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How Democratic chair Leonard August Rosing helped break a nearly 4-decade streak of the Republican control of the Minnesota governorship

Rosing started his political career with the Republicans but changed parties over disagreement with the national party’s tax policies.

historical photo of leonard rosing
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Leonard A. Rosing, c.1905. Photograph by Johnson & Company.
When Leonard August Rosing became chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Party in 1896, he had his work cut out for him: Republicans had controlled the governorship since before the Civil War. But Rosing was successful in unseating Republicans and getting Democrat John Lind elected governor in 1898.

Eight-year-old Rosing arrived in Minnesota with his parents from Malmö, Sweden in 1869. The Rosings settled on a farm near Cannon Falls in Goodhue County. Young Leonard expected to become a farmer like his immigrant father, August.

Rosing worked on the family farm until the age of twenty. Deciding he did not want a life in farming, he took a job as a store clerk in Cannon Falls. Bright and ambitious, the hardworking young man saved his money. He married Mary Belle Season in 1886.

Known as a “natural salesman,” Rosing became the junior partner in a village boot and shoe store in 1888. By 1893 Rosing was the senior owner, with Samuel Kraft as his partner.

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Rosing took an interest in politics and joined the Republican Party, the dominant political organization in the state. Minnesotans had voted Republican in every presidential and gubernatorial race since the Civil War. Voters chose Republicans in nearly every election for Congress. Rosing opposed the tax policies of the national party, however, and in 1890 he became a Democrat, placing himself in a minority party.

He was not alone. By 1890, unhappy Republicans were changing sides. Populist farmers, upset with the abuses of unfettered capitalism, organized their own political parties. Farmers and Democrats alike believed Republican candidates sided with corporate power and against their interests. In particular, farmers felt railroad freight rates were rigged and unfair, while factory workers complained that industry exploited their labor.

In 1896, Democrats chose Leonard Rosing as chair of their State Central Committee. Later that year he helped engineer a near upset in a raucous race for governor. Five candidates were running for the job. America was in the midst of a deep economic depression, and factions within the major parties split over a solution. Rosing convinced Democrats to throw their support to John Lind, a former two-term Republican congressman. He was known as a “Silver” Republican.” for his belief that silver should be used as money as well as gold. The farmer-supported Populist Party also agreed to back Lind.

The fusion of Democrats, Populists, and Silver Republicans nearly brought Lind the governorship. In the end, David M. Clough, the Republican, won by just 3,352 votes. Encouraged, Democrats unanimously reelected Leonard Rosing their chairman. Then, in 1898, they tried for the governorship again. With support of the now-divided Populists and some Republicans, they ran John Lind a second time. A bitter Governor Clough decided to support Lind after his party nominated another Republican, William H. Eustis, to run in his place.

In 1898, under Rosing’s party leadership, Lind defeated Eustis by more than 20,000 votes. The Republicans had lost the governorship for the first time since 1860.

Governor Lind was impressed with Leonard Rosing’s work in the previous two elections and asked him to be his private secretary. Rosing served as a political advisor, confidant, and gatekeeper, handling schedules and correspondence. Rosing performed the job well. Nonetheless, Lind narrowly lost his 1900 reelection try to Samuel Van Sant by 2,254 votes.

In 1902 the Democrats nominated Leonard Rosing as their candidate for governor. He lost to incumbent Van Sant. In July of that year, citizens in Morrison County named one of their northern townships after Rosing. He served as a delegate to his party’s national convention in 1904, and was also elected Chairman of the Democratic State Executive Committee that year.

In 1905 Rosing was appointed to the State Board of Control. This supervisory group oversaw state-operated institutions. In April 1909 Rosing suffered a blood clot in the brain. Surgeons at St. Joseph Hospital in St. Paul opened his skull in a vain attempt to remove the blockage. Rosing still held his position on the board when he died in St. Paul on April 14, 1909.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.