From the middle of July 1934 until the beginning of February 1935, North Dakota had four different governors.
Most of this activity centered on the people determined to get rid of William Langer as governor and Langer's determination to get back at those who were obsessed with destroying his political career.
By all accounts, Langer's two terms as attorney general were successful. The next logical step was to run for governor. However, Langer had made bitter enemies of the leadership within the Nonpartisan League.
He did this by not supporting Neil Macdonald in his decision not to vacate the office of superintendent of public instruction and for attempting to close down the Scandinavian American Bank in Fargo, the primary "source of cash for many (NPL) enterprises."
On March 23, 1920, Langer announced he was entering the gubernatorial race against the incumbent, Lynn Frazier. The Independent Voters Association was formed as an opposing party to fight the NPL and, at their 1920 convention, endorsed Langer. At the Republican primary, Frazier defeated Langer by 5,414 votes.
Without a party, Langer returned to the law practice he had established in Mandan with Samuel L. Nuchols in 1915. He realized the real power base of politics in North Dakota rested with the NPL, and, to get back into office, he needed to mend fences.
He began giving speeches claiming that he had never been a member of the IVA and that he had always supported the principles of the NPL. In 1928, he was endorsed by the NPL to try to win back the office of attorney general, but was narrowly defeated by James Morris in the primary.
By 1930, Langer wanted the NPL endorsement for governor, but was blocked by William Lemke. He returned in 1932 with renewed optimism. There were three strong NPL candidates, and, with strategic parliamentary maneuvering, Langer was endorsed on the eighth ballot, at the NPL convention, by a single vote.
Langer promised the voters he would cut taxes and reduce the state budget. The strategy worked and Langer was elected governor.
As soon as he was able to assume the office of governor, Langer slashed state appropriations in every area except primary and secondary education. On March 4, 1933, he declared a state bank holiday and a moratorium on all debts in North Dakota. On April 17, he issued a moratorium prohibiting mortgage foreclosures on all locally operated farms in the state.
To enforce this moratorium, Langer later called out the National Guard. The moratorium helped to build morale among the farmers in North Dakota. To help drive up wheat prices, Langer instituted an unconstitutional embargo on the grain.
In July 1933, in an attempt to try and raise operating money for the NPL and to help recoup the $21,000 he had contributed to the party, Langer reinstituted the publication of the Leader. As a subscription rate, all state employees were solicited for 5 percent of their salary.
Since most state employees were grateful to have received their job from Langer, they were happy to pay for the publication. Problems arose when subscriptions were solicited from federal employees.
U.S. Sen. Gerald P. Nye, an enemy of Langer, demanded an investigation of wrongdoing, and, on April 8, a special grand jury returned an indictment against Langer and eight other co-defendants.
The conspiracy trial began in Bismarck on May 22, 1934, and on June 29, Judge Andrew Miller found Langer guilty and sentenced him to 18 months in prison and fined him $10,000. Langer appealed the decision and, while awaiting his appeal, the North Dakota Supreme Court removed him from office on July 17.
On May 7, 1935, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. In December, at the second conspiracy trial, Langer and his co-defendants were found not guilty.
After Langer was removed as governor, he was replaced by Lt. Gov. Ole Olson. Because of the conviction, Langer was unable to run in 1934. His spot on the ticket was filled by his wife, Lydia Langer.
During the campaign, Nye and Olson threw their support behind the Democratic candidate, Thomas H. Moodie, who defeated Mrs. Langer. When the election was over, Langer discovered that Moodie had voted in Minneapolis in 1930. This meant that Moodie was ineligible to be governor because he had not been a resident of North Dakota for the five years prior to election, and the state Supreme Court disqualified him on Feb. 2, 1935.
Lt. Gov. Walter Welford was then sworn in as the fourth North Dakota governor in less than seven months.
Having been cleared of criminal charges, Langer returned in 1936 and was endorsed as the party's choice for governor at the NPL convention. In the June primary, he was defeated by Welford by less than 700 votes.
Believing that he had a lot of support within the state, Langer entered the race as an independent. In a three-way race against Welford and John Moses, the Democratic candidate, Langer carried 36 percent of the votes and was once again elected governor.
To counter lower wheat prices, Langer ordered the State Mill and Elevator to offer 35 cents a bushel over the market price. His bold move paid off when the grain trade met the advanced price. In 1938, durum prices fell to 48 cents a bushel and Langer ordered the State Mill and Elevator to offer 65 cents. Once again, the grain trade capitulated.
Next week, we will conclude our look at William Langer and the controversy surrounding his attempts to become a U.S. senator from North Dakota.
(Written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen. Reach the Eriksmoens by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)