Harold's Top Matches
About Harold Edward Stassen
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
Birth to 1940
Stassen, the fourth of five children, was born in West St. Paul, Minnesota, to Elsie Emma (née Mueller) and William Andrew Stassen, a farmer and several-times mayor of West St. Paul. He was of Norwegian, German and Czech ancestry. He graduated from high school at age 14. At the University of Minnesota, Stassen was an intercollegiate debater, captain of the champion university rifle team in 1927, and received bachelor's and law degrees in 1929. After opening a law office with Elmer J. Ryan in South St. Paul that year, he was elected District Attorney of Dakota County in 1930 and 1934, then elected Governor of Minnesota in 1938. Stassen was seen as an "up and comer" after delivering the keynote address at the 1940 Republican National Convention. There he worked to help Wendell Willkie win the Republican Party (GOP) nomination for the presidency.
World War II
Stassen, who was reelected in 1940 and 1942, supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign policy and encouraged the state Republican Party to repudiate American isolationism before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the 1942 campaign, he announced that, if reelected, he would resign to serve on active duty with the United States Naval Reserve, which Stassen had joined with the rank of Lieutenant Commander the previous year. 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. He left active duty at the rank of Captain in November 1945.
After the war
Stassen lost some of his political base while overseas, whereas Republican candidates such as Thomas E. Dewey had a chance to increase theirs. Stassen was a delegate at the San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations, and was one of the US signatories of the United Nations Charter. He served as president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1953. His attempt to increase the prominence of the university football team 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 of the United States, seeking it 12 times between 1944 and 2000 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992.
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 in 1938, 1940, and 1942, but was unsuccessful in 1982);
Governor of Pennsylvania twice;
United States Senate twice;
Mayor of Philadelphia once;
U.S. Representative (he was the Republican nominee against Bruce Vento of Minnesota in 1986).
Stassen's strongest bid for the Republican presidential nomination was in 1948, when he won a series of upset victories in early primaries. His challenge to the front runner, New York Governor and 1944 G.O.P. presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey, was serious enough that Dewey challenged Stassen to a debate on the night before the Oregon Republican primary. The May 17 Dewey–Stassen debate was the first recorded modern debate between presidential candidates to take place in the United States. The debate, which concerned the criminalization of the Communist Party of the United States, was broadcast over the radio throughout the nation.
At the convention in Philadelphia, Osro Cobb, then the Republican state chairman in Arkansas, made a seconding speech for Stassen, having been motivated by Stassen's promise if nominated to campaign actively in the South. Cobb described the South as "the last frontier to which we can turn for substantial gains for our party - gains that can be held in the years to come. There is a definite affinity between the southern farmer and the grassroots Midwestern Republicans. ...Our party simply cannot indulge the luxury of a Solid South, handed on a silver platter to the opposition every four years...."
In the first two rounds of balloting, Stassen finished third behind Dewey, the front runner, and Robert Taft. After the second round, Stassen and Taft bowed out and Dewey was selected unanimously as the nominee on the next ballot. In all Republican conventions since 1948, the nominee has been selected on the first ballot.
Stassen played a key role in the 1952 Republican contest when he released his delegates to Dwight D. Eisenhower. His doing so 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 reservations about Richard Nixon's maturity for the presidency) to "dump Nixon" at the 1956 Republican Convention.
After leaving the Eisenhower Administration, Stassen campaigned unsuccessfully for governor of Pennsylvania (1958 and 1966) and for mayor of Philadelphia (1959). In 1978, Stassen moved back to Minnesota and ran a senatorial campaign for the U.S. Congress. In 1982, he campaigned for the Minnesota governorship and in 1986 for the fourth-district congressional seat. He also campaigned for the Republican Party presidential nomination in every election except 1956, 1960, and 1972. His last campaign was in 1992.
Raised as a Baptist, Stassen was active with regional Baptist associations as well as many other religious organizations. During the 1960s, he 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. Much of Stassen's political thought came from his religious beliefs. He held important positions in his denomination and in local and national councils of churches. In the latter 1960s and early 1970s, Stassen also participated with the U.S. Inter-religious Committee on Peace, which sponsored a series of conferences on religion and peace. Baptists writing memorials remembered him as much as a church figure as a political candidate.
Death and legacy
On the death of Happy Chandler, Stassen became the oldest 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, at the age of 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.
In The Simpsons episode, Kill Gil, Volumes I & II, houseguest Gil Gunderson prepares breakfast for Bart and Lisa and asks, "Hey, who wants some eggs a la Harold Stassen? They're always running!"
In a 1988 essay entitled "Last Train from Camelot" written by Hunter S. Thompson. "Others are not so lucky and are doomed, like Harold Stassen, to wallow for the rest of their lives in the backwaters of local politics, cheap crooks, and relentless humiliating failures."
In episode 818 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Devil Doll, the Great Vorelli says to his dummy Hugo, "You'll never win. You'll always lose." Crow T. Robot quips, "You're Harold Stassen."
In a Doonesbury comic strip of March 3, 1971, poker players compare their hands, one says his has the winning power of Richard Nixon, one says he has the challenging strength of Edmund Muskie, the last simply says Harold Stassen. In Colonization: Aftershocks by Harry Turtledove, part of an alternate history series, Stassen is successful with his ambitions, first elected Vice President under Earl Warren, then succeeding him as president upon Warren's suicide in 1965. The novel was published only a month before Stassen's death.
In 1978, incoming U.S. senator from Alabama, Howell Heflin referred to a political rival, James D. Martin, as "the Harold Stassen of Alabama." Martin lost three races for the U.S. Senate and served one term in the U.S. House, before relinquishing his seat to run in 1966 for governor of Alabama.
In the Harold E. Stassen Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, digital content is available for researcher use. Researchers will find content that includes speech files, handwritten notes, memoranda, annotated briefings, correspondence, war diaries, working papers, and draft charters for the United Nations. The entire Harold E. Stassen collection includes campaign and political, naval service, United Nations, Eisenhower administration, and organizational membership files of the Minnesota Governor (1938–1943), Naval Officer (1943–1945), United Nations delegate (April–June 1945), Presidential contender (1948), and Eisenhower cabinet member and Director of the Mutual Security Agency (1953–1958), documenting most aspects of Stassen's six-decade career, including all of his public offices, campaigns, and Republican Party and other non-official activities. Digital selections from this manuscript collection were made based on user and researcher interest, historic significance, and copyright status.