A.C. Townley Speeches and Related Materials, 1917-1959
Primary Creator: Townley, A.C. (Arthur Charles) (1880-1959)
Extent: 0.25 Linear Feet
Date Acquired: 00/00/1978. More info below under Accruals.
"Arthur Charles Townley (Dec. 30, 1880-Nov. 7, 1959), organizer and president of the Nonpartisan League, was born near Browns Valley, Minn., the son of Fitch R. Townley, a farmer, and Esther J. Cross. Following graduation from high school in Alexandria, Minn., he taught in a country school for about two years and then began farming with his brother, Covert, near Beach, N.D. He soon joined others in acquiring land for large-scale wheat farming near Cheyenne Wells, Colo., but the venture failed. While in Colorado he met, and in 1911 married, Margaret Rose Teenan. They had one foster daughter.
Townley's return to Beach in 1907 marked the beginning of an extensive flax-raising enterprise that initially proved highly successful. But in 1912, when he was being termed the 'flax king of the Northwest,’ early frost and a depressed market brought disaster, and Townley was bankrupted. Embittered, he became an organizer for the Socialist party, at which he proved to be unusually talented. In 1914 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the legislature on the Socialist ticket, and soon thereafter left the party to promote his plan for a new type of farmers' political movement.
Discontent was rife among upper Midwest farmers, who (with considerable justice) believed themselves exploited by the grain traders and railroads. Townley's idea was for an organization that would cut across party lines but would use the relatively new instrument of the direct primary to nominate farmer-endorsed candidates in the major parties, mainly the Republican party in North Dakota. He proposed a simple and direct program: state ownership of terminal elevators, flour mills, packing houses, and cold storage plants; state inspection and grading of grain; exemption of farm improvements from taxation; state hail insurance; state rural credit banks, operated at cost.
Townley proved to be an organizing genius and a remarkably persuasive 'stump speaker’ whose mastery of sarcasm, scorn, and ridicule, and vitriolic attacks on 'Big Biz,’ roused enthusiastic responses. Beginning with a lone farm-to-farm canvass, within a few months he had scores of commission-paid organizers throughout the state signing up dues-paying member for his new Nonpartisan League (NPL). In 1916, a little more than a year from the start of organizing efforts, the league succeeded in nomination and electing a governor, all but one other state officer, and a large majority of the lower house of the legislature. Two year later the NPL swept all state offices and obtained more than two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. The platform was speedily enacted, and soon United States senators and congressmen were also elected.
Townley never sought public office under league auspices, but he remained its president and dominating influence, wielding tremendous power. After 1918 organizing spread to adjoining states, and what had become the National Non-partisan League soon played a role in the politics of thirteen states; but only in Minnesota, other than the state of its birth, did it become a major force. In Minnesota it was the immediate ancestor of the highly successful Farmer-Labor party.
During the six years of league ascendancy, Townley acquired some status as a national political figure, and was widely attacked as a dangerous 'leftist’ radical. When the league fell from power in 1921-1922, victim of internal dissension, heavily financed opposition, and spurious charges of 'pro-Germanism’ during World War I, Townley went down with it, although he had lost effective control some months earlier. His ninety-day jail sentence in Minnesota in 1921, on the dubious charge of 'conspiring to discourage enlistments,’ did not help.
Townley never again found a successful outlet for his abilities. He tried organizing the National Producers Alliance, then promoting unproductive oil well drilling efforts in North Dakota. In the early 1930's he advocated a moratorium on all interest payments and helped organize the Farm Holiday Association. For a time he edited the Farm Holiday News.
Townley was repeatedly a candidate for public office in various places and under different party labels, securing moderate support for the first two times but thereafter sinking to the status of nuisance candidate: for a North Dakota congressional seat in 1930; for an at-large congressional seat in Minnesota on the Farmer-Labor ticket in 1932; for governor of Minnesota in 1934; for the United States Senate in North Dakota in 1944, 1956, and 1958, first as a Republican and subsequently as an independent.
Townley's wife died in 1944; their foster daughter, the following year. For a time in the late 1940's he is said to have lived near New Effington, S.D., with a group concerned with faith healing and speaking in tongues. During the McCarthy ear of the 1950's he found that anti- communism was a marketable commodity, and much of his time was devoted to lecturing on the subject, taking up collections to pay his way. The man once excoriated as a 'left-wing radical’ now became a 'right-wing radical.’ He apparently secured financial backing from individuals (and perhaps organizations) fighting the Farmers Union, and his virulent attacks, including claims that North Dakota Farmers Union was Communist-dominated, led to libel suits against him.
In his last years Townley sold insurance. He was traveling about the state, collecting funds to fight the libel suits, when his car crashed into a truck near Makoti, N.D., and he was killed instantly. Although he died almost unknown, his Nonpartisan League helped shape the politics of an entire region for generations, and its patterns of operation became a guide for many later political movements."
Source: "Townley, Arthur Charles," written by Robert L. Morlan, in the Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 6: 1956-1960, p. 644-645.
Access Restrictions: Open for inspection under the rules and regulations of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections.
Acquisition Source: Alice Poehls
Acquisition Method: Donation; Acc. #78-536
Related Materials: A.C. Townley Papers, OGLMC 47
Preferred Citation: (Description of Item). A.C. Townley Speeches and Related Materials. OGLMC 1572, Box #, Folder #. Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota.
Finding Aid Revision History: Finding aid migrated to Archon in December 2013.
Browse by Box:
- Box 1
- Folder 1: Speeches by Townley
- Item 1: Jamestown, North Dakota: June 1917
- Item 2: Opening of the Great Producers and Consumers' Conference at St. Paul, Minnesota: September 18, 1917
- Item 3: Litchfield, Minnesota: October 9, 1917
- Item 4: Thirty-Seventh Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor at Buffalo, New York: November 16, 1917
- Item 5: Blackfoot, Idaho: January 16, 1918
- Item 6: Forman, North Dakota: May 28, 1919
- Folder 2: Articles on Townley
- Item 1: "North Dakota's Farmer Revolt," Literary Digest, January 20, 1917, pp. 115-116.
- Item 2: "A. C. Townley, a Bankrupt," Litchfield Independent, October 10, 1917.
- Item 3: "Townley as a Boy," North Dakota Leader, June 15, 1917.
- Item 4: Richter, Dan F. Weed. An Exposition of Arthur C Townley, President of the Nonpartisan League: A Sower of Wind, A Reaper of Weeds. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Loyal Voters Association, 1919.
- Item 5: Currie, Barton W. "A Great Upheaval: The Man Behind the Movement." The Country Gentleman [exact date unknown]
- Item 6: McKaig. Ray. "The Nonpartisan Champion."
- Item 7: "Townley Dies Political Exile." Minot Daily News, November 9, 1959, p. 1.
- Item 8: "Townley Speaks." Minor Daily News, November 9, 1959. p. 11.
- Item 9: "NPL Founder, 79, Victim of Car-Truck Collision In Ward."
- Item 10: "Townley Once A Potent Factor in N. D. Politics."
- Item 11: Remele, Larry. "Political Charisma in North Dakota." The Onlooker, December 23, 1976.
- Folder 3: Articles on the Non-Partisan League
- Item 1: Saloutos, Theodore. "The Rise of the Nonpartisan League in North Dakota, 1915-1972 Agricultural History. January 1946, pp.43-61.
- Item 2: Davenport. Frederick V. "The Farmers' Revolution in North Dakota." The Outlook, October 11, 1916. pp.325-327.
- Item 3: "In Cahoots With Socialists." Litchfield Independent, October 10, 1917.
- Item 4: Currie, Baron W. "A Great Upheaval: The Cyclonic Development of the Farmers' Nonpartisan League and Its Broadening Sweep," The Country Gentleman, 82 (April 7, 1917): 675-676.
- Item 5: Currie, Baron W. "A Great Upheaval: The War Crisis and the Farmers Nonpartisan League." The Country Gentleman [exact date unknown]
- Item 6: Currie, Baron W. "A Great Upheaval: The Backsliding of Justice Robinson After His Election as the Farmers League Candidate." The Country Gentleman [exact dare unknown]
- Item 7: Pickett, John E. "A Prairie Fire: The Nonpartisan League is Spreading Throughout the Old Great Plains Region." The Country Gentleman, 82 (May 18, 1918): 3-4.
- Item 8: Pickett, John E. "A Prairie Fire: The Leagues' Seed-Bond Act Scares Timid Capital From North Dakota." The Country Gentleman, 83 (May 25, 1918): 13-15.
- Item 9: Pickett, John E. "A Prairie Fire: The Loyalty of League Leaders is the issue in Minnesota." The Country Gentleman 83 (June 1, 1918): 13-14.
- Item 10: Pickett, John E. "A Prairie Fire: Introducing J. D. Bacon of Grand Forks, Chief Opponent of the League." The Country Gentleman, 83 (June 8, 1913): 13-14
- Item 11: Pickett, John E. "A Prairie Fire: Fanning the Nonpartisan League Flames in the Old Populist States." The Country Gentleman, 83 (June, 15, 1918): 13-14.
- Item 12: Pickett, John E. "A Prairie Fire: Competing Farmers' Organizations Among the League's Most Powerful Opponents." The Country Gentleman 83 (June 22, 1918): 13-14.
- Item 13: "Nonpartisan Organizers Trained To Be Scientific Salesmen." September 20, 1919 [from unknown newspaper]
- Folder 4: Accounts and Review of Non-Partisan League Meetings
- Item 1: Russell, Charles Edward. The Story of the Nonpartisan League. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1920.
- Item 2: "President Townley Denies Reputed 'Treasonous Speeches' Delivered By Him At Recent League Meetings Before Monster Crowd Here Saturday." Jamestown Capital, June 15, 1917.
- Item 3: "A Real Labor Day Meeting," North Dakota Leader, September 13, 1917.
- Item 4: "Conference Ends in Cheers," North Dakota Leader, September 27, 1917.
- Item 5: "Townley Meeting Frowned Upon," Litchfield Review, October 13, 1917.
- Item 6: "Really Patriotic," Litchfield Independent, October 11, 1917.
- Item 7: "The East Learns the Truth,"' North Dakota Leader, December 17, 1917.
- Folder 5: Miscellaneous Materials
- Item 1: Bibliography including citations on the Nonpartisan League
- Item 2: Copy of Letter by A.C. Townley to Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor: April 13, 1917
- Item 3: Copy of unsigned letter to Townley: April 13, 1917
- Item 4: Interview by Alice Poehls With Ruthie Hennagir, Townley's niece: August 1978
- Item 5: "The League Organization Work"
- Item 6: Pamphlet on "Northern Lights"
- Item 7: "Net Profits of American Industrial Corporations, "LaFollete's Magazine, August 1917
- Folder 6: "Did Townley Have a Fair Trial?: A Straight Forward Statement Worth Considering", 1919
- Statement read by Judge Ezra C. Dean at Townley's 1919 sedition trial in Jackson, Minnesota
Browse by Box: