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Flashback Friday: Minnesota Democrats, Farmer-Labor Party merge to form DFL 76 years ago

DFL 40th anniversary button Photo: Minnesota Historical Society. DFL 40th anniversary button

KSTP
Updated: April 17, 2020 10:47 AM
Created: April 16, 2020 07:30 AM

From the use of the term hot dish to duck, duck, gray duck, there are multiple claims that make Minnesota unique.

However, there is one aspect of the political realm that makes Minnesota unique as well: the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

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What is now one of the two major political parties in the state, along with the Republican Party of Minnesota, was founded 74 years ago during the merger of the Minnesota Democratic Party and the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. 

According to the Minnesota DFL's website,the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party formed in the 1920s and held a platform that included, "progressive agrarian reform, the protection of farmers and union workers, the public ownership of railroads, utilities, and natural resources, and social security legislation."


A Farmer-Labor political poster atop an automobile, c.1925. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. 


The Farmer-Labor Party gained steam in the 1930s when Floyd B. Olson was elected governor. The boom led to wins for Farmer-Labor candidates from city council to U.S. Senate races. The Minnesota Historical Society called the Famer-Labor Party "one of the most successful progressive third-party coalitions in American history." According to MHS, the party's boom ended in the late 30s after Republican Gov. Elmer Benson was elected. 

With interests in New Deal politics losing steam as the U.S. entered WWII, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the Minnesota Democratic Party agreed to merge to help reelect President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, according to the MHS.  

While the goal was to reelect Roosevelt, the two parties hit roadblocks as they opened their conventions on April 14, 1944, to discuss the merger of the two parties. 

According to the Minneapolis Star, "Bone of contention as the two state conventions opened today was over the even split of honor and authority in the finally perfect organization." The Star reported that those from the Famer-Labor part were not satisfied with the party constitution that was drafted by the Democrats, especially on times that pertained to electing members to the national committee. Leadership from the national Democratic Party had to from Washington to discuss the terms with the two parties. 

Once the issues were ironed out, the merger went through at 11:45 a.m. on April 15, 1944, when Secretary of State Mike Holm filed the papers officially creating the DFL party. According to the Minneapolis Star, only two members from the Farmer-Labor Party spoke against the merger. 

The merger marked the first time Minnesota returned to being a two-party state in 28 years, and marked the first time since 1896 that two minority parties had joined together, according to the Minneapolis Tribune

Following the merger, Benson, a former Farmer-Labor governor and leader of the party, was quoted in the Minneapolis Tribune saying he was 'very happy at what happened today," and that "the liberal forces ought to be units -- we have never been very far apart."

The MHS cites Hubert Humphrey's role in the merger of the two parties as a "crucial step" that launched his political career, which included serving in the U.S. Senate and as Vice President of the United States. 


Hubert H. Humphrey (center-right) at the State DFL Convention in Brainerd. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.


The party hit roadblocks again in 1948 when the DFL opposed Harry Truman's presidential candidacy and endorsed Henry Wallace, a third-party candidate. The endorsement of Wallace led Democrats in the party, spearheaded by Humphrey, to endorse Truman.

While there was a fallout between the party factions, the MHS says the Farmer-Labor movement influenced a large amount of party leaders such as Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy and Paul Wellstone. 


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