John Lind, Minnesota’s only Populist governor

This is a follow-up to a previous article called, “Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors” and this short note on John Lind serves two purposes. The first is practical, the other political. (And yes, all history is political).

First, there are few easily-accessible resources discussing Lind’s politics. While I love MNopedia (hire me!), both it and his Wikipedia page are too general. This article is not meant to be a doctoral thesis, but it is a little bulkier. Hopefully, some young scholar will be inspired to do their own research and publish the first Lind biography in nearly 80 years.

Second, as Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Having served on a Texas textbook review panel, I’ve seen firsthand historical revisionism. I’ve seen Tea Party rhetoric creep into how we write about the past: The framing that government has always been an unnecessary evil, taxes an infringement upon liberty. Yet, when it comes to workers and women’s rights, public education, the social safety net — all the things that allow people to live with dignity — these were not gifts of the free market or God but rather the product of struggle. These came from grassroots organizing. These came from rising up against power. It came from the notion that a government of the people could be proactive and a force for good. Minnesota is full of such stories, and it’s about time we’ve heard them.

Minnesota’s Only Populist Governor

John Lind (1854-1930)

Governor John Lind (1854-1930)

Governor John Lind (1854-1930)

A New Ulm teacher and lawyer, John Lind was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (MN 2nd District) in 1886, serving as a Republican until retiring in 1893. Around this time, as discontent brewed and farmers organized around a third-party alternative, Lind left the Republican Party and in 1896 supported the presidential candidacy of Democratic-Populist William Jennings Bryan. That same year he ran for governor and though a “political orphan” (Helmes 91) was endorsed by “the allied forces” of the Democratic, Populist, and Silver Republican Parties.

In a one-party state that had not elected a Democratic governor in thirty-six years, Lind narrowly lost by 3,552 votes against incumbent David M. Clough. As governors served only two-year terms, “Honest John” (as he was known to the electorate) tried again in 1898. Although the Populist movement was in decline, the political winds in Minnesota had shifted. Famously, Clough, who was not seeking a third term, saw the momentum behind Lind and reportedly exclaimed, “Thank God I am not a candidate.”

Central to Lind’s 1898 gubernatorial campaign were conventional Populist issues such as the tax burden and railroad trusts, but so too was the Spanish-American War, which lasted from April to August of that year. The fact that Lind enlisted to serve was used to his advantage, causing the Democratic chairman to remark that “Lind fighting abroad is 10,000 votes stronger than [him] on the stump.” Becoming disillusioned with the war, as jingoism crept into his opponent’s campaign, Lind praised his allies for not permitting “the shimmer of a proposed imperial policy in distant lands to blind the eyes of the people to existing abuses at home.” On Election Day, Lind became the first candidate in a decade to win a majority of the popular vote (52.2%).

President McKinley John Lind

President McKinley and John Lind in Minneapolis, c. 1900. From the Minnesota Historical Society.

In an hour-and-a-half-long inaugural address to the legislature, Lind focused on what he saw as an antiquated tax system. Unapologetic in his defense of the services provided through taxation, he observed that the current system targeted only “visible goods” — such as tools and implements. As these were the only means of subsistence for people struggling “to support themselves … thousands who possess great wealth escape” (Lind 4-5). Though not intending to wage a war against the rich, this imbalance in the tax burden was “a condition resulting from the new forms that wealth has assumed under the remarkable progress and the economic changes which have taken place in this century” (Lind 5).

In the early days of the Republic … Wealth meant houses, lands, implements and cattle. Franchises, bonds, stocks and securities were practically unknown. Today they constitute … perhaps eighty per cent of personalty wealth. As a rule, they escape taxation, not because they are the property of the rich, but because the assessor cannot get his eyes on them. (Lind 5)

He went on further to advocate an increase in a tax on corporations and the gross earnings of railroads that would make Minnesota more comparable to its “sister states” like Wisconsin and Illinois. Lind wanted to build roads and mental health hospitals, fund public schools, and support struggling farmers. These were moral ends to him as he declared proudly: “increased taxation and higher civilization go hand in hand” (Lind 6).

Although limited in what he could accomplish, facing a Republican-controlled legislature, in Lind the Progressive Era officially began in Minnesota. The changing landscape of the state as it neared the twentieth century brought to light the economic and social tensions of the Industrial Revolution (the same tensions that inspired the Populist movement). As historian Theodore Blegen wrote,

Lind symbolized transition in viewpoint as the state stood on the threshold of the new century. … Significant beginnings had been made in frontier days; social needs of modern character had been foreshadowed; and some forward steps had been taken. …. [Lind and his successors] realized that they were dealing with a state shifting from an agricultural to an industrialized stage (434).

Lind’s tenure as governor was brief as, in 1900, he lost reelection. Yet, for a state that gave 65,000 more votes to Republican President William McKinley than his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, the gubernatorial results were less decisive. Former state Speaker of the House Samuel Van Sant won by only 2,254 votes, and this was only after 15-20,000 votes for Lind were invalidated for errors. Yet, as state senator (and future governor) John A. Johnson said of Lind at that year’s State Democratic Convention:

“He is the only man who has stood on the threshold of the governor’s office of this state, like Horatius on the bridge, with the people on one side and the greedy corporations on the other, and protected with all his strength the people from the corporations’ greed” (Helmes 104).

John Lind American Mediator in Mexico City

John Lind, American Mediator in Mexico City. From The Day Book, August 14, 1913.

Thereafter, Lind returned to law practice and, two years later, was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives (5th District), serving from 1903 to 1905. In 1908 he again campaigned for Bryan and was appointed by Governor Johnson to the University of Minnesota’s board of regents where he served as chairman until 1914. His last stint in government grew from his longstanding relationship to Bryan who, by 1913, was President Wilson’s Secretary of State.

As the Mexican Revolution roared on the nation’s southern border, following a recent military coup, Lind was appointed an emissary to Mexico. Tasked with delivering treaty terms to Victoriano Huerta, Mexico’s new president, it was obvious President Wilson “was concerned more with general competence and trustworthiness than with special qualifications” as Lind neither spoke Spanish nor understood the politics of the country (Cumberland 97). Sadly, given both Wilson’s disdain for Huerta and the country’s volatility, the “mission was doomed to failure before he ever arrived in Mexico” (Cumberland 97).

When the United States entered World War One in 1917, which led to the resignation of Secretary Bryan but Lind reluctantly supported, Minnesota created the state Public Safety Commission. Tasked with aiding the war effort, the commission investigated German-language textbooks, registered aliens, and targeted pacifistic dissent (Gilman 58). Appointed by the governor, Lind was a moderate who worked “relentlessly for the suppression of the [Industrial Workers of the World]” (Chrislock 77). Soon afterward, as the commission became increasingly aggressive in its work, Lind resigned in protest.

He remained in Minneapolis until his death in 1930.

Sources/Further Reading

Blegen, Theodore C. Minnesota: A History of the State (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1975).

Chrislock, Carl H. Watchdog of Loyalty: The Minnesota Public Safety Commission During World War I(St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1991).

Cumberland, Charles C. Mexican Revolution: The Constitutionalist Years. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972).

Gilman, Rhoda R. Stand Up! The Story of Minnesota’s Protest Tradition (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012).

Helmes, Winifred G. John A. Johnson: The People’s Governor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949).

Lind, John. Biennial Messages of Governors to the Legislature of Minnesota, 1899. (St. Paul: The Pioneer Press Company, 1899).

Minnesota Historical Society. An Inventory of John Lind’s Papers.

Stephenson, George M. John Lind of Minnesota. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1935).

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Garrison Keillor to Robert Bly: “Few poets can re-order our consciousness…”

While going through the Robert Bly Papers at the University of Minnesota, I came across two letters I wanted to share. In the past I’ve posted pieces from young writers like Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, and Hunter S. Thompson, but the following come from two of the state’s most-famous contemporaries. The first excerpt is from Garrison Keillor (age 27) and the other from Bill Holm (age 26).

Both letters are dated 1969 and written after Bly gained fame for his literary magazine The Fifties (then The Sixties) and first book of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1963). In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War and through it staged readings on college campuses across the country, which introduced him to many young poets. This kind of literary activism culminated in his winning the National Book Award for his politically-charged The Light Around the Body (1967). It is hard to overstate the influence Bly had on his contemporaries during the decade. Although both Keillor and and Holm later found their own fame for A Prairie Home Companion and The Music of Failure (1985), respectively, these were still decades away. In fact the two would become good friends with Keillor calling Holm, “The sage … a colleague of Whitman born one hundred years too late.”

Dated April 9, 1969, on UMN Department of Radio and Television letterhead, Keillor complimented Bly on a recent reading, noting the recording was to be aired on the college radio station. He went on to add that they had a mutual friend, prompting a curious anecdote about his travel habits. Cleverly, Keillor ties this to his appreciation of Bly’s work.

… I was in New York looking for a job. … Whenever I sleep in somebody else’s house, I wake up at five in the morning. I woke up early at Roland’s and sat in his garden for a couple hours, having to piss desperately and afraid if I did I’d wake up the babies with a flood. It slowly dawned on me that nobody would hire me because I don’t want to work, and I put together laboriously some pieces of that morning into a poem which I’ve been afraid to read anyplace lest somebody accuse me of imitating you. I mention this by way of saying a few poets can re-order our consciousness so that from time to time we live inside their poems, and that you are one of them.

Anyway, thank you for the generous compliment at the reading.

Best —

Garrison Keillor

Bill Holm Letter to Robert Bly 1969

Letter from Bill Holm to Robert Bly, c. 1969.

Around that same time (March 25, 1969), Bly also received a letter from Holm who was then working on his PhD at the University of Kansas. Their relationship is more intimate with both growing up in western Minnesota. As Holm writes, school was stressful, but it was nothing Whitman couldn’t help.

Have been meaning to send a letter for some time, but I got bogged down in the process of studying for PhD exams for 2 months. In the course of I developed insomnia, a tic in my right eye, and a bad stomach. … But they are done at last, my facial tic is gone, and after reading the Song of Myself a couple of times, I am beginning to feel human again. …

As a treat, he included a poem called “Dog,” which as far as I know has never been published. I’ll leave its literary merit to your judgment.

How glorious
In the moonlight
To rummage through
Shadowy grass
with my nose!

Perhaps, tonight –
a message
from my lover.

What I enjoy about these excerpts is their insight into the relationships Bly maintained with young writers. Though under no obligation to be responsive to anyone, his papers are filled with hundreds of letters from well-wishers, many of which end the same way: “Thank you.” Never teaching at an institution, his engagement with students was limited to readings and letters, in which he was always encouraging and supportive. I know this firsthand through my own (limited) correspondence with him. If the generations of writers he’s inspired shows anything: such responsiveness means something, it works.

Source: Robert Bly Correspondence series (Mss 81s01), Literary Manuscripts Collection, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis. Box 14, Folder 1.

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Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors

Minnesota governors David Clough John Lind Samuel Van Sant John Johnson

Clockwise from top-left: David M. Clough, John Lind, Samuel R. Van Sant, John A. Johnson.

[UPDATE 11/18/14: Read my short political history of Governor John Lind here.]

As I’ve written elsewhere, given my time at the Initiative, I’ve developed an interest in Big Data analysis and how this methodology can be applied to history (“the digital humanities”). Specifically, as collections become digitized, the sheer volume of resources ought to inspire historians to find new ways to engage and manage information. While the result will only be as good as the analysis, it has the potential to reveal trends that otherwise may be implied but not obvious.

The following tracks the state newspaper mentions of particular keywords — in this case, names — of four Minnesota governors: David M. Clough, John Lind, Samuel R. Van Sant, and John A. Johnson. For example, every instance in which “John” and “Lind” appear within five words of one another on a Minnesota newspaper page, that page is counted. Searching for variations of how these individuals were addressed (such as “Governor Van Sant” rather than “Samuel Van Sant” or “S.R. Van Sant”) yield different counts but the overall trends are the same.

(Note: Prior to 1962, Minnesota’s governors served two-year terms).


Figure: This graph represents the total counts per year of particular keyword usage in 28 Minnesota newspapers (~330,000 scanned pages). Keywords include “Governor Clough”, “John Lind”, “Governor Van Sant”, and “Governor Johnson.” Variations of these keywords are not included. Data was manually collected from the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America archives.

I know there’s a lot of history I’m leaving out, and I’m sorry I’m not delving into the full history of the progressive era in Minnesota, but at a glance, a few things are apparent:

(1) Mentions are more likely to occur in an election year than in a non-election year. The only instances in which the latter supersedes the former is during the governor’s first year in office. Otherwise, non-election years tend to trail, and this is true even when there are major events such as when Johnson died in office (1909). The exception to this is Lind whose 1899 totals were only slightly better than in the year between his two gubernatorial campaigns (1897).

(2) The prominence of these individuals in state newspapers corresponds strictly to their time in office. The exception to this is again Lind who, coincidentally, served the fewest terms (one). This may be due to the fact that, compared to the others, only Lind had a political career outside of the state legislature, having served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1887-1893 and later 1903-1905. The spikes one sees afterward mark particular events: In 1910 it was widely-speculated that he would run for governor again (he didn’t) and in 1913, Lind’s friend, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, appointed Lind an emissary to Mexico during that country’s revolution.

(3) An individual’s prominence in state newspapers reached its highest point during their first reelection campaign. This observation, though, is a little problematic as only Governor Johnson was elected to a third term — even so it is fascinating that this is still the case when, in 1908, Johnson also ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Lind’s uniqueness makes sense given his being endorsed by the Democratic, Populist, and Silver Republican Parties at the height of the Populist Movement in Minnesota (1896-1898). Once this subsided, so too did his prominence (Lind was the state’s first and only Populist governor).

(4) There’s something going on with John Lind. Although I’ve already noted his exceptionalism, it’s something that, without this graph, would be otherwise unapparent. Right now I’m in the process of writing an article on Lind that will (hopefully) shed light on his uniqueness. Subscribe and keep an eye out for it.

Is there anything else that stands out? Any other research questions from this period you’d like me to look into? Let me know in the comments!

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The Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium: Neuro-Interventions and the Law

Joshua Preston:

This is my “Voices in Bioethics” write-up of last month’s Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium. It was my first foray into the law and neuroscience world — and I loved it. What I don’t talk about is my experience using (great!) or why I missed the Sunday panel.

With my flight leaving Sunday evening, I spent the morning walking to the Carter Presidential Library but gave up when I realized I’d never make it. Compensated by visiting the Martin Luther King Historic Site. Very good.

Originally posted on :

by Joshua Preston 

Recently, I attended the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium’s (ANEC) conference on Neuro-Interventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity (September 12-14). Hosted by Professor Dr. Nicole Vincent, it was my first foray into the “neurolaw” world. Most of the attendees and keynote speakers were pulled from the MacArthur Foundation’s Law and Neuroscience Research Network, and because of this, I was impressed by the cross-disciplinary representation. The conference included experts in the biological sciences and psychiatry as well as legal scholars and practicing judges. Additionally, I must add, it was free, which is the best price.

The opening keynote from Vincent laid out the major topics that would be explored over the next three days. In it she outlined her taxonomy of the relationship between responsibility and mental capacity (i.e., how does an individual’s cognitive abilities affect our expectations of them?). Each panel addressed…

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The Digital Humanities and Word Clouds

Ever since I joined the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, I’ve had a growing interest in big data analysis. With so much information being digitized — whether it’s criminal records, government documents, or historical archives –  researchers can engage with old resources in new ways and ask questions on scales previously unimaginable. Though I’m not too vocal about it here (yet), right now I’m working to apply what I’ve learned at the Initiative to the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” archives. This crossing of fields, for those who are curious, is called the “Digital Humanities.” (If you’d like to know more, I suggest checking out the historian Dan Cohen’s blog. Fred Gibbs also has a helpful introduction to historical data analysis here).

I won’t reveal any of my graphics here (I’m saving them for a future post), but here’s an example of the Digital Humanities that everyone’s familiar with: Word clouds. Technically, these were possible before the digitization of famous works, but it’s the kind of work that required slave labor teaching assistants. The following I put together in a few minutes using Project Gutenberg and Wordle.

This is Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (1920):

Main Street Sinclair Lewis Word Cloud

Lewis’ Babbitt (1920):
Babbitt Sinclair Lewis Word CloudThomas Paine‘s entire collected writings:
Complete Writings Thomas Paine Word Cloud My personal diaries (May 2008 to May 2012):

Preston Journals Word Cloud

Now, even though all of this big data talk is just an excuse for me to post word clouds, I see in each of these one thing: Opportunity. Imagine doing this same work with thousands of books and newspapers. Imagine tracking keywords across time to measure the political trends of in a community (or state or country). We can! We are!

Every researcher ought to be salivating.

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Governor Floyd B. Olson on Law School Debt

Governor Floyd B. Olson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, DC.

Governor Floyd B. Olson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, DC.

While reading Floyd Bjornsterne Olson: Minnesota’s Greatest Liberal Governor (1937), a collection of speeches and remembrances published after Olson’s death, I came across the following. As I prepare for the LSAT, I’ve received thousands of tips on what to do before, during, and immediately after law school, but none of it has been as useful as the following. Young lawyers: Take note.

After working a series of odd jobs around the country, in 1913, at the age of 20, Olson returned to Minneapolis and attended night-classes at the Northwestern College of Law (now the William Mitchell College of Law). Two years later he graduated and passed the bar exam. But after doing so, he was sued by his law school over unpaid tuition fees. The trial was recounted by Joseph Poirier, a college friend and later Minneapolis Municipal Judge (1937-1942):

… I recall that one of the first lawsuits Floyd tried was one in which he was a defendant. He was sued by [the] law school for an alleged unpaid balance on his tuition fee. He defended his own case, and I well recall his defense, in which he was Exhibit One as well as defendant. His argument was: “I know nothing about law, have learned nothing; and while I have been admitted to practice, you can readily see that I am no lawyer. My ignorance of the law, and the way I try this case are clear proofs that I have received nothing by reason of my alleged instruction at this school.” And, strange to say, the jury found for him. (32)

I was unable to find the annual tuition cost at Northwesten Law, but I do know it cost $160 (plus a $10 fee) to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School at that time, which would be ~$4,000 in today’s dollars. A century later, according to the American Bar Association, the average debt for private law school graduates is $125,000 – so maybe Floyd’s on to something here.

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Gillian Bennett & Physician-Assisted Suicide

Joshua Preston:

Did you know that you don’t have a constitutional right to die and physician-assisted suicide is legal in only five states? Here’s my latest article for Columbia’s Voices in Bioethics. In it I discuss the death of Gillian Bennett and euthanasia laws in both Canada and the United States.

Originally posted on :

by Joshua Preston 

“I want out before the day when I can no longer assess my situation,” wrote Gillian Bennett, a Vancouver woman, in an open letter to be published after her death. “[I] will be physically alive but there will be no one inside.” Addressing the dementia she had been living with for three years: “[M]uch faster now, I am turning into a vegetable … Dementia gives no quarter and admits no bargaining.” So, dragging a mattress to her favorite spot, on August 18, 2014, Bennett, age 83, self-administered a lethal dose of barbiturates and passed with her husband holding her hand.

In Canada, physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is illegal, leaving individuals with degenerative illnesses to make these decisions on their one without the resources available to most hospitals. As Bennett observed, if she wished to resist becoming a vegetable, this was her only option –…

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