The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, August 09, 2003

Lynn Frazier and the Non-Partisan League

Frazier, thanks to California's little local difficulty, is having another fifteen minutes of fame as the only Governor of a US state ejected using a recall mechanism.

Pitifully little on Frazier online, that I could find. This is what he looked like; painfully short bios here and here; and that's more or less your lot.

(For those bellyaching about blog results confounding Google searches, one might note that searches on LF are sludged up by namechecks (and no more) of the man by the (I laughingly say) grown up media filling out Davis pieces.)

Be it noted that, even in these post-Jayson Blair days, no less a political powerhouse than The Hill was pleased to place Frazier as Governor of Nebraska - a Quaker State reader made the spot.

There is slightly more on the Non-Partisan League: a chapter of a thesis (PDF), the text of a 1922 speech by NPL Governor Jacob AO Preus of Minnesota and this from something called the Free State Project. But not much.

There is a short bio of William Langer who beat Frazier in the 1940 Republican (US Senate) primary, having seduced NPL support away from the incumbent. Langer seems an altogether more fascinating character than Frazier - twice Governor in the 30s, sentenced in Federal court to 18 months imprisonment for illegal campaign contributions and conspiracy [1].

In 1938, Langer went up against Gerald Nye - noted Son of the Wild Jackass and chairman of the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry which so assisted the proponents of Isolationism during the 1930s. Langer lost; but Nye went on, in 1944, to suffer the same ignominy as Frazier. He also lost in the primary.

For a state so slight in population, Gunther has quite a section in Inside USA devoted to North Dakota (pp237-245):
It is, in fact, to sum up, almost as socialized as Sweden.

And a few pars on the NPL, founded in 1915 by AC Townley [2]. According to Gunther (p239),
Somebody told him once, "You ought to read history." His reply was, "History? I don't care to read it. I make it"

He also has a couple of pars on Langer -
an extremely complicated personality
he calls him.

Apparently, the first governor to declare a moratorium on debt foreclosures; and, as senator, voted against the San Francisco Charter of the UN. Unlike isolationists like Nye, Henrik Shipstead (MN), Burton Wheeler (MT) and Robert LaFollette Jr (WI) - Joseph McCarthy's scalp, of course - Langer kept on getting reelected, until they carried him out of the Capitol feet first (metaphorically speaking!) in 1959.

Southern senators modelled on Fred Allen's Beauregard Claghorn were not the only dinosaurs populating the US Senate in the 50s, it seems.

The dichotomy between Insurgency and Regularity in US politics seems pretty peculiar to the outsider. And that a certain group of states - California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota amongst them - should have become institutionalised as insurgent (by the bag of tricks of which recall is one), and retain their peculiar institutions long after the institutions of regularity (the machines, the one-party South) have vanished is doubly so.

Much more on this to come, I fancy.

[A couple of promising online pieces on isolation worth noting in passing: a long piece on previous isolationist Senate Committee investigation, into William B Shearer and the 1927 Geneva Disarmament Conference (Shearer's role, as agent for US shipyards, was to ensure there wasn't any!); and a more general piece (PDF) on The Ideology of American Isolationism 1931-39.]

  1. I'm not sure he actually went to jail - the conviction was overturned on appeal and he was eventually acquitted.

  2. Gunther says in his book (1947) that Townley was then still alive and living in Minnesota; but there's no trace online that I could find of when he died.

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