Henrik Shipstead

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Henrik Shipstead
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
March 4, 1923 – January 3, 1947
Preceded by Frank B. Kellogg
Succeeded by Edward John Thye
Personal details
Born (1881-01-08)January 8, 1881
Kandiyohi County, Minnesota
Died June 26, 1960(1960-06-26) (aged 79)
Alexandria, Minnesota
Nationality Norwegian-American
Political party Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, Republican
Alma mater Northwestern University
Profession Dentist
Religion Lutheran

Henrik Shipstead (January 8, 1881 – June 26, 1960) was an American politician. He served in the United States Senate from March 4, 1923, to January 3, 1947, from the state of Minnesota in the 68th, 69th, 70th, 71st, 72nd, 73rd, 74th, 75th, 76th, 77th, 78th, and 79th Congresses. He served first as a member of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party from 1923 to 1941 and then as a Republican from 1941 to 1947.

Few members of Congress in American history were more consistent in opposing US foreign interventionism.

Shipstead was born on a farm in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota, in 1881 to Norwegian immigrant parents. In the early 20th century, he set up a dental practice and was elected president of the village council of Glenwood in neighboring Pope County.

Political career[edit]

Shipstead started as a Republican but in 1922 was elected to the US Senate under the banner of the new Farmer-Labor Party. While he generally shared the party's left-wing agenda, he rejected the extreme anti-capitalism of some members. Although he was the only Farmer-Laborite in the Senate, he won appointment to the powerful Foreign Relations Committee.[citation needed]

Shipstead opposed U.S. entry into the League of Nations and the World Court. He called for the cancellation of German reparations, which he regarded as vindictive. Unlike non-interventionists in the Old Right, he objected to the U.S. occupation of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. He blamed these interventions on the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1905, which had turned the United States into an arrogant "policeman of the western continent."

Shipstead, despite his opponents, did not consider himself an "isolationist." While he favored a policy of political non-intervention overseas, he opposed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 which he charged was "one of the greatest and most vicious isolationist policies this government has ever enacted." He argued that high tariffs "raise prices to consumers" and make "monopolies richer and people poorer." Affable and dignified, his adversaries generally liked him on a personal level. He concluded, "It doesn't necessarily follow that a radical has to be a damned fool."

Along with Congressman Robert Luce of Massachusetts, he introduced the bill that enlarged the purview of the United States Commission of Fine Arts to include new buildings on private land facing federal property. The Commission, established in 1910, reviews new buildings, memorials, monuments, and public art constructed on federal property in Washington, D.C.. The bill, the Shipstead-Luce Act, is still in effect.

Shipstead defected from the Farmer-Labor party in the late 1930s charging that Communist elements were taking control. He won reelection to the Senate in 1940 as a Republican. Meanwhile, few fought more tenaciously against Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to enter the war in Europe. Although Shipstead voted for the declaration of war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he still maintained his independence from Roosevelt. In October 1942, for example, he was one of the very few to vote against Selective Service, just as he had in 1940.

In April 1943 an analysis by Isaiah Berlin, a top British expert on American politics, secretly prepared for the British Foreign Office stated that Shipstead was:

a rabid Isolationist of Norwegian descent, elected largely by the Scandinavian vote. A very narrow, bigoted, crotchety man, intensely antagonistic to Minnesota's Governor [Harold] Stassen. A member of the Farm Bloc and consistently votes against the Administration.[1]

Shipstead's vote against US entry into the United Nations was entirely predictable to anyone who had followed his career. It was the capstone of decades of opposition to foreign entanglements. Unlike many modern conservative critics of the UN, however, he did not fear only that it would foster a world superstate. He also feared also that it would be used by the major powers to dominate smaller countries. He was alone in the Senate to oppose the UN except for William Langer. That vote was political suicide, and he probably knew it.

A new breed of "internationalists", led by Governor Edward John Thye and former Governor Stassen, had assumed leadership of the state GOP. In 1946, he lost in the Republican primary to Thye.

Shipstead retired to rural western Minnesota, where he died in 1960.


  1. ^ Hachey, Thomas E. (Winter 1973–1974). "American Profiles on Capitol Hill: A Confidential Study for the British Foreign Office in 1943" (PDF). Wisconsin Magazine of History. 57 (2): 141–153. JSTOR 4634869. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 21, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
Frank B. Kellogg
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Minnesota
Served alongside: Knute Nelson, Magnus Johnson, Thomas D. Schall, Elmer Austin Benson, Guy V. Howard, Ernest Lundeen, Joseph H. Ball, Arthur E. Nelson
Succeeded by
Edward John Thye