Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 11; Sinclair Lewis and Minnesota Politics
Are you. Ready. Missing. You live. In the SO. Your home is Minnesota. You live. With on. Your own with. The same cloud broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Present Sinclair Lois's Minnesota state of mind. You can't escape your roots and I know you can't escape your time. Here and so the person. With the minister. You know with. This Thing.
This series was written by Dr. James Blunt with. Native Minnesotan and author of several articles and a book on Sinclair Lois. And Claire Lois not only attempted to capture the Minnesota landscape and characterize its people. He also paid much attention to Minnesota institution. One of those institutions and perhaps the most hotly debated one in Minnesota is politics. Here with us is the Minnesota politics is our narrator Leslie Davis. Minnesota is unquestionably a highly political allies state. I'm not simply
referring to the bitterly contested usually very close and almost always unpredictable elections in the state. There is much more to Minnesota politics than what happens within the land of 10000 lakes itself. I say this because a disproportionate number of Minnesota political leaders have become figures of national prominence. Recent events call to mind Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy. But the political history of this state has involved a long line of Minnesota governors senators and representatives who have had more than their share in shaping the policies of the United States. Names that are prominent in this regard include the great populist Ignatius Donnelly governor Johnny Johnson who before his death in 1999 was drawing attention as a presidential possibility. Nelson who served in the Senate from 1895 to nine hundred twenty three and became one of its most powerful men. Floyd B Olson governor during the 30s and one of the men most respected by Franklin D Roosevelt like John Johnson's Olson's career was cut short by an untimely
death. And of course Harold Stassen Minnesota governor and several times a Republican presidential hopeful. In addition many Minnesotans have held cabinet posts. President Hayes named Alexander Ramsey his secretary of war from 1879 to 1881 William Windom was Garfield secretary of the Treasury and later filled the same post under Harrison. Frank Big Dog was Coolidge's secretary of state from one thousand twenty five to nine hundred twenty nine and he was of course the Kellogg of the Kellogg Brianne treaty drawn up during the twenties to ban all war. Well DMV Michel was attorney general in Hoover's cabinet. And or of all free men twice Minnesota governor during the 1950s became President Kennedy's secretary of agriculture. Minnesota has also had two men on the Supreme Court. Here's butler who served from nine hundred twenty three to nine hundred thirty nine and Chief Justice Warren Burger was named to the court in 1969. Besides all this Minnesota has had its share of diplomats including
Eugenia Anderson who were nine hundred forty nine when she was appointed ambassador to Denmark became the first American woman to represent her country with the rank of ambassador at a foreign court. With such an intense political climate and processing so many important political figures Minnesota has a political structure could not have been ignored by such a student and critic of Minnesota culture as Sinclair Lewis was. And it wasn't. Never a serious candidate for public office themselves although in 1986 some Democrats expressed a desire to see him run for the Senate seat against ship Stad. Lewis always wrote from a definite political stance that of the moderate liberal with considerable sympathy for the socialist position. This sympathy became evident when he dropped out of Yale during his senior year to work as a janitor at Halleck and Hall Upton Sinclair's New Jersey experiments in communal living. And it was further revealed in the great devotion Lewis had to Eugene Debs the great American Socialist Labor leader and presidential candidate with whom he had several
meetings and about whom he had considered writing a novel. He never wrote the novel but almost all of Lewis's books contain scenes in which politics figure and one it can't happen here is close to being political propaganda. It can't happen here is a novel published in 935 in which the threat of fascism in the United States is a liberated. It is Louis's one significant attempt at influencing American politics and was written to contribute to the 1936 election of Franklin D Roosevelt. The novel is remotely based on the career of Huey Long the Louisiana politician who had built up considerable presidential backing for himself in the early thirties. Lewis's version of long as Sen.. Brazil yes when Tripp gets elected president declares martial law and sets up concentration camps for those opposing his corpo regime. The hero of the novel is an aging newspaper editor Remus Jessop who joins the underground resistance to Winthrop is taken
prisoner escapes and becomes a secret agent in Minnesota a state in which the rebellion against Winthrop is centered. That Lewis would choose Minnesota as the base for the counter revolution against the corporate fascists is indicative of the belief Lewis had in his home state as the bastion of those ideals which he considered most central to American ideology. As Lewis writes about the Minnesota area in it can't happen here. It was the part of America which had always been most radical that indefinite word which probably means most critical of piracy. It was the land of the populists the Nonpartisan League of Farmer Labor Party a family so vast as to form a considerable party in itself. Lewis reasoned that Minnesota's reputation for political independence would make it the most logical place for a plot against individuality and freedom of thought in the
United States to be strongly resisted. Politically Minnesota was characterized by a reporter in The New York Times of March 26 1956 as one of the most independent and unpredictable of states in the union. This comment inspired by Senator estis father's victory in the Democratic ticket in the presidential primary of 1956 describes fittingly much of the state's long record as a political maverick. To be certain throughout the first 40 years of statehood Minnesota seem to conform to the pattern that dominated Midwest politics following the initial Democratic administration of 1858 the voters consistently gave pluralities to Republican governors until 1898 and to Republican presidents until 900 12. Furthermore most of the governors of the period were civil war veterans. Beneath the surface of apparent conformity However forces were stirring that eventually shaped Minnesota's unique political future. These forces emerged in the form of
protest groups and third parties which voiced their agrarian discontent of an era of falling grain prices and economic distress for the farmer. The resulting agrarian crusade began with the organization of the National Grange of the patrons of husbandry founded by Oliver H Kelley a farmer from Elk River and 1867. Followed by the anti-monopoly and greenback parties the Farmers Alliance and the organizations referred to by Lewis in it can't happen here. The populists the Nonpartisan League and the Farmer Labor Party these final three movements all related to one another developmentally became the most potent force in Minnesota politics. All three were based on opposition to big business and were composed mainly of farmers and workers. The populist movement was organized out of the previously existing Farmers Alliance in the 1890s mainly through the efforts of Minnesota's Ignatius Donnelly who had served as a Republican lieutenant governor and congressman. In the second decade of the 20th century some of the same forces that
had been behind the growth of populism were involved in the birth of the Nonpartisan League developed in North Dakota under the leadership of Arthur C.. Townly. The Nonpartisan League spread into Minnesota's western counties by nine hundred sixteen. And within two years it acquired enough strength to become a political force. After failing in an attempt to nominate Charles de Lindbergh Sr. for the governorship as a Republican in 1918 the league decided to name its own ticket and to satisfy legal requirements that adopted the name Farmer Labor Party for use on the ballots. By the 1930s the farmer labor rights were able to control state politics and Floyd B also became Minnesota's first Farmer Labor governor in one thousand thirty one. And the election of 1936 the former Labor Party won the governorship by the largest majority ever enjoyed by a state party. But two years later Minnesotans demonstrated their political independence in a different way by electing Republican Harold Stassen to the governorship. Even though Roosevelt carried the state in
the presidential election Ironically the former Labor Party which had enjoyed a record breaking majority vote two years before lost the gubernatorial election by the largest majority ever in one thousand thirty eight. Through three succeeding administrations the Republicans maintain their lead in the state naming Edward J thought Luther W. young dog and C. Elmer Anderson to the chief executives chair. In order to regain stature as a party the farmer labor rights fused with the Democrats a 944 emerging as the Democratic Farmer Labor Party which remains the party title today. The new organization sent Hubert Humphrey to the Senate in 1949 and regain full status by electing or Ella Freeman to the governorship in 1956. Further evidence of Minnesota's political nonconformity is to be found in the state's presidential voting record since 1912 when it registered its first break with the Republican tradition. Following that event.
Minnesota returned to the GOP fold supporting four successive Republican candidates Charles Evans Hughes Warren G Harding Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Between 1960 and in 1908 then in 1932 and through 1944 Minnesota went for Roosevelt and in 1948 for Truman. But all the while after 938 while voting for Democrat presidents Minnesotans were elected Republican governors and the 900 50s. I don't like being freemen as DFL governor Eisenhower carried the state as a Republican. This characterization of Minnesota as politically independent to which both Lewis and history give support is also supported by Minnesota Governor Harold Vander Minnesota has always been a state in which the political climate has been rather independent. We've had movements of the Nonpartisan League and with Johnson and wind in the background and with ships and with those kind of people where there has been a
freedom and independence so that today there's still been carried on and I suppose roughly one third of the people in Minnesota would align themselves as Republicans and one third Democrats one third independents and its independents who are not particularly attached to either party and usually swing the election. In his attitudes toward state politics and politicians. Lewis certainly must have been typical or he was consistently independent. He had great admiration for the Farmer Labor governor Floyd B Olson but when he met Olson's Republicans successor Harold Stassen in 1039 he was so impressed that he said he would begin a one man campaign for Stassen as president of the United States. Lewis is interested Stassen continued. And in 1983 while living in New York City he decided that he would like to write a piece about the Minnesota governor. He went to the State Historical Society Library in St. Paul to work up some material and later arranged to give a party for a staff and when the governor would be in New York in March. But a few years later his
interest had again shifted back to the DFL and he indicated that he hoped to write a novel centering around the concerns of that party such apparent inconsistency is explained by Lewis himself in one of his essays. It's necessary to keep the reformers the left wing or rigid right for making too perfect. True rapidly. One man who remembers talking with Lewis about Minnesota politics is Frederick Manfred like Lewis Manfred as a novelist has thought about the factors contributing to the political makeup of Minnesota. Here is what he says about what has gone into making the Minnesota political outlook what it is. Whether it's. And then pioneer hard times here it was hard pioneering here it was down hard in the women and the women put a little addition to their husbands. I would. Prove it. And this car's husbands as we said are aware of the law and
cause them to Katie talk down town about doing something about it and then when someone comes up with an idea the town's NRA or Floyd Olson and so on they were there were they would listen to more readily here than anywhere else because the weather had some influence on that. But more than that. Almost all of Finn's came over were chased out by Mannerheim in Finland and they were socialist. There are a lot of them in the state northern part particularly. Then your range people. Came out of the poverty stricken classes of Italy and Slovakia and Yugoslavia sought asylum. And. Met Mediterranean people. And the suites and the fence and most of those people were right and were more welcome while were more receptive to ideas which would improve their lot instead of accepting the status quo then. The people say for example OH GOOD sure those were socialist
socialist minded from only German in Germany who time once was strongly socialist minded and you had these little groups in the state that had this informing already that they were informed before they came here with some such ideas and they think the melting pot connected them all it was I was already somewhat of a hotline between all these things. The kind of reforms the socialist minded pioneers of Minnesota wanted to put into effect were not easily achieved. And from the start there was a fierce battle between progressive and conservative interests in the state. A battle that is outlined in one of the closing scenes of Louis's Main Street set in Dave Dyer's drugstore. When.
You hear the news from Iraq on the share point when I'm organizing the national Nonpartisan League in his place where. They organized a posse of vigilantes that troublemaker on a rail right down to a train station and they put him on a freight and told me down Broadway to not come back to this county. That's the way they treat those fellows. Only the honor of lynched him. You bet. Hello Mrs. Kennicott Carol. I suppose you're all talking about the needless hero was that wonderful walk and share. Well we were and what's more these organizers a whole lot of the German squarehead farmers there's a dish is the devil disloyal non patriotic pro German pacifist that's what they are. I suppose this organizer said all kinds of pro-Germans not on your life. They didn't give him a chance. You know other words the whole thing was illegal and led by the sheriff. How do you expect these aliens to obey your law if the officer of the law teaches them to break it. This is a new kind of logic. Maybe it wasn't exactly regular But what's the odds they knew this fellow would try to stir up trouble
whenever it comes down to a question of defending American ism and our constitutional rights. It's justifiable to set aside ordinary procedure. What editorial did you get that from. Why don't you fight honestly. You don't oppose this organizer because you think he said vicious but because you are afraid that the farmers he's organizing will deprive you townsmen of the money you make out of mortgages and shops. Of course since we're at war with Germany anything you don't like is pro-German when this war's over I suppose you'll be calling them red anarchies and talking about communist plots how we do sanctify our efforts to keep them from getting holy dollars we want for ourselves there will be enough from you. I'm not going to stand. I'm not going to stand my own wife being seditious and let me tell you right here and now and you and all those long haired men and short haired women to before you want to take these guys and
make them patriotic you have to cut down on gas and free beer and free love and all the rest of your gold arm of a platinum to do it. The kind of polarization of political views that are reflected in this scene from Main Street is something Sinclair Lewis discussed more explicitly in his amusing essay Minnesota the Norse state published in The Nation magazine in 1923 in regard to the political alignment of Minnesota's predominantly Scandinavian stock. Lewis said. Particularly they take to American politics. The good old politics of Harrison McKinley and Charlie Murphy. Usually they brings nothing new from their own experimental countries. They permit their traditions to be snatched away. True many of them have labored for the Nonpartisan League for woman suffrage for co-operative
societies. The late governor John Johnson of Minnesota seems to have been a man of destiny. Had he lived he would probably have been president and possibly President of power and originality. But again there was Senator Nelson who made McCumber look like a left wing syndicalist and Judge Gary like Francisville own. There is a congressman in a Minnesota chairman of the house postal Committee. Mr. Stoner said once produced out of a rich talent matures by a quarter of a century in the house an immortal sentence he'd been complaining at lunch that the Nonpartisan League had introduced the obscene writings of this Russian woman LNP into the innocent public schools. Someone handed to the Scandinavian Mr Skinner said. But I thought she was a sweet. He answered No. The key woman comes from Finland and the rest of Red Russia where they nationalized the women.
Good and bad. The Scandinavians monopolize Minnesota politics. But Lewis would categorize Minnesota politics as good and bad is in some ways a compliment coming from a writer who like most Minnesotans was rather suspicious of all politicians and reluctant to commit himself to the cause of a single party. But one of Lewis's greatest points of pride was the vitality of Minnesota politics and politicians. Our vitality that was evident to all during the election year of 1968 when two Minnesotans Eugene McCarthy and Hubert H Humphrey both aspired to the presidency. The McCarthy movement with its emphasis on youth and reform seemed to be very representative of the kind of idealism that has long permeated Minnesota politics. And we asked Frederick Manfred to comment on the origin of the McCarthy movement as well as the strange competition between two liberals from the same state. It was because we have the actual Kermit here those intellectuals that kind of
international was behind it and I myself thought they simply weren't gene. I do you might recall that he said something mean remarks like humor and nowhere did you or having ever say anything mean about her every day and he didn't do it as a politician here Martin Sheen. This is the same with all of the people around you know you don't agree with him but you can. You don't say anything mean about him. But you admire him over there and you were. Sure that to me that he had done a great ability I think in some ways Europe is a bigger man. He may not be as you know actually in crime. He may not be as aristocratic as Jean and. He may not represent the more advanced thinking among modern problems. But at the same time I think humor is a wider question and in some ways it would have made it very it would have made a far
better president than Jean and he well I did have the ability to write and to interpret the opinion Jean with the stories make up and you know either busted or he got busted. Right here we go as far as you could in a saw to see that you couldn't do it that way and then when I want to compromise with it they just say well there is a piece of rock you don't put your ship through. You say around red Jima trying to chip away with his intellect. Susan from in a zone in Eugene came out here. Again that's something for the state team I was a Catholic you see predominately Protestant state during the course of our conversation with Mr. Manfred about Minnesota politics. Someone run mark that one of the most admired characters in Minnesota folklore is the individual who can be a horse trader and an honest man at the same time that you are isn't of any value. In fact he says he's a doctor. If he chooses him bitter
he hurts everybody around. Look who's going to win and this is what they get everything he can but he can pick what you take what you can get in and write the rest right for some other time. But you have to win. He says for I also know this too you have to man the psycho arse that will produce this thing. Trim this number really fine put it online. Come on stay. Going back to that guy with a big piece of our great stash of ships Ted Olson and the famous Johnson from Superior I was forced us out of the national race into my centrist your preferred tool. But Lugar of course she is.
It is. All part of this state of mind. The Minnesota State of Mind is unquestionably one that provides the ingredients necessary for political thought and action. And in Minnesota politics Sinclair Lewis the tough minded satirist found something he could approve of in Minnesota politics Lewis saw a vital system in which dissent and competition of the McCarthy Humphrey variety. I've always had a central place on at least one occasion however. Lewis was not able to refrain from attacking governmental conditions in his home state. He was invited to address the state legislature in 1038 But one conservative legislator or tried to bar his appearance mistakenly thinking that the Lewis involved was John L. Lewis a radical leader of the United Mine Workers. When the confusion was cleared up Lewis delivered a speech in which he lashed out at Minnesota pro-French as M by Provenge
al-Islam he of course Matt not knowing who Sinclair Lewis was. The legislators may have been put off but they need not have been. If many of them did not know who Sinclair Lewis was he at least knew them and understood the political climate in which they were working. US student of Minnesota politics. And the sort of geography of Minnesota villages and cities the sociologist of Minnesota's people these have been the aspects of San Carlos we have now to. Be with us next time as we take a final look at Lewis and his Minnesota. As we attempt to analyze some of the things we have discovered about this writer and his environment.
You have been listening to Sinclair Lewis is Minnesota a state of mind this 12 program series has been produced. By the St. Cloud State College broadcasting service under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He still exposed. Are you playing. The note the do what match with what we say. You speak when we see you and you cannot hide. Compassion which. Sinclair you. So. Much. We. Then when we. Beat. That in the. Last. One this series was written by Dr James Lundquist of the same block
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- St. Cloud State College
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- In 1920, Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis published his novel "Main Street," an inciteful analysis of the American small town. This radio series, produced five decades after the novel was published, explores whether "Main Street" still holds true of small towns.
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Producing Organization: St. Cloud State College
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-9-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- Chicago: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 11; Sinclair Lewis and Minnesota Politics,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 23, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5d8nhc09.
- MLA: “Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 11; Sinclair Lewis and Minnesota Politics.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5d8nhc09>.
- APA: Sinclair Lewis' Minnesota: A State of Mind; 11; Sinclair Lewis and Minnesota Politics. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5d8nhc09