Harold Stassen

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Harold Stassen
Gov. Harold E. Stassen LCCN2016877429 (cropped).jpg
Stassen in 1940
Director of the United States Foreign Operations Administration
In office
August 3, 1953 – March 19, 1955
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Director of the Mutual Security Agency
In office
January 28, 1953 – August 1, 1953
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byW. Averell Harriman
Succeeded byPosition abolished
3rd President of the University of Pennsylvania
In office
Preceded byGeorge William McClelland
Succeeded byWilliam Hagan DuBarry (acting)
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
January 7, 1941 – June 21, 1942
Preceded byWilliam H. Vanderbilt
Succeeded byHerbert O'Conor
25th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 2, 1939 – April 27, 1943
LieutenantC. Elmer Anderson
Edward John Thye
Preceded byElmer Austin Benson
Succeeded byEdward John Thye
Personal details
Harold Edward Stassen

(1907-04-13)April 13, 1907
West St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedMarch 4, 2001(2001-03-04) (aged 93)
Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Esther Glewwe
(m. 1929; died 2000)
EducationUniversity of Minnesota (BA, LLB)
Military service
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1942–1945
RankUS Navy O6 infobox.svg Captain
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsLegion of Merit

Harold Edward Stassen (April 13, 1907 – March 4, 2001) was an American politician who was the 25th Governor of Minnesota. He was a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1948, 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.

Born in West St. Paul, Minnesota, Stassen was elected as the district attorney of Dakota County, Minnesota after graduating from the University of Minnesota. He won election as Governor of Minnesota in 1938. Stassen was then and remains the youngest person elected to that office.[1] He gave the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention. He resigned as governor to serve in the United States Navy during World War II, becoming an aide to Admiral William Halsey Jr. After the war, he became president of the University of Pennsylvania, holding that position from 1948 to 1953. Stassen sought the presidential nomination at the 1948 Republican National Convention, winning a significant share of the delegates on the first two ballots of the convention. During the Republican primaries preceding the convention, he engaged in the Dewey–Stassen debate, the first recorded debate between presidential candidates.

Stassen sought the presidential nomination again at the 1952 Republican National Convention, and helped Dwight D. Eisenhower win the nomination by shifting his support to Eisenhower. After serving in the Eisenhower administration, Stassen sought various offices. Between 1958 and 1990, he campaigned unsuccessfully for the positions of Governor of Pennsylvania, Mayor of Philadelphia, United States Senator, Governor of Minnesota, and United States Representative. He further sought the Republican nomination for president in 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992.

Early life (1907–1930)[edit]

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.[2][3][4][5][6] At the age of 11 Stassen graduated from elementary school and four years later graduated from high school.[7] At the University of Minnesota, Stassen was an intercollegiate debater and orator,[8] and captain of the champion university rifle team in 1927.[9] He received his B.A. degree in 1927,[10] and his LL.B. degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1929.[11][12] That year, he married his wife, the former Esther Glewwe, whose sister, Martha, was married to Harold's younger brother, William.[13]


Early political career (1930–1938)[edit]

In 1930, after opening a law office with Elmer J. Ryan in South St. Paul, Stassen defeated Alfred Joyce, the incumbent District Attorney of Dakota County, and took office on January 5, 1931, months after Joyce was suspended from practicing law.[14] Three years after taking office Stassen was elected president of the Minnesota County Attorney's association.[15][5]

In 1935, Stassen participated in the creation of the Young Republicans committee in Minnesota and was one of three elected to be temporary members of the state committee to carry on pre-convention work and would be elected its chairman later that year.[16][17] In 1936 Stassen led an effort by the Young Republicans that demanded greater representation for them at county conventions and for their inclusion in state leadership before his tenure as chairman ended later that year.[18][19]

Stassen was a delegate to the 1936 Republican National Convention. On April 24, 1937 he gave the keynote address at the Minnesota Republican state convention.[20][21] In October he announced his intention to run for governor in 1938, and formally started his campaign in November. Despite being a member of the party's executive committee Stassen seconded a motion preventing a gubernatorial endorsement at the convention in December.[22][23]

Governorship (1939–1943)[edit]

Stassen as Governor

On January 2, 1939 Stassen was inaugurated by Chief Justice Henry M. Gallagher. His first action was to order an audit of expenditures in every state department. He would later sign into law Minnesota's first civil service law.[24] In September he organized a farm problems conference with World War Two's effect on agricultural being the main issue that was attended by the governors of South Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Dakota, and Illinois or their representatives.[25] When New York District Attorney and future Governor Thomas E. Dewey traveled to Minneapolis during the 1940 presidential campaign he was introduced by Stassen.[26] By the end of 1939 Stassen's approval rating was over 80% and he had the support of over 80% of both Democrats and Farmer-Laborers.[27] Despite the fact that Stassen was then constitutionally ineligible for the presidency because of his age, some Republicans supported his involvement in presidential politics and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes commented that Stassen was a political upcomer and was more serious than Dewey.[28]

Year Approve Disapprove
1939 81% 19%
1943 91% 5%[29]

World War II[edit]

Commander Harold E. Stassen, USNR while serving as Aide to Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander, Third Fleet
External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Stassen on Eisenhower: Turning the World Toward Peace, October 14, 1990, C-SPAN

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 re-elected, he would resign to serve on active duty with the United States Naval Reserve, which Stassen had joined with the rank of lieutenant commander earlier that year.[5][30]

Stassen was re-elected governor in November 1942 and, true to his campaign promise, resigned as governor on April 23, 1943 prior to reporting for active duty with the Navy. (Although he would run in 13 more elections in his life, this was the last time he would hold an elected office.)

After being promoted to the rank of commander, he joined the staff of Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander of the Third Fleet in the Pacific Theater. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for meritorious service in this position. After almost two and a half years of service, he was promoted to the rank of captain on September 27, 1945 and was released from active duty in November of the same year.[30]

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.[3] From 1953 to 1955, he was the director of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's short-lived Foreign Operations Administration.[31]

Presidential politics (1944–1964)[edit]

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.

Due to his victory in the gubernatorial race, status as America's youngest governor and overwhelming approval rating Stassen was touted as a possible future Republican presidential nominee starting in 1940 despite the fact that he would be constitutionally unable to serve in 1941 due to the requirement that a President be at least 35 years of age.[32]

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...."[33]

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's home-state delegation played a key role in the 1952 Republican contest when, over his objection, his delegates were released to Dwight D. Eisenhower. This swing helped Eisenhower to defeat Robert A. Taft on the first ballot.[34] 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.[31] 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)[35] to "dump Nixon" at the 1956 Republican Convention.[31]

Later life (1964–2001)[edit]

Stassen also ran for:[citation needed]

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 campaign for the U.S. Senate. 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.[37] He was on the ballot in the 1988 New Hampshire Republican primary and received 130 votes, and also received 1 vote in the Democratic primary.

On the death of Happy Chandler in 1991, 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 of natural causes 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.

Religious life[edit]

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 Jr. in his March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[3] 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.[5] 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.[37] Baptists writing memorials remembered him as much as a church figure as a political candidate.[38] His son Glen Stassen was a prominent Baptist theologian.

Political positions[edit]

Throughout his life, Stassen was a liberal Republican and challenged the more conservative elements of the Republican Party such as when he primaried Senator Robert A. Taft, favorite son and a leader of the conservative coalition, in Taft's home state of Ohio during the 1948 Republican primary.[39]


During the 1938 Minnesota gubernatorial campaign Stassen ran against the creation of a sales tax and later in life supported a form of universal basic income in which unemployed mothers of two or more children would be given $115 per month.[40][41]

Foreign policy[edit]

Despite having called for the banning of the Communist Party in the United States, Stassen differed from the majority of conservatives with his stances against the embargo on Cuba and military intervention in Vietnam, instead favoring both North and South Vietnam joining the UN where their problems could be settled.[42][43]

United Nations[edit]

Stassen was one of the founders of the United Nations and supported it throughout his life. When he died on March 4, 2001, aged 93, he was the last living signer of the United Nations Charter.

Military awards[edit]

Legion of Merit citation[edit]

Commander Harold E. Stassen, United States Navy, is awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Assistant Chief of Staff, Administration, and Aide and Flag Secretary on the staff of Commander, THIRD Fleet, from 15 June 1944 to 26 January 1945.[44]

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 337 (April 1945) & No. 363 (May 1947)

Action Date: June 15, 1944 – January 26, 1945

Cultural references[edit]

Electoral history[edit]

In his political career, Stassen, ran many campaigns for public office. He was successfully elected governor of Minnesota three times, in 1938, 1940, and 1942.

Stassen ran for Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1940, 1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992. As then-Governor of Minnesota, his 1940 bid was just as a favorite-son candidate and after delivering the keynote address, he endorsed the eventual nominee, Wendell Wilkie. His 1948 and 1952 campaigns saw him run competitively, whilst his other candidacy saw him make little impact.

Stassen would run many unsuccessful campaigns for other public offices. He ran unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania. He twice ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Pennsylvania, in Republican primary for Governor of Pennsylvania, 1958 and 1966. He ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1959. He twice ran unsuccessfully for United States Senate from Minnesota, in 1978 and 1994. He ran unsuccessfully for the Minnesota's 2nd district in the United States House of Representatives in 1986.


  • Gunther, John (1947). "Stassen: Young Man Going Somewhere". Inside U.S.A.. New York, London: Harper & Brothers. pp. 293–308.
  • Kirby, Alec, Dalin, David G., Rothmann, John F.. Harold E. Stassen – The Life and Perennial Candidacy of the Progressive Republican (McFarland, 2013) 235pp
  • Pietrusza, David 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Changed America, Union Square Press, 2011.
  • Smemo, Kristoffer. "A "New Dealized" Grand Old Party: Labor and the Emergence of Liberal Republicanism in Minneapolis, 1937–1939." Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas (2014) 11#2 pp: 35–59.
  • Werle, Steve, Stassen Again, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press), 2015.


In the Harold E. Stassen Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, digital content is available for researcher use,[45] including 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. ^ Staff, MNHS Reference. "LibGuides: Harold E. Stassen: "Boy Governor" & Presidential Hopeful: Overview". libguides.mnhs.org. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  2. ^ A Nation Divided: The 1968 Presidential Campaign By Darcy G. Richardson page 219
  3. ^ a b c "Guide, Harold Edward Stassen Papers, 1940–1957, 1914–1919, University of Pennsylvania University Archives". Archives.upenn.edu. Archived from the original on August 29, 2018. Retrieved October 19, 2010.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c d "Governor Stassen". Life. October 19, 1942. p. 122. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  6. ^ "FamilySearch: Sign In". Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  7. ^ "Stassen – 'Middle of the Road' Liberal". The Des Moines Register. February 5, 1939. p. 2. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ "Wins Oratorical Prize". Minneapolis Star. Minneapolis, MN. April 4, 1927. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Gopher Riflemen Win From Culver Academy". Minneapolis Star. Minneapolis, MN. February 24, 1927. p. 18 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "1,200 Students Given Diplomas at 'U' Program: College of Science, Literature and the Arts". Minneapolis Star. Minneapolis, MN. June 13, 1927. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ "List of Graduating University Seniors: Law School". Minneapolis Star. Minneapolis, MN. June 17, 1929. p. 10 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ Mayer, Michael S. (2010). The Eisenhower Years. New York, NY: Facts on File. p. 723. ISBN 978-0-8160-5387-2.
  13. ^ "Esther Ethel Glewwe Stassen (1906–2000) – Find A..." www.findagrave.com. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  14. ^ "Dakota County Attorney Suspended For 6 Months". Star Tribune. December 27, 1930. p. 2. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ "H. E. Stassen Heads County Attorneys". Star Tribune. December 31, 1933. p. 4. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ "Young Republicans Arrange For Minnesota Organization". St. Cloud Times. October 22, 1935. p. 2. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ "Harold Stassen elected chairman". St. Cloud Times. November 2, 1935. p. 1. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "Harold Stassen Heads Session of Determined Group". The Minneapolis Star. March 28, 1936. p. 2. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Boom Stassen For Governor". Star Tribune. October 17, 1936. p. 17. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ "Stassen To Give Keynote For GOP". The Minneapolis Star. April 12, 1937. p. 10. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  21. ^ "Minnesota GOP Moving To Iron Out Difficulties". The Minneapolis Star. June 28, 1937. p. 11. Archived from the original on May 25, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ "Motion to Kill Autumn Convention Beaten by Tabling". The Minneapolis Star. November 6, 1937. p. 10. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "South St. Paul Man In Governor's Race". Argus-Leader. October 17, 1937. p. 1. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  24. ^ "Stassen Takes Governor's Oath, Demands Reforms In Government". The Minneapolis Star. January 3, 1939. p. 10. Archived from the original on May 22, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  25. ^ "6 Governors Accept Invitation To Meet". The La Crosse Tribune. September 19, 1939. p. 10. Archived from the original on November 17, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  26. ^ "Dewey". The Minneapolis Star. December 6, 1939. p. 6. Archived from the original on November 17, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  27. ^ "Stassen Takes Governor's Oath, Demands Reforms In Government". The Daily Tribune. September 18, 1939. p. 3. Archived from the original on May 22, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ "Ickes Says Stassen Is a 'Political Comer'". The Minneapolis Star. December 22, 1939. p. 5. Archived from the original on November 17, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  29. ^ "Gallup Analyzes Stassen's Position". The Minneapolis Star. May 1, 1943. p. 4. Archived from the original on May 23, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  30. ^ a b "Captain Harold E. Stassen, USNR, (1907–2001)". Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center. March 10, 2001. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  31. ^ a b c 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.
  32. ^ "Dew Is Leading Popular Choice of GOP for 1940". The Minneapolis Star. May 1, 1943. p. 12. Archived from the original on May 25, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  33. ^ Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Memoirs of Historical Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock, Arkansas: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 99–100
  34. ^ Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace, p. 519
  35. ^ "American President". Millercenter.org. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  36. ^ Barone, Michael; Ujifusa, Grant (1987). The Almanac of American Politics 1988. National Journal. p. 636.
  37. ^ a b "Governors of Minnesota". Mnhs.org. Archived from the original on July 25, 2013. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  38. ^ First Baptist Church, White Plains, NY. "Who are we? Harold Stassen". Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2011.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ "Strange Saga of Harold Stassen". Oakland Tribune. November 28, 1967. p. 22. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  40. ^ "Both Wrong". St. Cloud Times. September 6, 1933. p. 4. Archived from the original on May 20, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  41. ^ "Harold Stassen: Man with a plan $115 Per Month for Millions of Mothers!". The Portsmouth Herald. February 21, 1964. p. 7. Archived from the original on May 22, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  42. ^ "Eisenhower Called Him His "Secretary For Peace"". The Portsmouth Herald. February 27, 1964. p. 9. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  43. ^ "What Makes Stassen Run?". The Philadelphia Inquirer. January 4, 1968. p. 27. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  44. ^ "Valor awards for Harold E. Stassen". Military Times. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  45. ^ "Harold E. Stassen: An Inventory of His Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society". Mnhs.org. Retrieved October 6, 2014.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1938, 1940, 1942
Succeeded by
Preceded by Keynote Speaker of the Republican National Convention
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by President of the University of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Director of the Mutual Security Agency
Position abolished
New office Director of the United States Foreign Operations Administration
Honorary titles
Preceded by Earliest serving U.S. governor
Succeeded by