Political Pulse: The NPL's Road to Power

March 3, 1915

Today A. C. Townley explained the nature and purpose of his Nonpartisan League. He maintains that the program is intended to give the farmers independence from what he calls “Big Biz”? grain-buying companies, bankers, and millers. Townley emphasizes that the NPL is a political movement. His plan is to become powerful enough so that the NPL can endorse candidates and run them in the Republican primary election - in other words, capture the Republican Party, the state’s majority party.

Townley speaking in Crosby, ND Townley speaking in Crosby, North Dakota. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

March 15, 1915

Knowing from experience that organizing is the key to any movement, Townley is running courses for NPL field workers. Topics covered include: How a Salesman Puts Ideas Across, Motives by Which People Act, How to Arouse and Hold Interest, and Difficulties That Will Be Encountered. One of the course leaders emphasizes, “You must appeal to the emotions as well as to reason. Townley’s advice to the class of new organizers comes to the point: “Find out the farmer’s hobby and then talk it. If he likes religion, talk it; if he’s against the government, blast the Democrats; if he s afraid of whiskey, preach prohibition; if he wants to talk hogs, talk hogs talk anything, but talk, talk, talk, until you get his signature on a check for six dollars.”

New Rockford and Carrington
September 10, 1915

The Carrington Record has editorialized, “If the farmers get one-fourth value for the $6 they have put in the nonpartisan organization, it will be the most profitable $6 they ever invested.” The New Rockford Transcript believes that “a six-dollar flyer will improve politics.” Many newspapers, however, do not support the NPL, calling farmers who join it “six-dollar suckers.”

September 23, 1915

The Leader, the Nonpartisan League’s official newspaper, has hit the streets with its first issue. Devoted to promoting the principles of the League, The Leader contains editorials, news, political cartoons, and special articles that explain the NPL’s program. Townley believes that no movement can be successful without a newspaper to spread, in his words, “the truth.”

A caricature of Townley. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.


December 19, 1915

The temperature may be near 40 below but the NPL is having a hot time at its hundreds of meetings that are being held across the state this December. The opera house last night was filled to capacity with farmers who stomped and yelled approval to what League’s speakers were saying. A local banker, no friend of the NPL, admitted to the North Star Dakotan, “I have never in the history of Edmore seen as many rigs as are here today.” A local politician told us, “The League has the state all sewed up in a bag.”

Clowns at an NPL Picnic. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

January 20, 1916

NDAC President John Worst told the Tri-State Grain Growers Association today that farmers needed to protect themselves politically. “The remedy is in your hands,” he told the convention. “If the laws do not suit you, if the constitution stands in the way, if public officials are not sympathetic, farmers need to be told where their remedy lies.”

February 23, 1916

A month ago when Townley set February 22 as the date for NPL precinct meetings, he admitted that he was worried that not very many farmers would show up. He worries no more. More than 26,000 farmers met in every one of the state’s precincts to lend their support to the NPL’s people and program. The League’s opponents cannot believe that in a matter of a few months, Townley’s movement has gained such incredible strength.

March 30, 1916

Over 3,000 people have jammed into this city to hold wild parades and to eagerly hear dozens of speakers. The NPL convention has endorsed an entire slate of candidates to oppose regular Republicans in this June’s primary election. Among those nominated are Lynn J. Frazier, a Pembina County farmer, for governor; Thomas Hall, the present secretary of state, for that same office; William Langer, Morton County state’s attorney, for attorney general; Carl Kositzky, a commissioner in Burleigh County, for auditor. By running its candidates in the Republican primary, the NPL believes that it can capture that party. This way farmers who usually vote Republican can now vote for a radical program.

Lynn J. Frazier. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

The Fargo Forum, an ardent foe of Townley and the NPL, admits, “The Nonpartisan League is no small power in the state.” If crowd enthusiasm is an indicator, the Forum may be right. The NPL now has nearly 50,000 members.

June 24, 1916

With the primary election less than a week away, one of North Dakota’s most hotly contested political campaigns is winding down. The NPL has sent speakers into every town in the state. Crowds at rallies have been huge. Over 6,000 people turned out at Maddock, 5,000 at Bottineau. People have driven a hundred miles to hear Frazier or Townley. Picnic rallies are very popular with the people.

The NPL has held meetings once again in every precinct, and Frazier has covered the state by rail on his “Victory Special.” Usher Burdick, the regular Republican candidate for governor, has received the support of most newspapers. The Northwood Gleaner is typical. The editor likes Frazier as a person but warns its readers: “His election would be the gravest menace that North Dakota has ever faced.” Roman Catholic Bishop Vincent Wehrle of the Bismarck diocese has denounced the NPL and has called its candidates “unprincipled office seekers.” He urges Catholics to vote against what he calls “Socialists and infidels.”

June 29, 1916

In spite of violent storms, voters went to the polls in record numbers yesterday. The result was a smashing victory for the NPL. Every candidate for state office won by wide margins and the League nominated a sizeable majority for the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, is out of reach due to its four-year staggered terms. Frazier carried 46 of the 53 counties. The NPL now controls the Republican party.

November 9, 1916

The campaign just completed has been listless. In August Usher Burdick finally got around to congratulating Frazier on his June victory and pledged his support to the NPL s Republican candidates. Anti-League Republicans like Jerry Bacon of the Grand Forks Herald have been in a quandary. They do not want to support Democrats and they do not want to support NPL Republicans. They mostly have written little but have given lip service to the NPL ticket. The NPL had no trouble defeating the Democrats in this election. All but one on the ticket have been overwhelmingly carried into office. The 113-member House is now controlled by the NPL. The 49-member Senate, however, remains in anti-NPL hands. This astounding victory marks, to use the NPL terms, “a new day for North Dakota.” President Wilson has won North Dakota; the people like the slogan, “He kept us out of war.”

Frazier joins President Woodrow Wilson (back seat) in a Bismarck Parade. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-5, 7

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

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