J.A.O. Preus Biography

In the aftermath of World War I, Minnesotans sought a leader who would restore prosperity and calm after years of strife and deprivation. Jacob Aall Ottesen Preus seemed to embody the mood of the period. The grandson, son, and father of Lutheran ministers, he chose to serve the state rather than the church. As a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota law school, he cut his political teeth in Washington as executive clerk to Senator Knute Nelson. Back home after three years, he continued his climb up the Republican ladder of state service toward the governor’s office.

When Preus first ran for governor in 1920, he adamantly opposed the Farmer-Labor Party, a coalition of discontented farmers and laborers who had formed a new political organization. The party, he declaimed, represented “socialism—a political cult that would destroy the principles of private property, our religion, and our homes.”

Despite his reservations about the Farmer-Labor philosophy, Governor Preus nonetheless encouraged the legislature to meet some of the farmers’ demands by broadening the legal powers of cooperatives, making low-interest loans available through the Rural Credit Bureau, and creating the Department of Agriculture. Preus also demanded higher taxes from the owners of ore-rich mines on the Iron Range, expanded highway construction, and improved equal rights and election procedures. His political savvy, combined with an apparent desire to correct inequities, made Minnesota’s twentieth governor a surprisingly prolific reformer.

After completing his second term, Preus became an insurance executive in Chicago. He returned to Minneapolis in 1958 and served until his death as board chairman of Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal insurance society he had co-founded in 1917.