John Lind Biography

"Reform!" was the rallying cry of late nineteenth-century America, and John Lind was in the vanguard. His election as fourteenth governor—and the first Democrat in forty years—heralded a new era and a new movement. Called progressivism, this movement championed the interests of the rural and urban working classes. In Minnesota, as in the nation, it was a reaction against economic and social abuses. Lind, an outspoken political maverick, campaigned zealously for adoption of a more equitable tax burden, enlightened concern for the sick and poor, and direct elections of state officials. Although most of his efforts to change society failed, Lind paved the way for subsequent reform and Minnesota’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial society.

Born in Sweden in 1854, Lind settled with his family on a Goodhue County farm when he was thirteen. A hunting accident cost him his left hand and may have encouraged him to cultivate his considerable intellectual talents. He was a teacher and school superintendent for several years and then earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota.

President James A. Garfield appointed the forthright young Republican lawyer to a position in the U.S. Land Office, and, at thirty-two, Lind was elected to Congress. After three terms and a falling-out with more conservative party members, he became the gubernatorial candidate of the Democrats, Populists, and Silver Republicans (advocates of unlimited silver coinage). He lost the 1896 election but not his determination to promote progressive ideals. Nominated again while serving in the Spanish-American War, he ran successfully two years later, as a Democrat, and explained his reluctance to commit himself to a particular party by saying, “I am a political orphan.”

Lind sought changes in tax assessments, more taxation of iron mining companies, and advocated for the establishment of a state income tax. He also promoted better treatment and facilities for institutionalized patients.

The “political orphan” was a Democrat during his final term in Congress (1903–1905) and later acted as President Woodrow Wilson’s personal representative to Mexico. In 1923, he established a fund through the University of Minnesota to aid physically disabled children. He died in Minneapolis in 1930. To the end Lind was an original: cerebral, independent, and fiercely committed to his liberal principles.