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Harold Edward Stassen

State of Minnesota's official oil painting of governor Harold Stassen

In office
January 2, 1939 – April 27, 1943
Lieutenant C. Elmer Anderson
Edward John Thye
Preceded by Elmer Austin Benson
Succeeded by Edward John Thye

In office
1953 – 1955
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by N/A (post created)
Succeeded by N/A (post abolished)

Born April 13, 1907(1907-04-13)
West St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Died March 4, 2001 (aged 93)
Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Esther G. Glewwe
Profession lawyer, politician, candidate
Religion Baptist

Harold Edward Stassen (April 13, 1907 – March 4, 2001) was the 25th Governor of Minnesota from 1939 to 1943. After service in World War II, from 1948 to 1953 he was president of the University of Pennsylvania. In popular culture his name has become most identified with his fame as a perennial candidate for other offices, most notably and frequently President of the United States.


Life and career

Stassen, the fourth of five children, was born in West St. Paul, Minnesota, to Elsie Emma (née Mueller) and William Andrew Stassen, a farmer.[1][2] He graduated from high school at age 14 and the University of Minnesota Law School in 1929. He was elected District Attorney of Dakota County in 1930 and 1934, then elected Governor of Minnesota in 1938. He was seen as an "up and comer" after delivering the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention. At that convention, he helped secure the Republican Party (GOP) nomination for Wendell Willkie.

Against the advice of some of his political advisers, Stassen resigned from office in 1943 to go on active duty with the United States Naval Reserve, which he had joined with the rank of Lieutenant Commander the previous year.[3] After being promoted to Commander, he joined the staff of Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander of the South Pacific Force and served for two years.[3] He left active duty at the rank of Captain in November, 1945.[3] Stassen did indeed lose some of his political base while overseas, whereas Republican candidates such as Thomas Dewey had a chance to increase theirs. Stassen was a delegate at the San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations, and president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1953. His attempt to establish big-time college football at the university was unpopular and soon abandoned. From 1953 to 1955 he was the director of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's short-lived Foreign Operations Administration.

Stassen was later best known for being a perennial candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President, seeking it twelve times between 1944 and 2000 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000) but never winning it or, after 1952, even coming close. He did receive votes at the Republican National Convention as late as 1968 when he won two votes for president (one from Minnesota and the other from Ohio).

Stassen also ran for:

  • Dakota County District Attorney (he won in 1930 and 1934)
  • governor of Minnesota on four occasions (he won on his first three attempts 1938, 1940, 1942),
  • governor of Pennsylvania twice,
  • United States Senate twice, and
  • mayor of Philadelphia once.
  • U.S. Representative (He was the Republican nominee against Bruce Vento of Minnesota in 1986).
Stassen in U.S. Navy uniform

Stassen's strongest bid for the presidential nomination was in 1948, when he won a series of upset victories in early primaries. Polls showed that he would beat Harry S Truman if nominated. He lost the nomination to Thomas Dewey, however, who had already lost in the presidential election of 1944 to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Stassen played a key role in the 1952 Republican contest when he released his delegates to Dwight D. Eisenhower. This helped Eisenhower to defeat Robert Taft on the first ballot. He served in the Eisenhower Administration, filling posts including director of the Mutual Security Administration (foreign aid) and Special Assistant to the President for Disarmament. During this period he held cabinet rank and led a quixotic effort (perhaps covertly encouraged by Eisenhower, who had serious reservations about Richard Nixon's qualifications for the presidency) to "dump Nixon" at the 1956 Republican Convention. When he left the Eisenhower Administration in 1958, he became a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania. His defeat in this race — which was not close — generally was seen as marking the end of his importance as a political figure, although he became a candidate on many occasions in the ensuing years. Though he maintained a successful law practice in Philadelphia and was a major figure of the World War II and immediate post-war eras, he nonetheless became the subject of jokes, even wearing a toupee in an apparent effort to look younger and hence presumably more electable. The humor was collective, with the 'Stop Stassen' movement often attracting more attention than Stassen's bid for the nomination.

Stassen gained a reputation as a liberal, particularly when, as president of the American Baptist Convention in 1963, he joined Martin Luther King in his march on Washington, D.C.. He was a prime representative of the liberal stream of American Republicanism. Much of his political thought came from his religious beliefs. An active American (or Northern) Baptist, he held important positions in his denomination and in local and national councils of churches. Many remembered him as much as a church figure as a political candidate.

On the death of Happy Chandler, Stassen became the earliest governor of any U.S. state still living. When he died, the title was passed to Charles Poletti, a former governor of New York State. Stassen died in 2001 in Bloomington, Minnesota, aged 93, and is buried at the Acacia Park Cemetery in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue headquarters near the State Capitol is named for him.

Electoral history

In popular culture

In the daily cartoon Doonesbury, Stassen was mentioned in the March 10, 1971 strip in which the characters B.D., Mark, and Mike Doonesbury are playing poker. B.D. confidently announces, "My poker has the steady, strong winning power of a Richard Nixon!" To which Mark replies, "That's nothing. My hand has all the steady challenging strength of an Ed Muskie." After a long pause, Mike dejectedly replies, "Harold Stassen."

In The Simpsons episode "Kill Gil: Vols. 1 & 2", Gil makes sunny side up eggs for the kids, and quips that they are "a la Harold Stassen" because they are "always running!" Lisa giggles nervously at the remark (after a pause) and Bart asks her if she understands the reference, to which she replies "kinda".

In Episode #818 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Devil Doll, the character of the Great Vorelli tells his living ventriloquist dummy Hugo, "You'll never win. You'll always lose." To which Crow T. Robot adds, "You're Harold Stassen."

In Harry Turtledove's alternative history book, Colonization: Aftershocks, Harold Stassen is Vice-President, and later President of the United States. Also, in Turtledove's Settling Accounts series, Stassen is the Republican candidate in 1944 elections.

In Bored of the Rings one of the unlikely visions that is seen in the birdbath of Lavalier (Galadriel) is the inaugural ball of Harold Stassen, along with French repayment of their war debt and the reception of the Titanic in New York Harbor.



  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c "Captain Harold E. Stassen, USNR, (1907-2001)". Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center. 10 March 2001. Retrieved 15 January 2010.  
  4. ^ Our Campaigns - MN Governor Race - Nov 08, 1938
  5. ^ Our Campaigns - MN Governor Race - Nov 05, 1940
  6. ^ Our Campaigns - MN Governor Race - Nov 03, 1942
  7. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1944
  8. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1948
  9. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Convention Race - Jun 21, 1948
  10. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1952
  11. ^ Our Campaigns - PA Governor- R Primary Race - May 20, 1958
  12. ^ Our Campaigns - Philadelphia Mayor Race - Nov 03, 1959
  13. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1964
  14. ^ Our Campaigns - PA Governor- R Primary Race - May 17, 1966
  15. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - D Primaries Race - Mar 12, 1968
  16. ^ Our Campaigns - MN US Senate- R Primary Race - Sep 12, 1978
  17. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 17, 1980
  18. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 20, 1984
  19. ^ Our Campaigns - MN District 4 Race - Nov 07, 1986
  20. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1988
  21. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - R Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1992
  22. ^ Our Campaigns - MN US Senate - R Primary Race - Sep 13, 1994

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Elmer Austin Benson
Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Edward John Thye
Government offices
Preceded by
Director of the United States Foreign Operations Administration
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by
George William McClelland
President of the University of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
William Hagan DuBarry
Party political offices
Preceded by
Martin A. Nelson
Republican Party nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1938 (won), 1940 (won), 1942 (won)
Succeeded by
Edward John Thye
Preceded by
W. Thatcher Longstreth
Republican Party nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia
1959 (lost)
Succeeded by
James T. McDermott
Preceded by
Mary Jane Rachner
Republican Party nominee for Representative from Minnesota's 4th congressional district
1986 (lost)
Succeeded by
Ian Maitland
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Albert B. Chandler
Earliest serving US governor
1991 – 2001
Succeeded by
Charles Poletti


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