Prairie Rebel: The Public Life of William Lemke

Prairie Rebel: The Public Life of William Lemke

Prairie Rebel: The Public Life of William Lemke

Prairie Rebel: The Public Life of William Lemke

Excerpt

In the years just prior to 1917, William Lemke emerged as one of the leaders of the farmer rebellion known as the Nonpartisan League. Subsequently identifying himself with more extensive political movements based on agrarian discontent, he displayed an understanding of the grievances of debt-ridden spring wheat farmers and, to a lesser degree, those of all debtor classes throughout the nation. He was one of the authors of A. C. Townley's Nonpartisan League legislative program, and in 1920 he was a successful candidate for Attorney General of North Dakota. Recalled from office in 1921, it was not until 1932 that he again won an election, this time to the United States House of Representatives. In the late 1920's he drafted a program of bankruptcy and monetary legislation designed to assist debtor farmers. With these measures as a platform he was elected to Congress on the Republican ticket in 1932, but he found President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he had supported, opposed to his proposal for farm mortgage refinancing.

Embittered by the President's attitude, he made the political error of accepting the 1936 Presidential candidacy offered him by splinter groups. His campaign met little public response, and he was not an important factor in the election. His influence diminished by his unsuccessful candidacy, he remained -- with the exception of one term -- a member of the House of Representatives until his death in 1950. During these years he continued his support of farm legislation, at the same time supporting the isolationist movement and North Dakota public works and conservation programs.

Severe financial reverses in the years between 1910 and 1914 had compelled Lemke to abandon a business career based on land speculation, and it was during this time that he chanced upon, or chose, the role of agrarian radical. Once this role became his career, he proved to be a natural leader of a farm-protest movement. His . . .

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