John Moses was born June 12, 1885 in Strand, Norway, the son of Reverend Henrik B. and Isabella (Eckersberg) Moses. He attended public school in Norway, and graduated from the high school at Kongsvinger in 1900 and from junior college in Oslo in 1903. He emigrated to the United States in 1905, settling first in Minnesota. He found work as a section hand for the Great Northern Railroad in Benson, Minnesota. In 1906, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to take a position in the accounting department of the railroad. He moved to North Dakota in 1911, when he became the secretary of the State Normal School at Valley City.
He entered the University of North Dakota in 1912, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1914. He entered the UND Law School and graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in 1915. During his time at UND, he was a member of Sigma Nu, a social fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta, a law fraternity, the Athletic Board of Control, the A.D.T. Literary Society, and the Civic Club. He was also involved with the student newspaper, the Dakota Student.
Moses was admitted to the bar in July 1915, and practiced for a short time in both Hope and Hebron, North Dakota. In 1917, he established a permanent home and law practice in Hazen, while farming on the side. Moses tried twice on enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I, but was rejected each time due to poor vision.
He served as State's Attorney for Mercer County from 1919-1923, and again from 1926-1933. His first foray into statewide politics occurred in 1934, when he unsuccessfully campaigned for State Attorney General on the Democratic ticket. Undaunted by his defeat, he won the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1936. Moses proved to be tireless campaigner, speaking three to four times a day in three different languages: English, German and Norwegian. However, he finished third in the race, behind William Langer and Walter Welford.
Moses' second attempt at the governorship occurred in 1938. He won the election, partially due to an anti-Langer coalition. When Langer decided to run for the U.S. Senate as an Independent versus the incumbent Republican Gerald Nye, Nye and William Lemke struck a deal with Moses. Nye and Lemke would support Moses for Governor; in return Moses was to ensure that the Democratic candidate for Senator, Jess Nygaard, would not actively campaign for office. This move ensured that the anti-Langer vote would not be split. The result was that Moses was elected Governor, while Nye returned to the Senate.
Moses' first term in office was marked by cutting government expenditures and an attack on the influence of Langer. By January 1939, the state was facing a two and a half million dollar deficit. Moses responded by ordering his newly appointed officials to cut spending by 18 percent, and succeeded in gaining the support of those officials not directly appointed by him. He fought the influence of Langer in several ways. One of the most public was the reinstatement of seven staff members fired from the North Dakota Agricultural School in Fargo. Moses was re-elected Governor in both 1940 and 1942. During World War II, Moses actively sought to develop war industries in the state, although the portion of the state's income which came from agriculture increased. The war years were also marked by Moses' interests in reforming and modernizing state government.
In January 1944, Moses chose not to seek re-election, deciding instead to run for a seat in the United States Senate versus Gerald Nye. Health issues dogged Moses throughout the campaign, as he was forced to check into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, on September 12, 1944, for an abdominal operation, followed by extensive X-ray treatments. As rumors of his health circulated throughout the state, Moses recovered enough to deliver several radio addresses in which he stressed that he would make a full recovery. Voters in North Dakota believed him, as he defeated Nye by over 25,000 votes. Moses' candidacy was significantly aided by the candidacy of Lynn Stambaugh, who was defeated for the Republican nomination. He filed and ran as an Independent, and attacked Nye for his isolationist views. Stambaugh succeeded in carrying enough Republican votes to swing the election in Moses' favor.
Moses only was able to serve two weeks in the Senate, before he checked himself back into the Mayo Clinic on January 18, 1945. An attack of pleurisy in late February further complicated his condition. John Moses died on March 3, 1945 at the Mayo Clinic, and is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Bismarck. On March 12th, Governor Fred G. Aandahl appointed Milton R. Young to the vacant seat.
Outside of politics, Moses was active in the Masons, serving as Grand Master in North Dakota from 1941-42. He was also a member of the Elks, the North Dakota State Bar Association and the American Bar Association. During his time in Hazen, he was president of the Hazen Board of Education and the Hazen Community Club. He married Ethel Joslyn on June 29, 1918 in Hope, North Dakota. The couple had four children: John, James, Mary Jean and Robert.
Sources: History of North Dakota by Lewis Crawford, Volume II; History of North Dakota by Elwyn Robinson; Grand Forks Herald; the Dacotah (UND Annual)
The John Moses Papers date from 1900-1945 and are divided into six series:
Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Financial
Series 3: Masonic Activities
Series 4: Political Materials
Series 5: Speeches and Addresses
Series 6: Miscellaneous