786422173
  4. Harmon, David (1986). "The Creation of the Park". At the Open Margin: The NPS's Administration of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association.
  5. United Press (May 31, 1950). "William Lemke, 71, Congressman, Dies. North Dakota Republican Was Candidate for President on Union Party Slate in '36". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-14. Representative William Lemke, Republican of North Dakota, died on the way to a hospital tonight soon after he collapsed in the Power Hotel in downtown Fargo. He was 71 years old.
  6. "Lemke, House Veteran, Dies of Heart Attack" (PDF). Binghamton Press. May 31, 1950.


  1. These five were Burke County, Divide County, Mountrail County, Towner County and Williams County.
  2. During this era, the political impact of Civil Rights Movement meant unpledged and "Dixiecrat" nominees frequently outpolled one or both major-party nominees in the Deep South and occasionally elsewhere in antebellum slave states.
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Langer
Attorney General of North Dakota
Succeeded by
Sveinbjorn Johnson
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Olger B. Burtness
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Dakota's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Charles R. Robertson
Preceded by
Charles R. Robertson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Dakota's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Fred G. Aandahl
Party political offices
New political party Union nominee for President of the United States
Party dissolved
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.