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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published October 20 2013

Did You Know That: Fargo man received European honors

A man from North Dakota received honors from two European countries for two deeds he performed.

Louis B. Hanna was decorated as a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1915. In 1918, he was decorated by the French government as an officer of the French Legion of Honor.

Hanna was a Fargo banker and businessman who served in both houses of the Legislature and was a U.S. congressman for two terms.

While in Congress, he learned that the popular Gov. John Burke decided not to seek a third term. At the time, the Republican Party in North Dakota was in disarray because of a split between the Progressives and the Conservatives/Stalwarts.

The environment was best summed up by newspaperman Clement Lounsberry, who wrote, “The Republican Party in 1911 was in a demoralized condition being split into factions who were fighting among themselves for political supremacy, and it was apparent that unless a leader could be found able to compose the differences of the discordant elements and sufficiently strong with the people to secure their support at the polls there was eminent danger of its disintegration.”

Although North Dakota Republican political boss Alexander McKenzie had been largely discredited for trying to swindle the proceeds of gold prospectors in Alaska in 1901, he still was a force to be reckoned with in state politics. He believed Hanna was the kind of leader who could unite the party and made it known that Hanna was his man for governor in 1912, a challenge that Hanna accepted.

Progressives urged Usher Burdick to run, but because he was experiencing serious family issues, he declined. Hanna was unsuccessfully challenged in the primary by Minot attorney Christopher A. Johnson, the man who lost to Burke in the race for governor in 1910. The candidate for the Democratic Party was Frank O. Hellstrom, the popular warden of the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

Hanna campaigned across the state advocating establishment of better schools in rural districts; reduction of the state’s fiscal deficit; creation of a uniform system of accounting for all state agencies and uniform rates for water, electric lights and telephone service; establishment of a state fish hatchery, state fire marshal, and state sanitarium; approval of absentee voting; authorization of state banks to become members of the Federal Reserve system; and prohibition of spring shooting of geese.

To gain the support of Progressives within the Republican Party, Hanna also implied that he supported legislation to create a state mill and elevator. On Nov. 5, 1912, Hanna received 45 percent of the votes, and Hellstrom 36 percent. The remaining votes were split between candidates from the Progressive and Socialist parties.

Upon taking office, Hanna learned that he had inherited a state debt of $300,000. “The income of the state from all sources was inadequate to pay for the maintenance of the state government and meet the appropriation for state institutions and miscellaneous subjects authorized by the legislature.”

To meet the financial obligations of the state and try to pay down the debt, Hanna proposed that the Legislature enact an inheritance tax, and that the state Board of Equalization raise the assessment of real and personal property.

During Hanna’s first term, state residents raised money to commission sculptor Paul Fjelde to create a bust of Abraham Lincoln as a gift to Norway. Hanna then led a delegation to Norway, where he presented the bust to King Haakon VII on July 4, 1914. For Hanna’s outreach to Norway, King Haakon VII decorated him in 1915.

Before leaving for Norway, Hanna faced a primary challenge in his bid for re-election. In 1914, the Progressives convinced Burdick to challenge Hanna. Burdick accepted and launched an intensive speaking tour. When it appeared that Burdick would win, Hanna “called in a chip” that he believed he was owed for a favorable loan Progressive William Lemke received in 1908. As a result, Lemke endorsed Hanna. McKenzie also convinced John Wishek to enter the race. Wishek was popular in the German community, and McKenzie knew German-Americans would vote for Wishek, which were votes that would have otherwise gone to Burdick. The tactic worked, with Hanna receiving 43 percent of the votes, Burdick 36 percent and Wishek 21 percent. In the general election, Hanna received 50 percent of the votes. Hellstrom, again his Democratic challenger, received 39 percent.

In 1915, Hanna announced he opposed a state mill and elevator and successfully encouraged the Legislature to vote against a bill calling for its authorization. As a result, 500 farmers marched on Bismarck. By the end of the legislative session, more than 30,000 farmers joined the Nonpartisan League, which became a powerful force in North Dakota politics.

In late 1915, Henry Ford invited Hanna to be part of his delegation on a “peace ship” that would sail to Europe to promote an end to World War I. Much of the national press labeled it a “Ship of Fools.” When country leaders refused to meet with Ford and his entourage, the ship soon returned to America.

In 1916, Hanna announced that he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate to oppose incumbent Porter J. McCumber. Hanna now took on a more aggressive posture regarding U.S. involvement in World War I, going so far as to favor military conscription. McCumber defeated Hanna in the primary.

After his term as governor was over in January 1917, Hanna was chairman of Liberty Loan drives for North Dakota. When the American Red Cross called for volunteers for executive positions to go to France during World War I, Hanna responded and was commissioned as captain to serve at an evacuation hospital. For his service, he was decorated by the French government.

Hanna then returned to his banking and business enterprises in Fargo and died on April 23, 1948.

“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.