Harold Stassen Biography

Born on a Dakota County farm, Harold Stassen received bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Minnesota. Elected Dakota County attorney in 1929, he served two terms. In 1933 he mediated a stockyards strike in South St. Paul, gaining a reputation for level-headedness. In 1938 voters elected the thirty-one-year-old governor—one of the youngest in U.S. history—and re-elected him in 1940 and 1942.

Stassen was a centrist. His major achievement—the Minnesota Labor Relations Act (1939)—created a structure for mediation between unions and employers, meant to reduce strikes. After Pearl Harbor, he helped the state mobilize for war.

In April 1943 Stassen resigned and enlisted in the Navy. The war led him to reject Republican isolationism. Given his support of international cooperation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named him one of seven U.S. delegates to the founding meeting of the United Nations. His work there won broad acclaim.

A leading contender for the 1948 Republican nomination, Stassen lost to Thomas Dewey in the primaries. Stassen then became president of the University of Pennsylvania (1948–1953).

He again sought the nomination in 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected. President Eisenhower appointed Stassen to his National Security Council; he also held security, foreign operations, and disarmament positions. But in 1958 Stassen resigned from the administration, moved to Philadelphia, and practiced international law. He ran for governor of Pennsylvania (1958, 1966) and mayor of Philadelphia (1959).

Undeterred, Stassen continued his unsuccessful campaigns. In 1978 he returned to Minnesota and ran for U.S. Senate, governor (1982), fourth district congressman (1986), and, at age 87, the Republican U.S. Senate nomination (1994). Meanwhile, he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination frequently between 1964 and 1988.

Despite his party’s changed orientation, Stassen remained committed to conflict mediation, peace-making, and international cooperation, his idealism derived from deeply held Baptist faith. Stassen was president of the American Baptist Churches in 1963 and participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He also worked with the U.S. Inter-religious Committee on Peace. He died in 2001 in Bloomington, Minnesota.