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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published January 01 2012

Notable legislator also behind agriculture innovation

The person credited for bringing direct legislation, the referendum and initiative to North Dakota was also responsible for significant developments in agriculture.

Lars Ueland “was the first ever to inoculate alfalfa seed with nitrogen before planting.” He was the first person in south-central North Dakota to raise durum, and one of the first in the area to plant apples. Ueland “was a driving force behind the Grain Growers Association” and “spent a good deal of his time on the lecture platform of several farmers’ institutes throughout the state.”

Ueland introduced the initiative and referendum to the 1893 North Dakota Legislature. During the next several sessions he found proxies to introduce the legislation, but his bills “were referred to subcommittees and then indefinitely postponed.”

Ueland received support from Katherine King of McKenzie, N.D., who was active in the Social Reform Union. In 1902, she founded the North Dakota Referendum League, the same year the Democratic Party nominated Ueland to run for the U.S. Congress. Ueland received only 30 percent of the vote and was defeated by Republican incumbent Thomas Marshall and former Republican Congressman Burleigh Spalding.

During the next few years, Republican boss Alexander McKenzie came under criticism from members of his own party, the main one being George Winship, editor of the Grand Forks Herald. Winship organized the Good Government League and added the initiative and referendum to his causes. They were also added to the platform of the Democratic Party. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union opposed direct legislation, and McKenzie’s machine thwarted passage in the 1903 and 1905 legislative sessions.

By 1906, the wheels began to come off of the McKenzie machine. The Republican Party was divided between the “stalwarts,” McKenzie followers, and the “insurgents,” anti-McKenzie Republicans. At the Republican State Convention, “insurgents abandoned their party and supported John Burke, a progressive Democrat, for the governorship.” The Democratic Party drafted a liberal-reform platform, including direct legislation, and elected Burke and a majority of members of the state House. One of the members elected was Ueland.

Ueland introduced his direct legislation amendment in 1907. “The debate over the Ueland Bill was a heated one.” He argued that direct legislation would “prevent corruption, bribery, graft, and bossism in politics, and the encroachment of corporate powers on the rights and liberties of the people.” Opponents argued that the Ueland bill smacked of socialism. The House passed the bill 72-17. The bill was modified by the Senate, passed, and then sent back to the House, where it again passed. Before the bill could become law, it needed to be passed by the 1909 Legislature.

To rally for support, the North Dakota Direct Legislation League was formed with Ueland as secretary and press agent, and he went on a speaking tour. His major opponent was the Temperance Union, whose president, Elizabeth Prescott Anderson, traveled around the state speaking out against the Ueland bill. The WCTU and other religious organizations feared direct legislation could end up repealing Prohibition. They campaigned against everyone who supported the bill. In the 1908 election, many supporters of direct legislation were defeated, including Ueland.

Direct legislation bills were introduced and passed in both houses of the 1909 Legislature. Because the bills were different and the Legislature was unable to reconcile the bills, direct legislation failed. Ueland moved to Roseburg, Ore., in 1910.

In 1911, “Governor Burke made the initiative and referendum a legislative priority in his message to the legislature.” The measures passed and, when they were introduced to the 1913 Legislature, they were again approved by the Legislature. The measures were presented to the voters as a constitutional amendment on Nov. 3, 1914, and passed 48,783-19,964.

Ueland’s also strove to improve agriculture in North Dakota. While serving in the 1903 Legislature, he sponsored a bill creating an irrigation experiment station near his farm in Edgeley. This was the first branch Extension station for the North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) in Fargo.

Through this experiment station, Ueland became good friends with Clare B. Waldron, the college horticulturist. When Waldron looked for someone to plant nitrogen-inoculated alfalfa seed, Ueland volunteered. In the late 1890s, Waldron and the Agricultural Experiment Station in Fargo introduced durum wheat from Russia. Ueland volunteered to plant it at his farm in 1909. That year, he raised a bumper crop, and when he planted durum in 1910, he harvested another bumper crop.

After moving to Oregon in 1910, Ueland purchased an orchard near Roseburg. He died in 1947, but was remembered nearly 40 years later when he was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame at Minot’s Norsk Høstfest in 1986.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.