“Words were powerless”: A Minnesota newspaper’s response to the Lincoln assassination

To recognize the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination, this article is a follow-up to my last post,The Funeral of President Lincoln.” If you enjoyed this, you may also like my short piece on Minnesota newspapers’ reaction to the death of Charles Darwin.

"President Lincoln Assassinated!", The St. Cloud Democrat, April 20, 1865.

“President Lincoln Assassinated!”, The St. Cloud Democrat, April 20, 1865.

On April 15, 1865, lying in a boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theater, President Abraham Lincoln died, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. What was a week celebrating an end to four years of bloodshed was capstoned by one last tragedy. Though not everyone felt the same way, tens of millions mourned their fallen hero, and in Minnesota as well as elsewhere, this sorrow turned into disbelief, into anger.

Lincoln has a special importance in the history of Minnesota not only because of his political legacy but also the fact that 1860 was the first presidential election the state could vote in. Although a few counties went for the Democratic candidate, the state overwhelmingly handed its four electoral votes to Lincoln. Months later when the Civil War broke out, Minnesota was one of the first to commit troops to the Union cause, and while the state and administration did not agree on every issue, the two were undoubtedly close. This made it all the more traumatic when news of the assassination reached the state.

One of the first Minnesota newspapers to report on the it was The St. Cloud Democrat, based out of the central part of the state. “He is Dead!” its editor, W. B. Mitchell, frantically announced, adding that God had struck “the light from our eyes” by taking “our great, good and mighty ruler.” He continued:

On Sabbath morning [April 15th] the terrible news fell upon us—crushing, stupefying, sickening. Men heard with blanched cheeks, and the blood cold—frozen—in their veins. To believe seemed impossible, and yet there was no room for hope—the truth was only too well established. Words were powerless. In the formation of language no such deed as this—the assassination of Liberty’s chosen son in a land that boasted to breathe only the air of freedom—had never been contemplated, and the brain of man had framed nothing for the tongue to express that was not weak and impotent. (April 20, 1865)

As the newspaper sorted through the details of the assassination — that John Wilkes Booth was the perpetrator and Secretary Seward a second victim — it worried about what was next. As Mitchell noted, the nation had lost a part of itself: “The heart of the nation had twined around that great body and taken it to themselves, and the great soul it contained had become a part of their soul.” For many, including Mitchell, Lincoln was an American Moses leading the country toward the Promised Land but never reaching it himself. Yet with the prophet gone, visions of this land became dubious and for some stained red.

"Letter from Jane Grey Swisshelm," The St. Cloud Democrat. April 27, 1865.

“Letter from Jane Grey Swisshelm,” The St. Cloud Democrat. April 27, 1865.

A week later The St. Cloud Democrat published a two-part letter from Jane Grey Swisshelm, an early supporter of Lincoln and one of the state’s most vocal abolitionists. Recording what she saw while in Washington, D.C., her correspondence is fascinating in that, written days apart, the two-halves capture the emotional shift that must have shaken so many. For example, the first is dated April 14, only hours before the assassination, and in it she observes the raised flags and “virtual peace” taking hold in the country: “[O]n this favored day the sun shines gloriously, after a long season of clouds and rain.” But three days later the storm returned:

It is sickening to pass the White House … so recently all gorgeous with flags and all manner of festive devices blazing with many colored lights, and reverberating with triumphant music, and witness the change to the sable emblems of woe. What made these garments even worse was the knowledge that just behind that draped wall lies the mangled body of our sainted, martyred President, and this visible presence adds greatly to the sorrow and gloom.

Finally, she seethed, the true character of the South had revealed itself by murdering the one person who would show them mercy:

The world at large—the masses of the Northern people—had no more just idea than had Mr. Lincoln of the animus of this most fiendish Rebellion[.] He was the one to test generosity, magnanimity, Christian charity and all that class of virtues to the utmost limit, and we have the result. As Christ was murdered by those He came to save, so has President Lincoln been sacrificed by the wretches he would have shielded from the just punishment of their crimes.


Jane Grey Swisshelm (1815-1884)

With the president gone, “Who now will stand between them and the reward of their two centuries’ of crimes against our common humanity, the thought of which makes the blood curdle in one’s veins?” She demanded that Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson, not steady his hand in retaliation: “Nations have no hereafter, and National sins must meet their punishment in this life.” This was a position she maintained in successive letters to the newspaper, recanting any benevolence she may have once shown, insisting that “The nation can never be safe while these, her implacable and wily foes, are above the grounds” (May 6, 1865).

In the months following, Swisshelm was not alone in her bloodlust. As the “Radical Republicans” in Congress sought to punish the South and ensure the rights of free blacks, President Johnson advocated a more moderate approach. Trying to reunite the country as quickly as possible, his policies alienated individuals like Swisshelm, who feared weakness would validate treason. The new president’s efforts backfired when, in 1866, the Radicals swept the midterm elections.

Although Reconstruction may not have affected Minnesota in the same way it did the South and New England, it did ignite a debate over how to reach the “Promised Land” Lincoln prophesied. While Minnesota sent several of these Radicals to Washington (including former Governor Alexander Ramsey), on the state-level, Republicans pushed for a black suffrage amendment to the state constitution. This, though, was voted down twice (1865, 1867) before passing in 1868 and was the first step on a path the state would take nearly a century to travel.

There really is no modern parallel to the anguish many Americans felt when President Lincoln was assassinated. Right when the nation’s bloodiest war was drawing to a close, it lost something greater than a man: it lost a symbol. As the “Great Emancipator,” Lincoln represented a vision of what the United States could be, and as that “great soul … had become a part of [the people’s] soul,” for many it must have felt as if much more than just the president had died that day. Upon hearing the news, how many asked, What now?

The racial breakdown of police involved shootings in Dallas, TX

Map of Police Involved Shootings in Dallas, TX (2013-2014). Source.

Following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, there was renewed focus on the prevalence of police shootings in the United States. Yet, as was discovered by The Washington Post and scholars everywhere: No federal agency keeps track of this information, and everything the FBI does maintain is limited to raw numbers on “justifiable homicides.” In addition to being self-reported by police (red flag!), this purposely excludes instances when suspects were non-fatally injured or simply shot at and missed. This severely undercounts all instances of police involved shootings (PIS).

Yet, in a highly commendable move, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) released its self-monitored spreadsheets on all PIS incidents from 2003 to 2014 as part of an effort to improve police-community relations. Amazingly, the data includes demographics not only on the victim but also the officer(s) involved. Rightfully so, it was picked up by local and national media with calls that more departments follow the DPD’s lead.

When this release was brought to my attention, the first thing I noticed is that for as rare and rich the DPD’s dataset is, few journalists have actually played with it. The three visuals that exist, which have been copied and shared widely, were made by the DPD themselves — and they’re each pretty similar. Here’s the one that tracks the disposition/outcome of all PIS.

Dallas Police Department - Officer involved Shootings - DIsposition of Suspects

Disposition of Suspects in Police Involved Shootings (Dallas, TX: 2003-2014). Source.

By itself, this is a step forward in that it highlights the deficiencies of monitoring only those instances when the suspect is killed (via “justifiable homicide”). In Dallas, ignoring all cases of injury or shoot and misses would eliminate nearly 2/3 of the data. The fact that this is done elsewhere is egregious and unacceptable.

For as much as I’d like to praise the DPD, though, there was something else that stood out to me. You’ll note in the above that race appears nowhere, even though for researchers interested in this topic, it’s a key component. This is also the case for the DPD’s other visuals (not published here). To simply say that X suspects were involved in police shootings obscures patterns important to policy makers. So, to fix this, I’ve taken the disposition information and broken each down by race. (Note: In my own analyses I’ve removed all females and Asians because they are practically nonexistent in the data).


Suspects Killed in Dallas PIS.


Suspects Injured in Dallas PIS.


Suspects Shot At and Missed in Dallas PIS.

Identifying the race of the suspects presents a whole different picture. For each year in each disposition, black males nearly constitute a majority. This is despite the fact that, according to the U.S. Census, blacks make up only 25% of the city’s population. Next, because the data also includes whether the suspect had a weapon (and what type), we can pull out the race and dispositions of those who were unarmed.

Police involved shootings of unarmed suspects in Dallas, TX (2003-2014).

Police involved shootings of unarmed suspects in Dallas, TX (2003-2014).

From 2003 to 2014, nearly half of all unarmed men killed by Dallas police were black. Blacks also formed nearly two-thirds of all unarmed shoot-and-misses and injuries. This clearly is not a coincidence. (And no, I’m not the first person to suggest that police shootings have a disproportionate effect on the black community).

I want to encourage more journalists and scholars to use this data because until the FBI’s reporting system changes and more police departments release PIS data, we have to squeeze as much as possible out of what’s available. As a researcher at the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, I know there are plenty of interesting questions to be asked and answered: What’s the relationship between the disposition and weapon and race of the suspect? What effect does the officer’s race have on the disposition? And lastly, What crimes were these suspects allegedly committing?

So come on, grad students, get moving.

The full DPD dataset can be downloaded from Github (here), though it lacks 2013 data, which will need to be entered manually (or scraped) from the DPD website.

Thoughts on “American Sniper” (and “Nation’s Pride”)

Regardless as to what one may think of Clint Eastwood’s abilities as a filmmaker, his latest American Sniper has earned him the largest opening weekend success of his directorial career. For those unfamiliar with the film’s premise, it’s an adaptation of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, in which he brags about having murdered 255 human beings. The Raw Story notes in “Real ‘American Sniper’ was hate-filled killer — why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?” that in his book he

… described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated.

Kyle also looted Iraqi apartments and never doubted his work, seemingly incapable of understanding that the world isn’t black-and-white and that just because a country claims to be on a liberating mission does not, in fact, make it a liberator. Similarly, saying you’re a patriot does not make you a patriot. So when some writers called out Kyle’s narrow-mindedness — and dare I say nationalism? — the, well, nationalistic response was “swift and violent”:

“Move your America hating ass to Iraq, let ISIS rape you then cut your cunt head off, fucking media whore muslim,” wrote a rather unassuming-looking mom named Donna. “Rania, maybe we to take you ass overthere and give it to ISIS … Dumb bitch,” offered a bearded man named Ronald, who enjoys either bass fishing or playing the bass (we may never know). “Waterboarding is far from torture,” explained an army pilot named Benjamin, all helpfulness. “I wouldn’t mind giving you two a demonstration.”

To no one’s surprise, these same people are now, while celebrating the film, talking about how much they “really want to kill some fucking ragheads” (quoted in “Eastwood film ‘American Sniper’ sets box office record while setting off flurry of racist tweets“). It’s obvious there is no part of the neo-con psyche striving to “win the hearts and minds” of a people when they’re idolizing a man who — I can’t say this enough — bragged about personally murdering a record amount of human beings. If any other country celebrated a man who did this to American soldiers, what do you think the response would be? I promise no one would be debating the biopic’s artistic merits.

Years ago when I heard that American Sniper was being made into a film, I was reminded of Nation’s Pride, the film-within-a-film from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009). In it a young, attractive Nazi sniper mans a tower heroically gunning down more than 200 soldiers while intermittently carving swastikas into the floorboards. Interesting.

They say Hollywood only has twelve scripts, but nationalism only has one: The culture hero always wins.

Star-Spangled Banner, Royal Palm Hotel, Miami, Florida (from Amerika 1926)

Needing literary inspiration, I’ve decided to start writing poems based on photographs. So, for $5.99 from Half Price Books, I bought E.O. Hoppe’s Amerika: Modernist Photographs from the 1920s (2007, ed. Phillip Prodger). Some of these I may compile into a manuscript (tentatively: Amerika 1926). We’ll see how it goes.

E O Hoppe Star-Spangled Banner, Royal Palm Hotel, Miami, Florida

Star-Spangled Banner, Royal Palm Hotel, Miami, Florida, 1926 by E.O. Hoppe.

Star-Spangled Banner, Royal Palm Hotel, Miami, Florida

Majesty is lost in black-and-white. So many look to the rooftop
where birds gaze down with the same sharpness as the president,

insisting it’s more likely cash will build a man’s soul than condemn it,
that there are other interests a man’s got than what’s on his bank statement.

Eight set of windows beneath the flag, we see the world from inside.
At this angle, the colors are vibrant, those birds doves.

But when the vultures carry off their prey, where do they go?

“Put it down the window and climb out”: Vice-President Humphrey at the University of Minnesota (1969-1970)

In March 2013, while writing my undergraduate history thesis on Hubert Humphrey’s role in the 1944 DFL merger, I spoke with University of Minnesota professor emeritus Dr. Hy Berman. As Minnesota’s “unofficial state historian,” I was excited not only to meet him but also discuss his friendship with the former vice president. One topic we spent much time on was Humphrey’s teaching at the University. All uncited quotations come from the transcript of our interview.


Vice President Humphrey and his rope ladder. (Original photograph from the Minnesota Historical Society).

In 1969, after having lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey was, for the first time in twenty-four years, a private citizen. Having served as Minneapolis mayor (1945-1948), a U.S. Senator (1949-1965), and vice president (1965-1969), he returned home to Waverly, MN, disappointed but unready to retire. As the dust from the campaign settled, Humphrey was already on the phone with University of Minnesota President Malcolm Moos discussing his return to teaching.

Receiving joint appointments at both the University and Macalester College, the former vice president eased into his new life with several public lectures ranging from national security to the legislative process. As an adjunct professor, in the fall of 1969 he taught his first course, the undergraduate-level “Government and Society,” which a press release described as a “colloquium [that] will cover the whole range of public policy and government and society.” Taught one night a week in Blegen Hall, it was an opportunity for Humphrey to share his decades of experience with the next generation of political leaders — and because of this, students were screened ahead of time, having to meet certain prerequisites.

As the director of the University’s Social Science program, Hy Berman was Humphrey’s “boss” (a title the latter jokingly used even on his deathbed) and in a personal interview recalled some of the surprises this came with. For example, as Humphrey was still the head of the Democratic Party, obligations came up forcing him to miss class. Even so,

[H]e made sure that someone covered his classes and we had a string of people come in to my office. One day [Sen.] Barry Goldwater walks in, unannounced, “I’m here to take Hubert’s class cause he had to go somewhere.” A lot of characters came in whenever he couldn’t make a class, they flew in to take his class and flew right back out.

Humphrey’s wealth of experience aside, some students and faculty were disappointed in his teaching style, feeling as though he was incapable of distancing himself from his subject. As Frank Sorauf recalled, who was the chairman of the University’s Political Science Department at the time, when discussing the legislative process,

You would have thought Hubert Humphrey could have talked in an informative, exciting way about the seniority system, draw on some conclusions. [But h]e rambled personal reminiscences … my dear old friend this one and my dear old friend that one …

This just went on and on and you could just see students’ faces falling. This wasn’t what they wanted (31-32).

With tensions from the 1968 election still high, Humphrey faced hostility from faculty and students upset over President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War. Anger over the vice president’s politics were especially strong in Minnesota as the primary battle pitted him against the DFL Party’s other favorite son: Senator Eugene McCarthy. What many did not understand, though, was that within the administration Humphrey opposed the war and as early as February 1965 suggested Johnson “cut loose.” Yet

because of his kind of political enthusiasm, he had to support the war. He did it in the most enthusiastic way so people thought that he supported the war. And it was a good number of the faculty [who] held that against him. Most of the people in the DFL held that against him. …

Therefore, safety precautions had to be made:

His office on campus was on the second floor of the Social Science Building — a corner office — and the Secret Service was still … protecting him. When they saw his office, they came to me and said, “That’s unacceptable,” because he was in a corner office, isolated. I said, “Well, that’s the biggest office. We’re going to furnish it nicely,” and they said, “We’re very unhappy.”

That evening I went to the hardware store and bought a rope ladder. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I brought it up the next day, went to the Secret Service guys and said, “This will do: Put it down the window and climb out.”

They were concerned the hostility of the students and faculty was so great that they thought he may be in danger.

Fortunately, Humphrey never had to use his rope ladder.

During these two years, the only students who harassed and humiliated him were from Macalester. In fact, the former vice president told a friend that “by the end of that year his stomach muscles were just tensing up whenever he got near the … campus” (Sorauf 31). In contrast, the worst he experienced at the University was a symbolic protest from faculty members.

Still transitioning into his new position, Berman invited Humphrey to attend a meeting of the 39ers Dining Club, an exclusive faculty gathering on campus. But “[A]s soon as I told everyone he was coming, half of the members quit.” In fact, the historian and future state senator Allan Spear accused Berman of giving a “platform to a war criminal” and then “went at it” with the former vice president (Berman 1984 25-26). Still, these antagonisms did not last long:

[S]ome of the most hostile faculty members invited him to a class hoping to catch him in errors and stuff like that. They invited him in with hostility, they came out with admiration. That’s how he won people over.

Humphrey remained at the University for only two years, deciding in 1970 to replace retiring Sen. Eugene McCarthy. He remained in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1978. At that time, in his honor, the University renamed its public administration school the Humphrey Institute (later the Humphrey School of Public Affairs). Interestingly, this is where his successor and fellow vice president Walter Mondale teaches today.

Sources/Further Reading:

Berman, Hyman; Chambers, Clarke A.. (1984). Interview with Hyman Berman. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://purl.umn.edu/48992.

Berman, Hyman; Preston, Joshua P. (2013). Interview with Hyman Berman. Unpublished Transcript.

Sorauf, Frank J.; Chambers, Clarke A.. (1984). Interview with Frank Sorauf. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://purl.umn.edu/50623.

University of Minnesota News Service. (1969). Press Releases, July – September 1969. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, http://purl.umn.edu/51860.

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).

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!

How not to report the news: Food stamp fraud edition

After my father died, growing up, my family depended on entitlement programs like WIC, free school lunch, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Hardly the mystical “Welfare Queens” conservatives imagine, we were just a low-income, single-parent household. You know, like a lot of families who rely upon these programs. By not worrying about where my next meal would come from, programs like SNAP allowed us to live our lives with dignity, and without them, my childhood would’ve been lesser because of it. End of story.

So, every time I hear conservatives compare food stamps to feeding wild animals, I find it personally insulting. Besides being literally dehumanizing — Which Animal Would Jesus Compare Poor People To (WAWJCPPT)? — it’s stupid. The only time that label will ever apply to me is when you say it to my face.

My face moments later.

My face moments later.

I say this because SNAP is back in the news again, and I’m appalled (though not surprised) by how it’s being framed. Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on SNAP titled, “Enhanced Detection Tools and Reporting Could Improve Efforts to Combat Recipient Fraud” (8/21/14). In it, the GAO reports that since the Great Recession, state agencies responsible for detecting fraud have seen zero to modest growth in their budgets. When enrollments increase from 31.8 million in 2008 to 47 million in 2014 with no money to track fraud, the problem is obvious. Of course, every program is going to have some percentage that abuses it, but that’s not the problem here — that’s the assumption. The real issue is that states have shirked their responsibility to verify the information they’re given from households. It’s an administrative problem.

Yet, here’s how several online news outlets reported on it. These sites got it right:

Now here’s another framing — see if you can spot the difference:

Never mind what the report actually says. Food stamp fraud is rampant. This isn’t journalism, it’s leading with what your audience wants to hear:

Americans receiving food stamps were caught selling and bartering their benefits online for art, housing and cash, according to a new federal report that investigates fraud in the nation’s largest nutrition support program (Fox News).

If you go through and read them, the framing is obvious: those Welfare Queens are at it again. Instead of using their benefits to feed their family, they’re using it to buy drugs, alcohol, and art — typical! Dag nabit!

But far from being “rampant,” here’s what the GAO report actually said, if anyone bothered to actually read it:

[Food and Nutrition Services] estimated an improper payment or error rate of the program at 3.4 percent, which represented an estimated $2.6 billion in wrongful payments, in fiscal year 2013. The percentage represents benefits distributed in error due to administrative as well as recipient errors, not all of which can be attributed to fraud. However, due to the large dollar amount involved in improper payments, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has placed SNAP on its list of high-error programs. Furthermore, after studying the cause of these errors, USDA officials stated that over 90 percent were due to verification errors. These types of errors occur when an agency fails to or is unable to verify recipient information … even though verifying information exists in third-party databases … (p.5; emphasis mine).

3.4 percent? That hardly sounds rampant. Now, in fairness, though, the above text applies only to fraudTrafficking is something else entirely, and on this subject the report offers only three heavily-qualified sentences.

GAO’s analysis found potential trafficking in 73 percent of households reviewed by focusing on SNAP households requesting cards in at least four monthly benefit periods. Benefits are allotted monthly, and a recipient selling their benefits and then requesting a new card would generally have one opportunity per month to do so. As a result, additional card requests in the same benefit period may not indicate increased risk of trafficking (p.0; emphasis mine).

It’s hard to draw any conclusions from this because it’s guaranteed that some percentage of these are false flags — cards get lost, stolen, thrown away, etc. Unfortunately, we’ll never know, though, because these agencies don’t have the funds to investigate. Everything else is just a side note. Here’s the report’s conclusion:

Although investigations can ultimately deter fraud and save agency resources, states we reviewed have faced the challenge of limited staff to manage a growing program and raised questions about whether federal incentive structures could be designed to better support their work.

That’s hardly the denunciation of the SNAP program conservatives wish it was.


Bioethical Expertise and Government

Joshua Preston:

Here’s my second article for Columbia’s “Voices in Bioethics.” In it I review a paper by Dr. Annabelle Littoz-Monnet and discuss the problems inherent at the intersection of bioethical “expertise” and government. In short, there’s no such thing as the neutral state.

Originally posted on :

by Joshua Preston 

In a new paper published by Dr. Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, an associate professor of political science at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, she asks whether government bioethics experts bolster or inhibit democratic control of policy. To answer this, she cites the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies’ (EGE) role in the European Union’s early-2000s debate on whether to fund human embryotic stem cell research. Drawing upon news articles, reports, and personal interviews, Dr. Littoz-Monnet observes that when the debate reached a stalemate, the European Commission (the EU’s executive body) sought out the EGE’s recommendations. What followed was the use of the EGE as a means for “control[ling] the policy process despite the presence of a salient and publicly debated conflict (17, italics in original).

Although the case study is itself interesting, the value of Dr. Littoz-Monnet’s paper lies…

View original 740 more words

The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota

I’m posting here an article I originally wrote for the March 2014 Kandiyohi County Historical Society newsletter. In it I tell the story of something that, growing up in Montevideo, I was vaguely aware of but knew nothing about. So, turning to the archives, I looked up the only time (as far as I’m aware) a U.S. President visited western Minnesota. The fact that it happened to be Teddy Roosevelt just as he was planning his political comeback should be no surprise. Two years later, in 1912, the state rewarded Roosevelt’s efforts with its 12 electoral votes.

Radical politics were nothing new to the western part of the state — in fact, the seventh district’s first congressman was a member of the Populist Party and, later, represented by the prohibitionist Andrew J. Volstead. (It’s forgotten now, but prohibition was a progressive movement that advocated for women’s suffrage and workers’ rights among other things). Because of this and the fact that the major rails to the Twin Cities ran through the region, it was not uncommon for satellite cities like Willmar to receive their fair share of speakers. Just in Willmar everyone from William Jennings Bryan (source) to Eugene V. Debs (source) and “Big Bill” Haywood (source) addressed packed auditoriums. Later, as I’ve written elsewhere, this same region was a hotbed for the Farmer-Labor Association, and it was Appleton that Farmer-Labor Party Governor Elmer Benson called home.

We’ve come a long way!

The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota

Teddy Roosevelt in Willmar Minnesota 2

President Roosevelt speaking in Willmar, MN. (KCHS Archives)

When Teddy Roosevelt arrived in New York after a tour of Europe he returned to find the Republican Party in disarray. In the summer of 1910, by now in his second year out of office, disappointment was growing in his successor, William Howard Taft, and so as the midterm elections approached it was conventional wisdom that the party would suffer. If it was not the Democrats who would win seats, it would be the progressive wing of the Republican Party, which was growing increasingly antagonistic toward the Taft conservatives. It was a fissure Roosevelt himself created while in office, but it was Taft’s own policies – such as the 1909 Aldrich Tariff – that exacerbated the split.

Since the first days of the republic the debate over the tariff was one divided by ideological as well as economic and geographic lines. If the tax on imports was high, it protected domestic manufacturers but at the expense of the consumer. A low tariff, on the other hand, favored consumers but threatened industry. As the tariff increased under Taft those most vulnerable to its effects – including the agricultural classes of the Midwest – searched for an alternative. With progressive Republicans scattered across the country it was an open question who could lead this new faction and so all eyes were on Roosevelt when it was announced that he would soon embark on a “western tour.”

While upset that his party was trying to evict insurgent (read progressive) forces from its ranks Roosevelt was persuaded to stump for his fellow Republicans on a tour into “the heartland of the insurgency,” the Midwest.[1] Under the auspices of traveling as a private citizen he announced that after seeing the palaces of Europe and the grasslands of Africa he would not feel “home” until he saw again the plains of his ranching youth.[2] Receiving hundreds of invitations begging an appearance, many of these he declined wishing “to make it understood clearly that he could consider no further invitation” as he was “compelled to refuse that he would rather have accepted.”[3] Still, this did not stop his admirers from trying or the newspapers from speculating that the Colonel had “undertaken a campaign for the presidential nomination in 1912.”[4]

Nearly 6,000 people waited at the Willmar depot to catch a glimpse of President Roosevelt. (KCHS Archives)

Nearly 6,000 people waited at the Willmar depot to catch a glimpse of President Roosevelt. (KCHS Archives)

Setting out on August 25 he went as far west as Denver before circling up through Osawatomie, KS, where he gave his most important speech of the tour. On August 31, standing on a table and speaking over the sounds of the crowd gathered around him, for the first time he publicly distanced himself from the conservative Republican cause. In what came to be known as the “Osawatomie Speech” he outlined a “New Nationalism” where service to one’s community trumped property rights, fortunes were taxed for the common welfare, and campaign spending was transparent. In closing he called for a new citizen spirit, stating, “The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive.”[5] This was anathema to the Taft conservatives and so as news of his speech spread the media accused him of being a “neo-Populist” or worse – a communist.[6]

By the time Roosevelt reached Omaha he lost count of how many speeches he had given over the last week and so, exhausted by his morning-to-midnight schedule, on Sunday, September 4, he looked forward to rest. To guarantee this he “instructed his secretary to send telegrams to towns through which he was to pass today, saying that as it was Sunday, he would make no speeches whatever from the train.”[7] Yet, as before, this did not stop his admirers from asking – including the Commercial Club of Willmar – or prevent rural newspapers from advertising his “visit.” In the Willmar Tribune, for example, top and center on its front page, it observed that even without the promise of seeing him “it is a safe prediction that an enormous crowd of citizens will be on hand … when Col. Roosevelt’s special pulls in.”[8] When he left Sioux Falls for Fargo on a rail that passed through the western prairie of Minnesota these crowds, banners in hand, proved his telegrams were ignored.

Approaching the station in Marshall, the crowd that gathered chanted the president’s name, “Teddy! Teddy!” and demanded “Let’s see you!” Sitting in his railcar, the Colonel acquiesced by waving through the window, hoping to return to his reading. Met by loud cheers, the audience continued its pressure until at last he surrendered and stepped out to say a few words. This foreshadowed what was to come at each of the stations ahead including Hanley Falls, Morris, Campbell, and Breckenridge.[9] This led one reporter to observe that “The colonel made more speeches today than on almost any other day since he began his trip.”[10] It was in Willmar, though, where before a crowd of three to six thousand people he decided to give a Sunday afternoon “sermon.”

President Roosevelt in Willmar, MN. (KCHS Archives)

“You people listen to the sermon and I get the flowers.” (KCHS Archives)

As Roosevelt rode into the station on the train’s rear platform, the Willmar crowd erupted into cheers. Quickly the crowd silenced, though, when the Colonel began speaking, saying it would be improper to give a formal speech on Sunday but that, instead, he would offer a brief sermon. Discussing the duties of citizenship, channeling the spirit of Osawatomie, he remarked that “he had no use for the citizen who talked much but did little to improve conditions.”[11] In order for the nation to thrive citizens ought to live with honesty and courage, but also “the saving grace of common sense. If a man is a natural-born fool, you can’t do much with him.”[12] And then,

Seeing an old soldier in the crowd [Roosevelt] gave a very complimentary reference to the defenders of the country, but then turning to a mother holding a child he said: “But I think you will agree with me when I place above all, even above the old soldier, the good mother.”[13]

As he spoke a little girl was lifted upon her father’s shoulders so she could hand the Colonel a bouquet of asters, which pleased him. “That’s fine, fine!” he said of the gift. “You people listen to the sermon and I get the flowers.” While only ten minutes, it was his longest stop of the day, and so when the train started up again he waved his goodbye and “glided away over the glistening rails.”[14]

[1] Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 2010), 103.
[2] “Speaks Sept. 5,” The Searchlight, July 15, 1910, 4.
[3] “Plan Roosevelt Tours,” The New York Tribune, July 15, 1910, 2.
[4] Quoted in Morris, Colonel, 106.
[5] Quoted in Morris, Colonel, 108-109.
[6] Morris, Colonel, 109-110.
[7] “Throngs Allow Teddy No Rest,” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 5, 1910, 1.
[8] “Col. T. Roosevelt at Willmar,” Willmar Tribune, August 31, 1910, 1.
[9] One local historian records a funny anecdote. As the train pulled through Donnelly two girls jumped on their horses using gunny sacks for saddles and chased the President’s train while it pulled away. One “cut a switch from a tree” so as “to touch Teddy Roosevelt on the nose with it.” His reaction? Smiling, he “said over and over again, ‘God bless you my children! God bless you my children!’” as they struggled to keep up. Edna Mae Busch, The History of Stevens County (1976), 158.
[10] “Throngs Allow Teddy No Rest.”
[11] “Col. Roosevelt at Willmar,” Willmar Tribune, September 7, 1910, 1.
[12] “Throngs Allow Teddy No Rest”
[13] “Col. Roosevelt at Willmar.”
[14] “Col. Roosevelt at Willmar.”