Dakota Datebook: NPL vs IVA

Dakota Datebook
March 14, 2008


On this day, March 14, 1921, a correspondent from the New York Times sat at a Fargo desk fervently writing of the exciting political events occurring in North Dakota; yes, North Dakota.

Although better known for its down-to-earth farmers and quiet prairie, North Dakota throughout much of 1921 was the scene of a nationally followed high-stakes political showdown between two opposing branches of the Republican Party; the Nonpartisan League, or NPL, and the Independent Voters Association, or IVA. Through Governor Lynn Frazier, the NPL had established the Bank of North Dakota and a state-owned mill and elevator. The IVA bitterly opposed such state-owned industries and in 1921 battled with the Nonpartisan League to gain control of the state government.

The origins of this political battle are found almost thirty years earlier when the North Dakota government, in order to grow the state economy, offered incentives to out-of-state corporations. As a result new mines, brickworks and flour mills appeared. Railroad companies competed for business and laid track throughout the state.

Through this out-of-state investment, North Dakota experienced considerable industrial growth. However, a part of the population believed that the government’s incentives were proving to be too good a deal. They feared that out-of-state companies, which had little connection to North Dakota, were taking large profits out of state, and even worse, influencing government for their own ends. These groups believed that government should be for the good of all, and only the creation of state-owned institutions could combat out-of-state corporations, lower the cost of goods and bring better services to the people of North Dakota.

These groups eventually coalesced into the Nonpartisan League in 1915. The NPL’s progressive platform calling for the creation of state-owned industries attracted both socialists and others opposed to the power of out-of-state corporations. In 1916, utilizing the Republican machine, the NPL won elections throughout North Dakota.

Although the League secured control of many government positions around the state, opposition to the NPL soon began to grow. Backed financially by parties from Minnesota, a new group calling itself the Independent Voters Association assembled to wage battle against the NPL. The IVA doubted the wisdom of state-owned institutions and launched multiple attacks against the NPL’s reforms. Their assault successfully launched the 1921 recall election, which cost the NPL control of the governorship as well as other key government positions.

Although the IVA had been able to win control of the governor’s office in 1921 they were not able to destroy the state institutions created by the Nonpartisan League. The State Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator stand today, reminders of one of North Dakota’s more colorful episodes in its political history.

Written by Lane Sunwall

History of the Bank of North Dakota
Remele, Larry. North Dakota History: Overview and Summary
“North Dakota Out to Oust Officials” The New York Times, 1921.
“North Dakota Grievances” The New York Times, 1921.
Historical Overview of North Dakota Governors


Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public. (2008) http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

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