Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party

The Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party (FL) was a left-wing American political party in Minnesota between 1918 and 1944. Largely dominating Minnesota politics during the Great Depression, it was one of the most successful statewide third party movements in United States history and the longest-lasting affiliate of the national Farmer–Labor movement. At its height in the 1920s and 1930s, party members included three Minnesota governors, four United States senators, eight United States representatives and a majority in the Minnesota legislature.

Farmer–Labor Party of Minnesota
Founded1918 (1918)
Dissolved1944 (1944)
Preceded byNonpartisan League
Succeeded byMinnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party
Cooperative economics
Political positionLeft-wing
National affiliationLabor Party of the United States (1919–20)
Farmer–Labor Party of the United States (1920–23; 1924–36)
Federated Farmer–Labor Party (1923–24)
None (1918–19; 1936–44)

In 1944, Hubert H. Humphrey and Elmer Benson worked to merge the party with the state's Democratic Party, forming the contemporary Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party.[1]


Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party political banner

The Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party emerged from the Nonpartisan League in North Dakota and the Union Labor Party in Duluth, Minnesota, on a platform of farmer and labor union protection, government ownership of certain industries, and social security laws.[2] One of the primary obstacles of the party, besides constant vilification on the pages of local and state newspapers, was the difficulty of uniting the party's divergent base and maintaining political union between rural farmers and urban laborers who often had little in common other than the populist perception that they were an oppressed class of hardworking producers exploited by a small elite. According to political scientist George Mayer:

The farmer approached problems as a proprietor or petty capitalist. Relief to him meant a mitigation of conditions that interfered with successful farming. It involved such things as tax reduction, easier access to credit, and a floor under farm prices. His individualist psychology did not create scruples against government aid, but he welcomed it only as long as it improved agricultural conditions. When official paternalism took the form of public works or the dole, he openly opposed it because assistance on such terms forced him to abandon his chosen profession, to submerge his individuality in the labor crew, and to suffer the humiliation of the bread line. Besides, a public works program required increased revenue, and since the state relied heavily on the property tax, the cost of the program seemed likely to fall primarily on him.
At the opposite end of the seesaw sat the city worker, who sought relief from the hunger, exposure, and disease that followed the wake of unemployment. Dependent on an impersonal industrial machine, he had sloughed off the frontier tradition of individualism for the more serviceable doctrine of cooperation through trade unionism. Unlike the depressed farmer, the unemployed worker often had no property or economic stake to protect. He was largely immune to taxation and had nothing to lose by backing proposals to dilute property rights or redistribute the wealth. Driven by the primitive instinct to survive, the worker demanded financial relief measures from the state.[3]

The Minnesota Democratic Party, led by Hubert Humphrey, was able to merge with the Farmer–Labor Party on April 15, 1944. Since 1944, the two parties together make up the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party.

Notable membersEdit

Notable politicians electedEdit

The 1922 Farmer–Labor Convention, held in Minneapolis

Gubernatorial candidate performanceEdit

Year Gubernatorial candidate Popular votes Percentage Place
1918 David H. Evans 111,948 28.73% 2nd
1922 Magnus Johnson 295,479 43.13% 2nd
1924 Floyd B. Olson 366,029 43.84% 2nd
1926 Magnus Johnson 266,845 38.09% 2nd
1928 Ernest Lundeen 227,193 22.72% 2nd
1930 Floyd B. Olson 473,154 59.34% 1st
1932 Floyd B. Olson 522,438 50.57% 1st
1934 Floyd B. Olson 468,812 44.61% 1st
1936 Elmer A. Benson 680,342 60.74% 1st
1938 Elmer A. Benson 387,263 34.18% 2nd
1940 Hjalmar Petersen 459,609 36.55% 2nd
1942 Hjalmar Petersen 299,917 37.76% 2nd


  1. ^ "Farmer Labor Party". Spartacus. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  2. ^ Hudelson, Richard & Ross, Carl. By the ore docks : a working people's history of Duluth Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8166-4636-8 pp. 144–150.
  3. ^ George H. Mayer, The Political Career of Floyd B. Olson, Reprint, (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1987) 86-87.

Further readingEdit

  • Benson, Elmer A. "Politics in My Lifetime." Minnesota History 47 (1980): 154-60. online
  • Garlid, George W. "The Antiwar Dilemma of the Farmer-Labor Party." Minnesota History (1967): 365-374. in JSTOR
  • Gieske, Millard L. Minnesota Farmer-Laborism: The Third-Party Alternative (1979) 389pp
  • Haynes, John Earl. Dubious alliance: the making of Minnesota's DFL Party (U of Minnesota Press, 1984)
  • Haynes, John Earl. "Farm Coops and the Election of Hubert Humphrey to the Senate." Agricultural History (1983): 201-211. in JSTOR
  • Haynes, John Earl. "The new history of the communist party in state politics: The implications for mainstream political history." Labor History (1986) 27#4 pp: 549-563.
  • Hyman, Colette A. "Culture as Strategy: Popular Front Politics and the Minneapolis Theatre Union, 1935-39." Minnesota History (1991): 294-306. in JSTOR
  • Lovin, Hugh T. "The Fall of Farmer-Labor Parties, 1936-1938." Pacific Northwest Quarterly (1971): 16-26. in JSTOR
  • McCoy, Donald R. Angry voices: Left-of-center politics in the New Deal era (1958; reprint 2012)
  • Mayer, George H. The Political Career of Floyd B. Olson (1987)
  • Mitau, G. Theodore. "The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Schism of 1948." Minnesota History (1955): 187-194. in JSTOR
  • Sofchalk, Donald G. "Union and Ethnic Group Influence in the 1938 Election on the Minnesota Iron Ranges." Journal of the West (2003) 42#3 pp: 66-74.
  • Valelly, Richard M. Radicalism in the States: The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the American Political Economy (University of Chicago Press, 1989)

External linksEdit