Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kimberly K. Porter


This dissertation is an examination of the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota politics between 1918 and 1948. This movement represented an exceptional chapter in Minnesota history, since the Farmer-Labor Party was the only sustained successful third party movement in the state. This study focuses on the origins of the movement and the reasons for its emergence, its main figures, the goals of the party, its continued electoral success from 1922 through 1936, its decline beginning in 1938, its merger with the Democratic Party of Minnesota in 1944, and finally the subsequent battle for control of this newly-merged DFL (Democratic Farmer-Labor) Party between Democrats led by Hubert H. Humphrey and the former Farmer-Laborites between 1946 and 1948. The study uses an extensive collection of primary and secondary sources relating to the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and other issues and political events within the timeframe in question.

The conclusions of the investigation include the claim that the movement emerged chiefly because there was no viable political opposition to the dominant Republican Party in Minnesota during this period, and that the Farmer-Labor Party was a long-term movement comprised of a fractious coalition of urban-labor and rural-agrarian constituents held together by a series of leaders. The party’s emergence and rise to power in the early 1920s was fueled by a number of factors, however the creation and the continuing governance of the party and its association was initiated and administered by a Twin Cities-based urban-labor leadership (and as such, the movement was not merely another chapter of agrarian protest politics). This urban-labor leadership nucleus effectively absorbed the state’s Nonpartisan League by 1922, joined that movement with its own emerging third party urban-labor movement, and then transformed this new coalition into the Farmer-Labor Party. The party’s demise was caused by a number of factors which coalesced in the late 1930s, including the implementation of federal farm and labor policies under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, corruption within the party, a decline in the party’s leadership, and increased factional conflict based on divisions of the rural-agrarian and urban-labor sectors of the party.