The Story of Minnesota’s Protest Tradition
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press
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Some regard Minnesota’s political culture as moralistic and some see it as radical, but most would agree that it has been a seedbed for cultural and political movements that have changed the country, and its history weaves a pattern of wide opposition between left and right. This tension may...
1. “The Acres and the Hands”
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Minnesota politics began when the territory was organized. The year was 1849. The United States had just invaded Mexico and taken the northern third of the country, including California. The gold rush there was in full swing. But the real gold of the great West was, and always had been, its land...
2. “The Abolition Wagon”
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The most bitter and violent crisis of Minnesota politics occurred just as the territory was becoming a state. The passions that tore apart the nation over slavery blew through the upper Mississippi country like a tornado, dividing neighbors, rearranging party lines, and threatening the hopes for...
3. Grangers and Greenbacks
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In the post–civil war years, Minnesotans saw and participated in the taking of the northern plains from Indian people, the final slaughter of the wild buffalo herds, and the end of the western frontier within a single generation. Meanwhile, the agrarian West was being swamped by the explosive...
4. Populism at the Polls
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In the decade of the 1880s, Minnesota began to realize that it was an urban as well as a rural state. The populations of both St. Paul and Minneapolis more than tripled, and by 1890 the two cities accounted for nearly a quarter of the state’s people. Sawmilling, powered by the Falls of St. Anthony, had laid the foundation for booming industrial growth...
5. Strikes and Strikebreakers
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The Gilded Age of the late 1890s was a time of prosperity, rising prices, and triumphant big business. In 1895 a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in an antitrust case gave a green light to trusts and interlocking corporate combinations. The first months of the twentieth century saw the greatest one of all formed—on the Mesabi Range, where a sleeping...
6. The Progressive Era: From Revolt to Reform
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Striking workers were not the only ones alarmed and angered at the growing power of megacorporations like U.S. Steel. Although turned back in 1896, the high tide of Populist protest left its mark on both major parties. A new movement for reform took its place among farmers, townsfolk, and small businessmen of the Midwest. In time this became...
7. War Makes New Allies
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For most farmers in Minnesota, the two decades before World War I were a time of relative well-being. The landscape of bleak prairie homesteads had been transformed with solid farmhouses and barns, silos, occasional windmills, and growing woodlots. It was also the heyday of the small town...
8. The Rise of The Farmer-Labor Party
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As the country came out of World War I, protest movements faced a time of agonizing decision. The Socialist Party of America, which had been the only meaningful third party since the collapse of the Populists, had maintained a firm antiwar position even though many of its members, along...
9. War in Minneapolis
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Floyd Olson had always been a man with deep sympathy for the underdog, and as world and national events moved toward a climax in 1934, he moved also. Hunger was widespread; in the Twin Cities nearly one in three workers was unemployed; and the country seemed held together only...
10. Fellow Travelers and Merger
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The election of 1936 marked the high tide of both the Farmer-Labor Party and Roosevelt’s New Deal. The president received 60 percent of the vote in Minnesota, and the Farmer-Labor candidate for governor, Elmer A. Benson, came in at 58 percent, riding a wave of emotion generated by Olson’s...
11. A New Progressive Era
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In the twenty-five years between 1950 and 1975, Minnesotans enjoyed a time that can be compared in some ways to the quarter-century between 1895 and 1920. It saw prosperity, growth, and bipartisan cooperation on reform measures. As in the 1890s, third-party revolt had been effectively sidetracked...
12. Deepening Divisions
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Despite the feebleness of organized electoral protest during the Cold War years, the country witnessed a not-so- quiet revolution in values and lifestyle. American memory usually links it with the 1960s. In reality it extended from the late 1950s through the ’70s, and its message that “the personal...
13. A Swing to the Right
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As polarization increased, Minnesota’s second progressive era was drawing to a close. As during the first such period, Democrats and Republicans had shared political power, and control of the governor’s office had alternated between them. But at the midpoint of the 1970s, as Minnesota...
14. Ecopolitics and New Parties
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On August 10–12, 1984, a group of sixty-two spokespeople for cultural and environmental change gathered on the campus of Macalester College in St. Paul. The national conference was inspired by news from Europe and particularly by the publication of the book Green Politics: The Global Promise
Conclusion: Stand Up!
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The election of 2000 had seated George W. Bush in the White House by decree of the U.S. Supreme Court after he had received a still doubtful majority of electoral votes and had lost the nation’s popular vote to Democrat Al Gore. Questions thus raised about the fairness of the electoral college...
Sources and Further Reading
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Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 14 b&w photos, includes suggestions for further reading
Publication Year: 2012