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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published October 13 2013

Did You Know That: ND Republican worked to elect president in 1912

The man who was chairman of the North Dakota Republican State Committee from 1902 to 1908 rejected the incumbent Republican U.S. president in 1912 and led the fight to try tod get another man elected at the March primary.

How did this Republican rebel fare as a result?

He came out much better than both the incumbent and the man he supported. Both Howard Taft, the incumbent, and Theodore Roosevelt, the challenger, lost to Woodrow Wilson, but this rebel, Louis B. Hanna, was elected governor in the same general election.

Louis Benjamin Hanna was born on Aug. 9, 1861, in New Brighton, Pa., to Jason and Margaret “Maggie” (Lewis) Hanna. His father was not present at the birth because one week earlier he had been mustered into the military to lead the 143rd Pennsylvania Volunteers as they prepared for battle in the Civil War.

During the war, Jason Hanna rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel but because of declining health resigned June 15, 1862, and returned to his work for the Cleveland & Pittsburg Railroad.

“His health was so impaired by the hardships and exposures of military service” that he died on Sept. 6, 1868.

On Jan. 14, 1870, Louis’ mother, Maggie, also died and the 8-year old found himself and his younger brother, Robert, orphaned.

For the next 11 years, Louis Hanna was shuffled from one relative to another, receiving a disjointed education in Pittsfield, Mass.; New York City and Cleveland. However, he excelled in school, determined to learn all he could because he never wanted to be unable to financially support himself.

After graduation, Hanna desired to go to college but could not afford to do so. Instead, he labored to earn money until Robert graduated from high school.

Louis Hanna had read many accounts about the bountiful crops grown in northern Dakota Territory, and he and his brother arrived there in 1881 and purchased a small parcel of land near Hope.

Knowing very little about farming, the Hanna brothers soon realized that they would never make their fortune in this business. The next year, Louis Hanna sold the farm and moved to the town of Page.

In Page, Hanna acquired a lumberyard, which was soon doing a booming business.

Hanna then convinced other local businessmen to go in with him on opening a bank in Page.

By 1900, the bank was nationalized, and Hanna became president. With some of his profits, Hanna invested heavily in the Carrington and Casey bonanza farm and named his brother, Robert, as manager of the farm.

In 1894, this ambitious young man ran for state House, and was elected. In the 1896 election, Hanna ran for the state Senate and was again elected. In 1899, he moved to Fargo, where he became vice president of First National Bank.

Hanna returned to politics in 1902, becoming the state chair of the Republican Party. In 1905, he was again elected to the state Senate. His chief supporter in politics was Alexander McKenzie, and in turn, Hanna became one of McKenzie’s most dedicated lieutenants.

While in Fargo, Hanna became a community leader. He was made president of First National, the largest lending institution in the state.

One of his best investments was a small loan to a University of North Dakota graduate. In 1908, this former student, William Lemke, needed a loan for construction of a house at UND, which would be converted into a fraternity. Because of the great financial deal he received from Hanna, Lemke felt indebted and frequently supported his Republican friend, despite the fact that Lemke was considered a Progressive.

In 1908, U.S. Rep. Thomas Marshall announced that he was giving up his seat in the House to run for the U.S. Senate. Hanna was was elected to Congress in November.

In 1912, North Dakota Gov. John Burke announced that he was not going to seek a third term. Hanna was eager to get into the race. However, he had a strong opponent in Usher Burdick. Hanna confidently believed that he had an ace up his sleeve since he could obtain the endorsement of a well established Progressive, William Lemke. He also reasoned that, by backing Roosevelt for the U.S. presidency in 1912, he would have the support of Roosevelt Republicans.

We will conclude the story of Louis Hanna next week.

“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.