North Dakota State University Archives

By 1915 the farmers and workers of North Dakota had had enough. As the cover of the November, 1916 Nonpartisan Leader above indicates, they were done being run over by corrupt politicians, predatory bankers, the railroad cartel, grain speculators and privately held grain elevators. They were done losing their farms, their homes, and their hope. Led by a charismatic flax farmer, Arthur C. Townley, who himself was facing foreclosure to the Minneapolis branches of the Wall Street banks, they took matters into their own hands. The Nonpartisan League (NPL) was born.

Winning state elections in 1916 and 1918, NPL-backed candidates took control of the legislature and the governorship. Once in power they fought for public ownership of mills, warehouses, insurance programs. They fought for regulation of railroad grain shipping rates. They fought for workers compensation and a graduated state income tax. But perhaps most enduringly, they fought for a publicly owned State Bank of North Dakota – the BND.

The BND was founded in July of 1919 with $2million in capital and a requirement that all local and state government funds to be placed in the bank. Attacked by the Wall Street banks and corrupt corporations, the BND had enough popular support and public funding to survive. It celebrated its 100 aniversary this year – 2019.


North Dakota State University Archives

Over the tumultuous century since its inception – the dust bowl years, the Great Depression, World War II, the wars in Korea and Viet Nam, the S&L corruption and prosecutions in the 80’s, Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon, the impeachment of President Clinton, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the endless wars in the Middle East, the Great Recession and financial collapse in 07-08, and now the the rocky Trump Presidency – the BND has been serving the people of North Dakota.

We will leave it to the next unit of this series to begin discussing the BND at present and what it has done to improve the lives of the people of North Dakota in the decades since it was formed. But for now it seems important to simply dwell on the fact that “we the people of the United States,” “we the citizens of our own home states,” once again face the same ugly forces that had to be overcome by the farmers and workers of North Dakota a century ago.

Across America corruption reigns supreme. Gross and historic inequality cripples our nation and destroys our democracy. Supreme Court decisions like “Citizens United” have turned our government over to corporations and the uber-wealthy. The Wall Street banking industry is rampant with fraud. Richly funded lobbyists and “think tanks” write our state and federal laws, skyrocketing healthcare is bankrupting families in every state, our youth are being crippled with massive student debt, working wages have been stagnant for decades while CEO salaries have gone through the roof, the fabled “middle class” and the “American dream” are fading into the sunset.

We once again must “overcome.” The is much to be learned from the long passed farmers of North Dakota.

Unit V will discuss: The Bank of North Dakota Present