Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

LANGER, WILLIAM (1886-1959)

William Langer, governor and senator from North Dakota, was one of the most colorful political personalities to come out of the Great Plains. Langer was born in Everest, Dakota Territory, on September 30, 1886. He studied law at the University of North Dakota and established a practice in Mandan, North Dakota, in 1916. In 1918 Langer was tapped to be the Nonpartisan League (NPL) candidate for attorney general. He broke with the npl and ran for governor in 1920 as a Republican coalition candidate but was defeated. In 1932 he was championed as an npl candidate for governor. Elected, he ordered moratoriums on home and farm foreclosures and a grain embargo on export of the state's wheat (the latter was ruled unconstitutional). In 1934 he was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States by arranging for kickbacks to the npl from state employees on federally funded projects and removed from office. His conviction was overturned on appeal, and in 1936 he again ran successfully for governor. He was elected U.S. senator in 1940 and served until 1959. During his tenure as senator he was a champion of farm programs, rural electrification, health research, and improvements in social security. He was a humanitarian liberal ahead of his time, supporting an equal rights amendment, maternity leave legislation, and the vote for eighteen-year-olds. He was a champion of Native Americans, World War II refugees, and a strong advocate of civil rights legislation. To much of the Senate he was an eccentric who tilted at windmills, as exemplified by his filibuster to deny Earl Warren appointment to the Supreme Court and his vicious attacks on Winston Churchill.

In his runs for office, Langer often changed factional allegiance or ran as an independent. Langer had no equal in the art of personal politics: he knew tens of thousands of constituents, dealt with their problems, and made them part of his machine. In particular, he was a master in mobilizing the German and German Russian voters of the state, who were critical to his victories, especially in three-way races. Langer died from heart disease in Washington DC on November 8, 1959.

See also PROTEST AND DISSENT: Nonpartisan League.

Theodore B. Pedeliski University of North Dakota

Geelan, Agnes. The Dakota Maverick: The Political Life of William Langer. Bismarck: Prairie House, 1983.

Pedeliski, Theodore B. "The German-Russian Ethnic Factor in William Langer's Campaigns, 1914–1940." North Dakota History 64 (1997): 2–20.

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