Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




William Langer is firmly established as a legend in North Dakota history. The legend began during his controversial terms as attorney general (1916-1920) and governor (1932-1934 and 1936-1938). A maverick in the United States Senate after his election to the upper chamber in 1940, admirers saw him as a civil libertarian and a defender of the "common man." The loyalty and devotion of his constituents increased over the years because of his willingness to do favors for them and because of his considerable campaign skills. However, a study of his papers, the Congressional Record, and newspaper and magazine articles reveals that Langer introduced few bills that were enacted into law. In addition, he was not taken seriously by his fellow Senators and often devoted his time in Congress to the obstruction of Senate business.

The first chapter outlines Langer's career before he entered the Senate in 1941, paying particular attention to the development of his political ideas and strategies. The second chapter is an assessment of Langer's peculiar habits in the Senate, as well as a summation of the the views of his colleagues and of the national media towards the North Dakotan.

Chapter three questions the notion that Langer was a humanitarian liberal by concluding that his advocacy of liberal causes was severely limited by his inability to translate his ideas into law. Few of Langer's proposals were taken seriously; his civil rights proposals in particular were usually intended to obstruct Senate business by fostering heated debate.

Chapter four examines Langer's opposition to the Internal Security Act of 1950 and concludes that, although Langer argued against the Act on civil libertarian grounds, his opposition was actually based on the limits the Act placed on immigration by Germans.

Chapter five details Langer's response to the McCarthy era and concludes that, although he never hesitated to employ anti-communist rhetoric, Langer can be properly placed in neither the McCarthyite nor the anti-McCarthyite camp.