It won’t/shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog that there are a couple of political titles on the 150 Best Minnesota Books list. So, as the invasion of St. Paul – popularly know as the Republican National Convention – begins, let’s nominate two of them.
E. V. Smalley. A History of the Republican Party from Its Organization to the Present Time; To Which is Added a Political History of Minnesota from a Republican Point of View… St. Paul: E. V. Smalley Publisher, 1896.
Robert Esbjornson. A Christian in Politics; Luther W. Youngdahl: A Story of a Christian’s Faith at Work in a Modern World. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison, 1955.
You may be surprised to hear this but it is hard to over emphasize the significance of the Republican Party in Minnesota. They built this state; all the great Minnesota institutions- like the Historical Society and the University- are Republican institutions.
Democrats won (or as Smalley argues, stole) the state’s first election but after that Republicans ruled Minnesota for the rest of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. In 1973, when my father became the first Democratic majority leader of the Minnesota Senate in 116 years, he wondered aloud how another Irish Democrat, Senator Richard Murphy, had screwed up so badly that Republicans had the run of the legislature’s upper body for more than 11 decades. E. V. Smalley celebrates this “continuous position of political power” in his 426 page oversize book that we have nominated as one of Minnesota’s best books. Smalley attributes this long run of success to the “progressive spirit” of the Republican Party. They were the party of regulation and fair taxes. Even when the party finally lost the executive branch in 1898 it was really just to “silver republican” John Lind, who was replaced two years later by another reform minded, trust-busting Republican, Van Sant.
The second book we are placing on the 150 best books list, Esbjornson’s biography of Luther Youngdahl, illuminates another important era in the history of Minnesota’s Republican Party. After the short reign of the Farmer-Labor Party during the 1930’s, Republicans reestablished their leadership. Youngdahl was emblematic of these Governors. His main gubernatorial initiative was known as the “humanity in government” program. He was concerned about the sorry state of mental hospital facilities, interested in civil rights, and worked to enhance public education. Influenced by the “social gospel” movement, he defined being a Christian politician quite differently than those running for office today.
From A Christian in Politics:
The Christian in politics…is not content with the measure of wealth and justice attained along the first mile of conflict and compromise. He sets out on the second mile, speaking for the un-represented groups and demanding benefits for the under-dogs, even though they cannot help him politically. He appeals to the consciences of men, not just their self-concern. He sub-ordinates his personal ambition to his public duty.
But as we know, history is the process of change over time. “[D]emanding benefits for the under-dogs”? Republicans don’t look much like Youngdahl anymore.
Gov. Youngdahl sets fire to various restraints at Anoka State Mental Hospital