Harold Stassen

Harold Stassen
Director of the United States Foreign Operations Administration
In office
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by N/A (post created)
Succeeded by N/A (post abolished)
3rd President of the University of Pennsylvania
In office
Preceded by George William McClelland
Succeeded by William Hagan DuBarry (acting)
25th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 2, 1939  April 27, 1943
Lieutenant C. Elmer Anderson
Edward John Thye
Preceded by Elmer Austin Benson
Succeeded by Edward John Thye
District Attorney of Dakota County
In office
Personal details
Born Harold Edward Stassen
(1907-04-13)April 13, 1907
West St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Died March 4, 2001(2001-03-04) (aged 93)
Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Esther G. Glewwe
Alma mater University of Minnesota Law School
Profession Lawyer, politician, candidate
Religion Baptist

Harold Edward Stassen (April 13, 1907 – March 4, 2001) was the 25th Governor of Minnesota from 1939 to 1943. After service in World War II, he was president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1953. He was a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, considered for a time to be the front-runner. He thereafter regularly continued to run for that and other offices, such that his name became most identified with his status as a perennial candidate.

Life and career

Birth to 1940

Stassen, the third of five children, was born in West St. Paul, Minnesota, to Elsie Emma (née Mueller) and William Andrew Stassen, a farmer and several-times mayor of West St. Paul. His mother was German and his father was born in Minnesota, to German and Czech parents.[1][2][3][4][5] He graduated from high school at age 14. At the University of Minnesota, Stassen was an intercollegiate debater, captain of the champion university rifle team in 1927, and received bachelor's and law degrees in 1929. After opening a law office with Elmer J. Ryan in South St. Paul that year, he was elected District Attorney of Dakota County in 1930 and 1934, then elected Governor of Minnesota in 1938. Stassen was seen as an "up and comer" after delivering the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention. There he worked to help Wendell Willkie win the Republican Party (GOP) nomination for the presidency.[4]

World War II

Stassen, who was reelected as governor of Minnesota in 1940 and 1942, supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign policy and encouraged the state Republican Party to repudiate American isolationism before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the 1942 campaign, he announced that, if reelected, he would resign to serve on active duty with the United States Naval Reserve, which Stassen had joined with the rank of Lieutenant Commander the previous year.[4][6] After being promoted to Commander, he joined the staff of Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander of the South Pacific Force, and served for two years. He left active duty at the rank of Captain in November 1945.[6]

After the war

State of Minnesota's official oil painting of governor Harold Stassen, 1943

Stassen lost some of his political base while overseas, whereas Republican candidates such as Thomas E. Dewey had a chance to increase theirs. Stassen was a delegate at the San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations, and was one of the US signatories of the United Nations Charter. He served as president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1953. His attempt to increase the prominence of the university football team was unpopular and soon abandoned.[2] From 1953 to 1955, he was the director of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's short-lived Foreign Operations Administration.[7]

Presidential candidate

Stassen was later best known for being a perennial candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States, seeking it nine times between 1944 and 1992 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992). He never won the Republican nomination, much less the presidency; in fact, after 1952, he never even came close, but continued to campaign actively and seriously for President until just a year before his death.

Stassen also ran for:

Stassen's strongest bid for the Republican presidential nomination was in 1948, when he won a series of upset victories in early primaries. His challenge to the front runner, New York Governor and 1944 G.O.P. presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey, was serious enough that Dewey challenged Stassen to a debate on the night before the Oregon Republican primary. The May 17 Dewey–Stassen debate was the first recorded modern debate between presidential candidates to take place in the United States. The debate, which concerned the criminalization of the Communist Party of the United States, was broadcast over the radio throughout the nation.

At the convention in Philadelphia, Osro Cobb, the then Republican state chairman in Arkansas, made a seconding speech for Stassen, having been motivated by Stassen's promise if nominated to campaign actively in the South. Cobb described the South as "the last frontier to which we can turn for substantial gains for our party - gains that can be held in the years to come. There is a definite affinity between the southern farmer and the grassroots Midwestern Republicans. ...Our party simply cannot indulge the luxury of a Solid South, handed on a silver platter to the opposition every four years...."[8]

In the first two rounds of balloting, Stassen finished third behind Dewey, the front runner, and Robert Taft. After the second round, Stassen and Taft bowed out and Dewey was selected unanimously as the nominee on the next ballot. In all Republican conventions since 1948, the nominee has been selected on the first ballot.

Stassen played a key role in the 1952 Republican contest when he released his delegates to Dwight D. Eisenhower. His doing so helped Eisenhower to defeat Robert A. Taft on the first ballot.[9] He served in the Eisenhower Administration, filling posts including director of the Mutual Security Administration (foreign aid) and Special Assistant to the President for Disarmament.[7] During this period, he held cabinet rank and led a quixotic effort (perhaps covertly encouraged by Eisenhower, who had reservations about Richard Nixon's maturity for the presidency)[10] to "dump Nixon" at the 1956 Republican Convention.[7]

After leaving the Eisenhower Administration, Stassen campaigned unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania (1958 and 1966) and for mayor of Philadelphia (1959). In 1978, Stassen moved back to Minnesota and ran a senatorial campaign for the U.S. Congress. In 1982, he campaigned for the Minnesota governorship and in 1986 for the fourth-district congressional seat. He campaigned for the Republican Party presidential nomination in every election except 1956, 1960, and 1972.[11] His last campaign was in 2000.

Religious life

Raised as a Baptist, Stassen was active with regional Baptist associations as well as many other religious organizations. During the 1960s, he gained a reputation as a liberal, particularly when, as president of the American Baptist Convention in 1963, he joined Martin Luther King in his march on Washington, D.C.[2] Much of Stassen's political thought came from his religious beliefs. He held important positions in his denomination and in local and national councils of churches.[4] In the latter 1960s and early 1970s, Stassen also participated with the U.S. Inter-religious Committee on Peace, which sponsored a series of conferences on religion and peace.[11] Baptists writing memorials remembered him as much as a church figure as a political candidate.[12] His son Glen Stassen was a prominent Baptist theologian.

Death and legacy

On the death of Happy Chandler, Stassen became the earliest serving governor of any U.S. state still living. When he died, the title was passed to Charles Poletti, a former governor of New York State. Stassen died in 2001 in Bloomington, Minnesota, at the age of 93 and is buried at the Acacia Park Cemetery in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Revenue headquarters near the State Capitol is named for him.

Cultural references

Electoral history



In the Harold E. Stassen Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, digital content is available for researcher use.[32] Researchers will find content that includes speech files, handwritten notes, memoranda, annotated briefings, correspondence, war diaries, working papers, and draft charters for the United Nations. The entire Harold E. Stassen collection includes campaign and political, naval service, United Nations, Eisenhower administration, and organizational membership files of the Minnesota Governor (1938–1943), Naval Officer (1943–1945), United Nations delegate (April–June 1945), Presidential contender (1948), and Eisenhower cabinet member and Director of the Mutual Security Agency (1953–1958), documenting most aspects of Stassen's six-decade career, including all of his public offices, campaigns, and Republican Party and other non-official activities. Digital selections from this manuscript collection were made based on user and researcher interest, historic significance, and copyright status.


  1. A Nation Divided: The 1968 Presidential Campaign By Darcy G. Richardson page 219
  2. 1 2 3 "Guide, Harold Edward Stassen Papers, 1940–1957, 1914–1919, University of Pennsylvania University Archives". Archives.upenn.edu. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  3. Krebs, Albin (March 5, 2001). "Harold E. Stassen, Who Sought G.O.P. Nomination for President 9 Times, Dies at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Governor Stassen". Life. 1942-10-19. p. 122. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  5. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M2L5-72R
  6. 1 2 "Captain Harold E. Stassen, USNR, (1907–2001)". Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center. March 10, 2001. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  7. 1 2 3 Krebs, Albin (March 5, 2001). "Harold E. Stassen, Who Sought G.O.P. Nomination for President 9 Times, Dies at 93". The New York Times.
  8. Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Memoirs of Historical Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock, Arkansas: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 99-100
  9. "Youngstown Vindicator - Google News Archive Search". News.google.com. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  10. "American President". Millercenter.org. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  11. 1 2 "Governors of Minnesota". Mnhs.org. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  12. First Baptist Church, White Plains, NY. "Who are we? Harold Stassen". Retrieved June 23, 2011.
  13. "MN Governor Race – Nov 08, 1938". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  14. "MN Governor Race – Nov 05, 1940". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
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  23. "PA Governor- R Primary Race – May 17, 1966". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  24. "US President – D Primaries Race – Mar 12, 1968". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
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  27. "US President – R Primaries Race – Feb 20, 1984". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
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  30. "US President – R Primaries Race – Feb 01, 1992". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  31. "MN US Senate – R Primary Race – Sep 13, 1994". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
  32. "Harold E. Stassen: An Inventory of His Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society". Mnhs.org. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
Political offices
Preceded by
Elmer Austin Benson
Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Edward John Thye
Government offices
Preceded by
Director of the United States Foreign Operations Administration
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by
George William McClelland
President of the University of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
William Hagan DuBarry
Party political offices
Preceded by
Martin A. Nelson
Republican Party nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1938 (won), 1940 (won), 1942 (won)
Succeeded by
Edward John Thye
Preceded by
W. Thacher Longstreth
Republican Party nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia
1959 (lost)
Succeeded by
James T. McDermott
Preceded by
Mary Jane Rachner
Republican Party nominee for Representative from Minnesota's 4th congressional district
1986 (lost)
Succeeded by
Ian Maitland
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Albert B. Chandler
Earliest serving US governor
Succeeded by
Charles Poletti
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