Apr 15, 1944
The Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) is created on April 15, 1944, when the Minnesota Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor Party merged. Hubert H. Humphrey is a driving force behind the merger of Democrats and Farmer-Laborites, but he turns down the new party’s nomination for governor.*
Going first to the source, the DFL website, we find that “Hubert H. Humphrey was instrumental in the merger and is considered by many to be the founder of the Minnesota DFL Party.”** Given the ubiquitous presence and success of the DFL in the current era, one can easily wonder: “What kind of rift existed between Democrats and the Farmer-Laborites back then? And “What was it about Humphrey’s leadership that helped to bridge this gap?” Below is a succinct history of the birth and early years of the DFL party in Minnesota as told by Minnpost author Iric Nathanson.***
“The 1944 merger was the result of a complex interaction of domestic and international political forces that created an unholy alliance between Robert Hannegan, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Earl Browder, the head of the U.S. Communist Party.
In 1944, World War II was still underway. The Russians were allied with the United States in an effort to defeat the Nazis, and the Communist Party believed that its short-term interests were best served by aligning with the Democratic Party and supporting the Roosevelt administration’s war effort. That position would soon change, but in 1944 it was the party line. Browder directed his followers in Minnesota’s Farmer Labor Party to support the merger, and they did as they were told — albeit somewhat reluctantly.
Browder’s position also influenced left-leaning Farmer Laborites who were aligned with the Communists in a movement known as the Popular Front.
While Browder was supporting the merger for his own purposes, Hannegan was looking ahead to the 1944 presidential election. The DNC chairman feared the prospect of losing Minnesota to the Republicans if the forces on the left were split here, so the merger was very much in his party’s interests as well.”***
So, we see a marked distinction between the Democrats and Farmer- Laborites at the national level as to who would be their source of authority, Washington or the international Communist Party, but what were the crucial factors at the local level? One could argue that age played a role; former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale stated that Humphrey, himself, and the young Democrats were mocked as “the Diaper Brigade”.**** According to retired Metro State University professor Tom O’Connell, the counter-punch was that the FLP had “grown long in the tooth”, ie. too old.
O’Connell offers another brilliant opinion as to the basis of this divide; the FLP was a response to the Great Depression while the liberal Democrats around Humphrey were shaped by World War II.**** This observation rings true because of the incredible contrasts Minnesotans’ experienced during these two ages. Children of the 1920’s and 1930’s remembered: scarcity of food, bankruptcy, chronically unemployed parents, Wall Street and the Federal Government fighting to win economic control while the average family loses. Granted, the 1940’s war generation also grew up with wants and rationing, but look at what they gained: opportunity to serve in the military, opportunity for nearly unlimited hours of employment for people from all walks of life, and a state and nation rallying together to triumph over the enemy.
Young liberals maintained control of the party for the next few years, but lost momentum in 1946 to the FLP. Balance returned in the 1948 DFL convention in Brainerd. Though controlled by the Humphrey wing initially, the left wing eventually bowed out, and held its own convention. Though they produced a list of electors, they lost their slate to Humphrey’s in a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court.****
Humphrey gained momentum with his strong anti-segregation speech at the DNC’s national convention of 1948. This famous oratory cinched adding a civil rights plank to the party’s platform. Below is an excerpt that crystalizes his vision for a post-war Minnesota, America, and the world at large.
“Yes, this is far more than a party matter. Every citizen has a stake in the emergence of the United States as the leader of the free world. That world is being challenged by the world of slavery. For us to play our part effectively, we must be in a morally sound position.
We cannot use a double standard for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantees of those practiced in our own country.”*****
We turn our thoughts to You now Lord; may we sit with You and watch this history? We love that You simultaneously are the most responsible leader in the universe, and also the most empathetic! We love that the government of eternity is on Your shoulders because You are omnipotent; infinitely capable. Will You lead us in our intercession for these events, and bring Your Healing Presence into them?
Remarkably, the first thoughts that come to my mind are from a speech by internationally-acclaimed bass player Victor Wooten. A core point of his talk was that music is a language, and we should pass it on in the same way as we teach our young ones our mother tongue; by living with them. Language is caught first, and taught later. Our parents look us in the eye, babble with us, talk to us, listen to us, and model a lifestyle.******
Many of our divides, Adonai, seem to commence at this same point. We are like parents who suck all the color and joy out of a our child’s initial passion for music by making it a chore. We don’t let them discover music through time with their instrument, but instantly burden them with sheet music, scales, and music theory. We do not take time to make music with them, but rigidly set a timer on the piano and say, “Don’t stop practicing until the buzzer goes off!”
Blessed and Holy Ruler, does this apply to April 15, 1944, and the politics of this era? We have tried, in the same breath, to have a political conversation and dominate a political conversation. We have spoken and written, concurrently, that the rules matter and that the rules don’t matter. We have practiced, simultaneously, to both respect boundaries, and disavow boundaries when they interfere with the goals of our revolution. We have looked outwardly for societies evils and put our hand on the heads of its scapegoats to transfer our sins and pain outwardly to them. We have not contemplated our own inward incompleteness that fuels our drive to power.
In all this, as Democratic and Farmer-Laborite Minnesotans, have deeply sinned against You. We have judged our neighbor as coming up short, but not ourselves! We have attempted a coup d’etat to usurp Your rightful position as Head Justice of the Universe, and have separated from justice in the process. We have offended You, and Your sacred image within our neighbor. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on we sinners!
We continue, giving thanks, for the light and healing that began to heal this breach between liberals and progressives on April 15, 1944 and the years that followed. We thank You for those who let young people into the political process. We thank You for those who, in forbearance, overlooked their moments of overzealous energy, failure to understand parliamentary procedure, or arrogance and disrespect towards the Party’s elders. We invite Your blessings on us as a people; will You help and cause us to mentor our youth into wisdom, and active participation in leadership?
Moreover, we thank You thank You have given people eyelids, but not earlids! Hear our acknowledgement of those who listened to their beloved political enemies! We applaud those who heard the empty bellies of the Great Depression survivors and gave ear to the dawning rally cries of the generation of World War II! We bless this virtue of acknowledgement in Humphrey, and ask for leadership like his in the Midwest, both present and future tense, that tempers strong vision with a listening heart. May we rediscover the music of civil discourse, and the gratification of discovering our place in the song of Minnesota! May it be so!
“making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;” Proverbs 2:2 ESV
Timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
*** https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2008/02/political-warfare-looking-back-early-dfl-caucuses/ citing Nathanson, Iric. “Political warfare: Looking back at early DFL caucuses.” Minnpost. Internet. 4 February 2008.
**** https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2019/09/as-the-dfl-marks-its-75th-anniversary-do-the-partys-farmer-labor-roots-still-mean-anything/ Callaghan, Peter. “As the DFL marks its 75th anniversary, do the party’s Farmer-Labor roots still mean anything?” Minnpost. Internet. 18 September 2019.
****** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zvjW9arAZ0 Wooten, Victor. “Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland”. YouTube. 29 May 2013.