Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 58

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 58


This is the grave of Harold Stassen.


Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1907, Harold Stassen attended the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1929. He became a fast riser in the Minnesota and national Republican Party. He was elected governor of Minnesota in 1938, at the very young age of 31. He gave the keynote at the RNC in 1940 and was a big booster of Wendell Willkie. He won reelection in 1940 and 1942 and supported FDR’s foreign policy of internationalism. Seeking military service, he left the statehouse in April 1943 and joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. He then joined the staff of Admiral William Halsey, leaving the military with the rank of Captain in 1945. He was involved in the creation of the United Nations and one was on the signatories on the UN Charter. But he also lost of his political base during the war. He was no longer a rising star. But that was not for lack of trying. He ran for the Republican nomination in 1944. And then again in 1948. And then in 1952. And then in 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992. After 1952, he was not a legitimate contender any more and became known as a joke, which is a bit sad given his star power earlier in his career. In 1948, he came legitimately close to taking the nomination away from Thomas Dewey and the debate between the the two the night before the Oregon primary was the first recorded debate in presidential history. As we saw in 2016, this tradition has only led the most dignified moments over the years. Stassen also ran for governor of Pennsylvania, where he moved after the war, in 1958 and 1966 but wasn’t successful in his new home either.

Sadly, no one has ever played Harold Stassen in the movies or TV. He was however evidently on Letterman in 1980 and appeared in a couple of newsreels earlier in his career.

Harold Stassen is buried in Acacia Park Cemetery, Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

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  • CrunchyFrog

    Stassen sadly did become a bit of a joke. An early 1970s Doonesbury strip had Mark, B.D. and Mike playing poker. Mark started by putting in a chip and saying that his hand had all the power of … I forget the Democratic politician, might have Eugene McCarthy. B.D. responded by putting in a chip and saying that his hand had all the power of a Republican politician (Haig?).

    The both look at Mike, who is studying his hand. Then Mike folds his cards and says “Harold Stassen”.

    • Anna in PDX

      This must be why his name is vaguely familiar to me! I learned all my political culture background from “Doonesbury.”

    • Woodrowfan

      It was Nixon and Muskie.

      • CrunchyFrog

        Thanks – I looked on-line but the archives are now behind a firewall. Somewhere I have the books, but my kids read them all and no idea where they are today.

  • Murc

    Seeking military service, he left the statehouse in April 1943 and joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. He then joined the staff of Admiral William Halsey, leaving the military with the rank of Captain in 1945.

    … the guy entered the military at the age of 36 with zero prior experience and became a naval captain two years later?

    Geez. Guys who went to Annapolis struggle and work for decades and never manage that. Those circumstances must have been… unique.

    • wjts

      Probably not that unique. Jimmy Stewart, enlisting at 33 with no prior military experience, went from private to colonel in four years. The paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson enlisted at 40 in 1942, also with no prior military experience, and left the Army two years later as a major.

      • rea

        That sort of thing happens when your army goes from 180,000 to 8,250,000.

        • wjts

          I’ll leave it to keener military history buffs than myself to explain the difference between holding a rank in the Regular Army vs. the Army of the United States or their naval equivalents.

          • The Dark God of Time

            World War II
            In 1943, during World War II, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve, one of many women to volunteer to serve in the WAVES. She had to get an exemption to enlist; she was 15 pounds (6.8 kg) below the Navy minimum weight of 120 pounds (54 kg). She reported in December and trained at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Hopper graduated first in her class in 1944, and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a lieutenant, junior grade. She served on the Mark I computer programming staff headed by Howard H. Aiken. Hopper and Aiken coauthored three papers on the Mark I, also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator. Hopper’s request to transfer to the regular Navy at the end of the war was declined due to her age (38). She continued to serve in the Navy Reserve. Hopper remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, turning down a full professorship at Vassar in favor of working as a research fellow under a Navy contract at Harvard.[19]


          • bender

            Captain is a higher rank in the US Navy than in the Army. Commander is the rank equivalent to an Army Captain.

            • wjts

              Lieutenant is the U.S. Navy equivalent to captain in the other services (as opposed to lieutenant (junior grade), which is equivalent to first lieutenant). Commander is equivalent to lieutenant colonel.

        • Woodrowfan

          a famous Willie and Joe cartoon remarking on ranks.


      • prufrock

        My grandfather graduated from West Point in 1939. Four years later he was a lieutenant colonel commanding an infantry battalion in the South Pacific. Two years after that he was a captain teaching classes at West Point. He didn’t get oak leaves again or command a battalion until the late 1950s.

        When the size of the military accordions, so do the ranks.

    • Bill Murray

      Those circumstances must have been… unique.

      Sadly wars aren’t that unique. Wars before we had a large peace-time military often lead to this sort of thing happening

      • Bruce Vail

        Yes, Bedford Forrest enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army at aged 40 with zero military experience. He surrendered four years later as a Lt. General.

        Aside from his fame as a leader of the post-war Ku Klux Klan, Forrest was said to have been a very able field officer.

        • Dilan Esper

          Well it wasn’t just the KKK. Bedford Forrest also was responsible for a massacre of surrendering black union soldiers.

          But yes, judged purely on an amoral, technical level, he was apparently brilliant. Major union commanders such as Sherman feared him.

          • Bruce Vail

            Indeed, there was talk of a post-war trial for Forrest (presumably for murder) over the massacre at Fort Pillow. He was even reported to have fled the country briefly after the war for fear of trial and execution.

          • Just_Dropping_By

            The Fort Pillow Massacre deserves more attention in the context of critiques of monuments and other recognitions of Forrest given that the massacre was unambiguously a war crime even by the narrower standards for “war crimes” at the time he ordered it, thus there’s no argument about unfairly judging someone by historical standards.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think entering the military during wartime gives a fast track for promotion especially something like WWII and if you are connected/elite:

      Senator Paul Douglas enlisted as a private in the Marines at the age of 50, saw combat in the Pacific Theater (with two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star), and left the service as a Lt. Colonel.

      • (((Hogan)))

        It probably helps if you have a background that qualifies you for staff work or intelligence*.

        * Yeah, yeah.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    “He…supported FDR’s foreign policy of internationalism….He then joined the staff of Admiral William Halsey….”

    Hands across the water…..

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    During Willkie’s 1940 campaign, Stassen also apparently played a crucial role in popularizing the term “Democrat Party” as a Republican pejorative for the Democratic Party.

    • Bruce Vail

      Really? I thought that was a Newt Gingrich thing. Interesting that it was an idea born in 1940 that didn’t fully mature to the 1990s.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Same here. It sure didn’t stick the first time around. Now the mainstream medjia (shake fist) is starting to use it.

  • David T

    Back in the days of Stassen, a Republican could actually propose universal health insurance, at least for major bills:

    In his 1947 book *Where I Stand* Harold Stassen–ex-Governor of Minnesota and a very serious candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 1948–tries to advocate a middle path on health insurance. He opposes the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill for national health insurance, saying that “It would strike at that most priceless of American ingredients, the independence of spirit, and it would have a debilitating and deteriorating effect on our medical men and women.” (*Where I Stand*, p. 191). However, he adds (p. 194):

    “I am opposed to having the Federal Government take over the payment of all hospital and medical bills. But I do believe that provision should be made for a federal-state insurance approach to the exceptionally heavy doctor and hospital bill.

    “Every American now on the Social Security rolls could be provided with insurance against hospital or medical expense in excess of $250 a year.

    “Such a program would leave all the normal hospital and medical costs–those under $250 in a single year–to be handled as they are now. This would avoid placing the Government in an overshadowing bureaucratic role, and would keep the medical profession from becoming subordinate to a government insurance agent.

    “…As for those not affected by Social Security, they could enter the insurance plan on a simple basis by payment of an annual fixed fee.

    “By limiting the coverage to major cases, the extreme difficulty of administering all hospital and medical bills would be avoided, the urgent economic need would be met, and various voluntary private insurance plans or personal payment would continue to meet the vast majority of bills, which are small, and also the first $250 of the heavy bills…”

    Suppose Stassen is nominated (not implausible) and elected (not too likely because unlike Dewey he probably won’t carry New York, and that may cancel out any advantage he has over Dewey in the Midwest–but still not totally implausible). It will be hard for him to get Stassencare (as it won’t be called) through Congress; some conservatives will oppose it as the entering wedge for completely socialized medicine, while some liberal Democrats might foolishly help to defeat it because they still insist on the obviously un-passable Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill. But suppose it’s enacted. What are the consequences, especially as inflation makes the once formidable $250 deductible almost meaningless (unless Congress periodically increases it or indexes it to inflation)?

    • NewishLawyer

      Earl Warren tried to create some kind of Universal Healthcare for California when he was governor because of a kidney infection. It was one of his few political failures:

      Here is an interesting article on it from Jill Lepore in the New Yorker. More broadly it is about how Campaigns became a big business for many:


      One of the posters that struck me from the anti-healthcare campaign against Warren was of a really old sentimental picture called The Doctor. The Doctor features a rural English cottage with a distressed mother, a dad, a sick child in a bad, and a kindly old doctor pondering what is wrong with the child.

      The campaign ad included the words “Don’t let government get in the way of this” or something like that.

      I wonder why the pro-healthcare force did not also use the picture with words like “Let more people get this.”

    • Franklee

      He was a bit of a legend around our house. My dad was very active in MN politics & called Stassen, “just about the last decent Republican there was”. The fact that he was a progressive in the manner of TDR served him well in the hard times of the 30s but killed him with the Nixon/Goldwater wing. His time had passed by 1960.

    • Randy

      The last time he made a run for Governor of Minnesota (sometime in the 80s), the public TV stations let him participate in the candidates’ debates. He was the only one of either party coming up with actual ideas, instead of platitudes and slogans. The political joke was the only candidate of substance.

  • Davis

    I only knew him as a joke and believed he was a native Pennsylvanian. I do enjoy this series, Erik.

  • (((Hogan)))

    He ran for the Republican nomination in 1944. And then again in 1948. And then in 1952. And then in 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992.

    My old man worked 20 years on the line
    and they let him go
    Now everywhere he goes out looking for work
    they just tell him that he’s too old
    I was 9 nine years old and he was working at the
    Metuchen Ford plant assembly line
    Now he just sits on a stool down at the Legion hall
    but I can tell what’s on his mind

  • Frank Wilhoit

    (sorry — breach of etiquette — can’t see how to delete the message entirely)

  • SqueakyRat

    Stassen drove my father out of his job (and a bunch of other people out of theirs) at the Department of Agriculture for being too liberal back in the fifties. Basically ruined his career in government. Fuck Harold Stassen and fuck his grave.

    • Randy

      I didn’t know Stassen had anything to do with the Department of Agriculture. How did it happen?

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