Minnesota as a Polity
Minnesota Politics and Government, Chapter 1
Daniel J. Elazar
One of the most striking sights in Minnesota is the State Capitol in St. Paul, built on Capitol Hill in 1905 and designed by Minnesotan Cass Gilbert, one of the great architects of the age. When it was constructed at the very end of the nineteenth century, it stood alone on Capitol Hill, a visible sign of how small Minnesota state government was in those days in contrast to today. Now it crowns a campus stretching nearly half a mile down towards the Mississippi River and nearly half a mile wide at its broadest.
The campus below the crest of the hill only emerged after World War II. Building resumed in the 1950s according to a new master plan which cleared the slums then surrounding the area, and transformed it into an architectural expression of the majesty and extent of contemporary state government. The Capitol Center of today reflects the character of Minnesota and its people -- open and expansive, orderly and manicured, classic but plain, an integration of lawns and buildings linked to St. Paul's extensive parkway system, reflecting the character of settlement in Minnesota which has always blended rural and urban styles.
The prominent position of the state capitol also symbolizes the degree to which Minnesota exists because it is a civil society, whose citizens are linked through its polity more than in any other single way. This is true of each and every state in the American federal union, just as it is of the United States as a whole. As a nation of immigrant settlers, the commonwealths of the United States do not derive from organic development but from deliberate acts of founders establishing political institutions designed to create and order political societies of newcomers.
Minnesota is no different from any of the other states in this regard. It exists because it is a political entity located on a particular territory, with its own government serving a specific population, first established as a separate territory in 1849 and given full form as a civil society when it was admitted to the Union as a state on May 11, 1858. Its constitution, with its curious history of being drafted by separate Republican and Democratic conventions and then having the two texts more or less harmonized, defines the state's boundaries. The internal divisions -- the counties, townships, cities, villages, school and special districts that give Minnesota its character -- are the products of state governmental action in response to popular demand. The many different peoples that have come into Minnesota have formed their links with the land, the state and each other through these political subdivisions. Even in this age when government is more intrusive on our lives, most people are unaware of the degree to which their lives are subtly and not so subtly shaped by their political institutions, becoming aware of those institutions only when they fail to deliver promised or expected results.
Neal Pierce, the late twentieth century chronicler of the American states, subtitled his chapter on Minnesota, "The Successful Society," stating:
Its leaders...have played an increasingly prominent role in national life, far out of proportion to the state's modest two percent of the national population. Its political structure remains open, issue-oriented, responsible. Its state government has been a leader in services for people, even though citizens and corporations alike have had to pay a high tax bill for those services. Few states exceed Minnesota in the quality and extent of the education offered its citizens; none appears to provide health care of comparable quality. Economic growth has been strong and steady, encompassing the brainpower industries of the electronic era along with traditional farming, milling, and mining. And Minnesota maintains a clear focus of economic and cultural leadership in her Twin Cities, towns whose great industries have resisted the siren call of the national conglomerates.
Pierce was merely echoing earlier reports. In 1946, John Gunther wrote in Inside USA, "Minnesota is a state spectacularly varied, proud and handsome, with a progressive political tradition." The reasons? Going back to Pierce, "But why successful? the visitor to Minnesota hears many reasons, but none is so convincing as perhaps the simplest: These people appear to have control of their own destiny."
Minnesota moves toward the twenty-first century with a nationwide reputation as the exemplar of a state that has succeeded in providing a high "quality of life." Its people, basking in that image, are proud and confident of their future, principally because of their polity and its political system. This comforting situation was far from inevitable. It required a great deal of effort and the right combination of people and circumstances, and brought together with the right timing.
Despite its continental centrality in a purely geographic sense, geo-historically Minnesota is a relatively isolated part of the American Trans-Mississippi West. Off the main routes of the westward movement, the advance of the land frontier in fits and starts made it the farthest outpost of American penetration into the Northwest for many years and one of the last of the contiguous states to have an open land frontier.
Three major regional physiographic patterns meet in the state, each of which has demanded its own forms of social organization and technology. First encountered by the Americans were the lowland prairies, to which could be applied essentially the same forms as had been used on the prairies to the near West. North of the prairies were found the so-called Big Woods, in part an extension of the forest-and-rock desert known as the Canadian or Laurentian Shield, the area of Minnesota first penetrated by Europeans in the persons of the French-Canadian voyageurs. Settlement on the shield required adaptations not dissimilar from those required to settle the mountain deserts of the far West. The western third of Minnesota, though initially thought to be simple a continuation of the humid prairie, was discovered by its settlers to be a transition zone between the humid grasslands and the high, dry plains, which required modification of lowland prairie patterns to accommodate human needs in a climatically harsh, semi-arid environment.
All told, approximately two-thirds of Minnesota represents a difficult physical environment even by the standards of the greater West. This fact led, in turn, to the establishment of a marginal civilization, one which was prone to seek more radical solutions to its recurrent problems. The challenges of a harsh environment are reflected in the impact of the frontier on Minnesota.
The Continuing American Frontier
For Americans, the very word frontier conjures up the images of the rural-land frontier of yesteryear -- of explorers and mountainmen, of cowboys and Indians, of brave pioneers pushing their way westward in the face of natural obstacles of one kind or another. We may even have expanded our picture of the frontier to include the inventors, the railroad builders, and the captains of industry who created the urban-industrial frontier. Recently television has begun to celebrate the entrepreneurial ventures of the automobile and oil industries, portraying the captains of those industries and their families in the same larger-than-life frame as once was done for the heroes of that first frontier.
As is so often the case, the media responsible for determining and catering to popular taste tell us a great deal about ourselves. The United States was founded with the opening of its rural-land frontier, a frontier that persisted for 300 years until World War I, more or less, spreading farms, ranches and towns catering to the extractive industries across the land.
Early in the nineteenth century, the rural-land frontier generated the urban frontier which was based upon industrial development just as the rural frontier was based upon the availability of free land. The creation of new wealth through industrialization transformed cities from mere regional service centers to producers of wealth in their own right. That frontier persisted for more than 100 years as a major force in American society as a whole and, as we shall soon have reason to note, perhaps another 60 years as a major force in various parts of the country. The population movements and attendant growth on the urban-industrial frontier created the second settlement of the United States in freestanding cities built around the new industrial base from coast to coast.
Between the world wars, the urban-industrial frontier gave birth in turn to a third frontier stage, one based upon the new technologies of electronic communication, the internal combustion engine, the airplane, synthetics, and petro-chemicals. These new technologies transformed every aspect of life and turned urbanization into metropolitanization. This third frontier stage generated a third settlement of the United states, this time in metropolitan regions from coast to coast, involving a mass migration of tens of millions of Americans in search of opportunity on the suburban frontier.
In the 1970s, the post-World War II generation came to a close. Many Americans were speaking of the "limits of growth." Yet despite the anti-frontier rhetoric, there was every sign that a fourth stage was beginning in the form of the rurban-cybernetic frontier generated by the metropolitan-technological frontier just as the latter had been generated by its predecessor.
The rurban-cybernetic frontier first emerged in the Northeast, as a matrix of urban and suburban settlements in which the older central cities had to share importance if not prominence with smaller places. This in itself is a reflection of the two primary characteristics of the new frontier. The new locus of settlement is in medium size and small cities and in the rural interstices of the megalopolis.
The spreading use of computer technology is the most direct manifestation of the cybernetic tools which make such citybelts and rurban areas possible. Country-wide, there was a shifting of population growth into rural areas. Both phenomena are as much a product of the telecommunications revolution as they are of the older American longing for small town or country living. Both reflect the urbanization of the American way of life no matter what lifestyle is practiced, or where.
The continuing American frontier has all the characteristics of a chain reaction. In a land of great opportunity, each frontier once opened has bred its successor and has been replaced in turn by it. Each frontier has created a new America with new opportunities, new patterns of settlement, new occupations, new challenges and new problems. As a result, the central political problem of growth is not simply how to handle the physical changes brought by each frontier, real as they are. It is how to accommodate newness, population turnover, and transience as a way of life. This is the American frontier situation.
The Frontier in Minnesota
The initial American settlement of Minnesota came relatively late in the history of the land frontier, and its settlement period lasted long, well into the twentieth century, to overlap the next frontier state with hardly any break in momentum. The history of its settlement parallels the history of American settlement on the West Coast, one of many indications of how isolated from the main stream of American development Minnesota was during its formative years and, in some respects, continues to be.
Minnesota has enjoyed a highly positive relationship with the continuing American frontier. It is one of the few states that has moved smoothly from one frontier stage to the next without hiatus or pause. The first Europeans to appear in present-day Minnesota were French voyageurs who established fur trading posts at sites throughout the state. However, the true rural-land frontier opened with the establishment of Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in 1819, at what is presently the center of the Twin Cities metropolitan region.
Minnesota's nineteenth century was clearly and unequivocally dominated by the land frontier. One hundred years of intensive effort ended with the permanent human occupation and civil organization in every part of the state. The advancing national line of rural settlement reached Minnesota in the 1830s and the state's land frontier continued until the collapse of the wheat farming boom of World War I, closing sometime between 1907, when the railroad reached Rainy Lake, and 1919, when the collapse of the World War I agricultural boom put an end to massive homesteading in the state. As late as the 1950s there were still federal land auctions to sell off leftover parcels from the original public domain and in the 1960s there were still original homesteaders living on the lands they homesteaded in the state's northern third.
That is one of the keys to understanding Minnesota. It is still, by world standards, new. Many adults still have memories of pioneer grandparents.
Minnesota's territorial history reflects the conflicting claims of the European powers in the New World beginning even before the advancing frontier reached its soil. Technically a part of Virginia even before it was seen by Europeans, that claim was never exercised in the field. With the possible exception of the medieval Vikings, the French were the first Europeans to actually set foot on Minnesota soil. Minnesota's entire territory was claimed by France from 1671 to 1763. After the French lost the last French and Indian War, their claims east of the Mississippi River were ceded to Great Britain which exercised them from 1763 to 1783. What is today eastern Minnesota was nominally part of Quebec and under the jurisdiction of the Quebec Act.
France's claims west of the Mississippi were ceded to Spain in 1762, which held them until they were relinquished to France in 1803 so that France could sell the territory to the United States under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Following that act, western Minnesota continued to be an unorganized part of the Louisiana and then the Missouri territories. Northernmost Minnesota remained under British jurisdiction until the U.S.-British treaty of 1818 which established the border between the United States and British North America at a point from Lake of the Woods westward along the 49th parallel, giving Minnesota the point of land at the north end of Lake of the Woods, which makes it the northernmost state of the lower 48, a piece of territory directly accessible from the rest of the United States only by water.
A year later, in 1819, the first official American settlement was established in the territory at Fort Snelling. The military commander there exercised jurisdiction over the white people in Minnesota. When Missouri was admitted to the Union in 1820 and Iowa territory was subsequently organized, it included the part of Minnesota west of the Mississippi but in 1836, after Michigan became a state and the territory of Wisconsin was organized, the latter was extended to include the entire area of what is today Minnesota.
As settlers came in, the Wisconsin territorial government organized St. Croix County to provide law and order. It became the first formal civil government in the state, made possible by the signing of the 1837 treaty with the Ojibway and a second treaty with the Dakota which opened Minnesota's territory east of the Mississippi for permanent white settlement.
While, after 1836 settlements were established that became in due course, the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Mendota, most of the region's settlers were located along the St. Croix River and Stillwater was their center. Another group of settlers came down from the Red River Settlement in the Hudson's Bay Territory, now Winnipeg, Canada, to settle around Pembina now North Dakota), nearly 400 miles from the St. Croix.
Wisconsin was admitted to the Union in 1848, leaving Minnesota once again outside of any territorial government. On August 26 of that year, the residents of the area met in convention at Stillwater and adopted measures calling for the establishment of a new territory to be named Minnesota. On October 30 the Stillwater convention elected Henry Hastings Sibley its territorial delegate to Congress. Thus Minnesota was born by the sovereign act of its own people at their initiative.
The urban-industrial frontier opened in Minnesota in the last generation of the nineteenth century, principally in the Twin Cities and Duluth areas, to process the raw materials of the land frontier -- food, fiber and ore. The development of milling, mining and the lumber industry between the 1870s and World War I, at the same time that the last areas of the state were being settled, used Minnesota's land resources to open its urban-industrial frontier. Urbanization and industrialization continued in Minnesota in the interwar generation, slowed but not stopped by the Great Depression, perhaps because of Minnesota's location at the northwestern edge of the urban industrial belt.
While the urban-industrial frontier became increasingly important in the state, Minnesota remained on the northwestern fringes of that frontier throughout its heyday, maintaining close ties between the land and the urban-industrial base. After World War II, companies such as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing and Honeywell, founded in the interwar period, expanded their industrial capacities to generate the new technology associated with yet a third frontier stage.
The metropolitan-technological frontier opened in Minnesota in the aftermath of World War II and for a generation clearly dominated the state. Its principal expression were found in the seven counties of the Twin Cities metropolitan region, but manifestations of it were also found in the state's free-standing medium-sized cities with the exception of Duluth. By the 1960s half the state's population was gathered in the seven county region that created a unique combination of woods and waters, commerce and industry, and homes, centered around the dual nodes of state government and higher education on the campuses of the University of Minnesota. That region became one of the innovators on the metropolitan frontier in several different ways.
The rapid expansion of the new technologies, particularly in electronics and cybernetics, was reflected in the growth of metropolitan Minnesota, the transformation of the Twin Cities from twin but separate urban centers into a metropolitan region as large as the state of Delaware, with a concomitant decline in the populations of Minneapolis and St. Paul and growth of the suburban population in a seven-county area.
By the mid-1970s, the metropolitan frontier had closed nationwide. While metropolitanization continued, it was no longer at the cutting edge of socio-economic development. This was not entirely true in Minnesota where the distance between the state's metropolitan areas and the rest of metropolitan America was such that the widening of the metropolitan circle was still a major growth factor. At the same time, the new rurban or citybelt-cybernetic frontier had begun to emerge.
Minnesota was poised to cross over to the rurban-cybernetic frontier in the late 1970s without a break in its step. The state was the home to some of the most innovative cybernetically-oriented companies. Control Data Corporation, Honeywell, and Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing were the largest, but there were many other, smaller ones as well. At the same time that these companies were surging forward into the new cybernetic age, settlement in the seven-county area and southeastern Minnesota generally began breaking out of the confines of urban and suburban municipalities to acquire rurban characteristics.
By 1982, Southdale, the Twin City Metropolitan Region's biggest suburban shopping center and one of the nation's most notable, grossed $428 million in retail sales compared with downtown Minneapolis's $390 million. Southdale sales had expanded by 61 percent in the five years from 1977 to 1982, while downtown Minneapolis's sales grew by only 20 percent in the same period. In 1982 downtown Minneapolis was only one of ten major regional shopping areas and downtown St. Paul did not figure at all. Significantly third after Southdale and Minneapolis was Minnetonka, whose $262 million in sales represented an 141 percent increase over the five-year period. Three of the top ten did not even exist in 1977. Downtown St. Paul, which had been eighth in 1977, dropped to thirteenth place. Once again Minnesota continued to ride the crest of the advancing frontier. This is what accounts for the state's continued prosperity and generally even development.
There are many indicators of this frontier dimension in Minnesota's civil society. Some are demographic, based on migrational patterns. Minnesota originally attracted settlers from greater New England, the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe, and Canada. Then its cities attracted migrants from the rural areas of the interior northwest from Sioux Ste. Marie to the Continental Divide in Montana, and from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Sioux City, Iowa.
Since the days of the metropolitan frontier, the state has been on one of the migrational tracks of high achievers from throughout the country. This extensive in-migration is reflected in the fact that the state's leading elected officials were often in-migrants themselves, today as they were in the days of the land frontier, whether Hubert Humphrey, born in South Dakota, or Martin Olav Sabo, born in North Dakota, or Rudy Boschwitz, born in Germany. This, however, may be changing. In 1988, four of the six constitutionally elected officers, six of the seven supreme court justices, eleven of the twelve appeals court judges, all eight members of the House of Representatives, and one of the United States Senators, the Speaker of the Minnesota House and Majority Leader of the state Senate were born and raised in Minnesota.
State and local governments in Minnesota have had to respond to these frontier stages from the establishment of the first counties in what was still Wisconsin territory to the organization of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council to serve the state's metropolitan heart. When Minnesota's territorial government was organized in 1849, there were scarcely a thousand whites living in Minnesota. The establishment of a territorial government made possible and stimulated six-fold growth within the year. Three federal treaties liquidating Indian title to most of the territory, negotiated in 1851, opened the lands west of the Mississippi so that when the census was taken in 1857 on the eve of statehood, the population was already over 150,000. The boundaries of many, if not most, are based on the federal land survey which covered virtually all of the area west of the original thirteen states. The many different peoples that have come into Minnesota have formed their links with the land, the state, and each other through these political subdivisions.
Minnesota emerged as a civil society in the decade immediately prior to the Civil War, the decade with the most ideologically intense cleavage in the history of American politics. Between 1849, when Minnesota Territory was created, and 1858, when the state entered the Union, the fixation of the country as a whole on the problems that led to the Civil War was reflected in Minnesota. The cleavage within the emerging civil society between the Republicans -- mostly antislavery Yankees--and the Democrats--mostly Middle State and Southern moderates who accepted Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas' position of "popular sovereignty"--which had ethnic overtones as well, became so intense that the representatives of the two parties would not even sit together in a single constitutional convention. The state constitution was drafted separately, in two conventions, and the two documents harmonized by a conference committee after a bitter struggle. Since neither group of partisans would sign the final document with the other group, to this day Minnesota has two official "original constitutions."
Since the most important of these issues were highly moral in character, the objective political environment encouraged the development of a strongly issue-oriented politics from the first. This commitment to issues was subsequently reinforced in the post-civil War generation by social and economic factors relating to the establishment and development of a marginal society on the Minnesota frontier. The commitment to issues was further reinforced by a majority of Minnesota's first settlers, who stemmed from the moralistic political culture. Mostly New Englanders or descendants of New Englanders from upstate New York, northern Illinois, or southeastern Wisconsin. They combined moral concern with the desire to become economically successful that led them to the frontier.
These products of the Yankee stream settled in the southeastern part of the state, on the humid prairie, applying the technology developed by their compatriots for the Illinois prairies a decade earlier. Unlike the Yankee settlers of Illinois, however, they were virtually the first to occupy their future commonwealth, so they did not have to compromise their communitarian individualism with any "rugged" individualistic elements already entrenched in power. Nor did their environment encourage the latter type of individualism, since even on the prairies cooperation was required for survival. Actually, in light of the migrations that were to follow, the first Yankee settlers came in time to be considered the symbols of extreme individualism in Minnesota.
Minnesota's second wave of settlement came during and after the Civil War and was dominated by immigrants who came directly from Europe--from the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and Ireland. Most of them were farmers, but substantial numbers of Germans and Irish settled int he burgeoning urban communities along the state's navigable waterways. From the very first, the role played by these immigrants has had important consequences for Minnesota's political culture, for the most part serving to reinforce the original contributions of the Yankees in much the same manner as in norther Illinois.
Most of the Europeans who came to Minnesota shared a version of the communitarian ethic similar to that found among the descendants of the American Puritans. This has been true even of the Catholics, predominantly Germans and Irish, who represented something of a self-selected population. Many of the latter were attracted by the great Catholic Americanist, Bishop John Ireland, for just those qualities, to establish farming colonies in Minnesota's hinterland.
Perhaps even more important, the overwhelming majority of those European emigrants came directly to Minnesota, where they settled on virgin land. Thus, unlike their compatriots who settled in the cities or in rural areas already occupied by others and who had to adjust their ways to established patterns, they could retain many of the basic attitudes of the cultures which they had brought with them from the Old World, if not their over manifestations. This, too, contributed to Minnesota's uniqueness in the national picture, to the state's ultimate desire for a degree of semi-isolation, and to the particular political culture which is dominant within its boundaries. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, they were joined by Southern and Eastern European farmers, brought in by the railroads, along whose rights-of-way they created replicas of Old World farm villages, each with its own distinctive culture.
Sometime after 1880 a third wave of settlement began in the state. Like the first two, its representatives also sought the still-plentiful vacant areas on the land frontier. Though this wave included many farmers (predominantly Scandinavians), the element which gave it a distinctive character was composed of miners, mostly Southern and Eastern European in origin, who settled the three iron ranges on the Laurentian Shield to extract ore.
The settlement of the iron ranges was already a response to the demands of the national corporate economy produced by the urban-industrial frontier. The settlers themselves were employees of large companies from the first. Most of them settled in the northeastern part of the state, and Duluth's demographic base has been strongly influenced by them.
The lumberjacks who entered the state in great numbers at the same time were brought by the large lumber companies then engaged in cutting the forests of the "Big Woods." Even the farmers who pioneered this stage of the land frontier in the state, though still in the entrepreneurial pattern, were frequently settled on the prairies by the great land-grant railroad companies of the Northwest eager to populate their rights-of-way. Meanwhile, the cities had begun to attract members of all these groups plus Jews from Eastern Europe to form urban working and lower middle class populations so that by the turn of the century Minnesota had one of the most ethnically diverse populations of any state, most of whom had come directly from their countries of origin to their new places of settlement, without any prior American experience. Hence, their Americanization was entirely a product of their Minnesota experiences. The miners and those lumberjacks who stayed to settle in the state brought a kind of proletarian radicalism to add to an already radical (by American standards) tradition of politics in Minnesota.
After the turn of the century, a fourth wave of settlement occupied Minnesota's far north. Because of the length of Minnesota's land frontier period, this fourth wave was dominated by the descendants of the Yankees of the southeastern counties who had actually been born and bred within the state. Their efforts to establish themselves permanently in the north country ran right into the post-World War I agricultural depression, which transformed them into seekers for social solutions for their problems along lines most appropriate to the twentieth century but in a spirit of communalism and political responsibility akin to that found among their fathers.
The fifth and, to date, last wave of settlement to enter Minnesota, while not particularly radical, has served to reinforce the state's distinctive subculture. Moving from the rural sections of Minnesota's great Upper Midwestern empire (the Dakotas, Montana, and parts of Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan contribute most of this fifth wave) to the state's metropolitan centers, particularly the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan region which embraces most of the section's recent frontiers, they have sought new social and economic opportunities similar to those sought by rural and small-town Americans across the country. In the process, they have helped to establish one of the most demographically self-contained sections in the United States Minnesota at its heart.
Drawn from the same cultural streams, these new migrants naturally reflect the same cultural background the state's original settlers. Hence they reinforce the political culture already rooted in the state's political system. Minnesota's unique subculture is further protected by an extensive out-migration of population from the state, which tends to leave the "hard core" Minnesotans in control of every facet of the state's life.
Out of these five waves of settlement have emerged Minnesota's dominant socioeconomic groups. Agriculture, the predominant industry in the state for many years, has provided two very divergent elements: the more conservative farmers of the relatively prosperous southeastern and central counties and the populist types from the more marginal farm areas in the rest of the state. Both groups have been very strong on the state political scene, even though their relative population strength has drastically declined in recent years. Although Minnesota has become statistically "urban," because of the large role agriculture continues to play in supporting subsidiary businesses and industries, only since the opening of the metropolitan frontier has urban Minnesota begun to develop a substantial economic base divorced from "agribusiness." Because of the forest-and-rock desert in which it is located. the state's northeastern hinterland did not develop from an agriculturally based economy, a fact which has heightened its differentiation from the rest of the state.
By and large, the dominant elements in the state's business community are descended from the early Yankee entrepreneurs. Since World War I, they have been joined by entrepreneurs from the other streams who have developed enterprises of various sizes in a spirit similar to that of the Yankees. The largest enterprises in the state have institutionalized this spirit even where they have passed out of the hands of their founding families. Consequently, the entrepreneurial tradition closely tied to the communitarian culture remains reasonably strong in Minnesota.
With some few but well-known exceptions, business and industrial concerns in the state have remained moderate in size and are locally controlled regardless of size, even when they hve become international in scope. In the twentieth century some of the locally owned companies--General Mills, Pillsbury, Cargill, Minnesota Mining Manufacturing, to name only a few--have expanded into worldwide corporate giants, but the continued location of their headquarters in Minnesota means that the local pattern of "home-owned" industry has not been substantially altered. One consequence of this is that Minnesota businessmen and industrialists have remained active in civic life in a manner reminiscent of an older America.
The rapid rise of a locally created electronics industry in the past ten years is testimony to the survival of the entrepreneurial tradition as a major factor in the state's economy. The Twin Cities area is the third major center of electronics work in the United States, despite its handicaps of location and its lack of federal defense contracts. The bulk of the area's electronics industry was developed locally by individual Minnesotans who wished to establish themselves in their native state despite its economic and climatic disadvantages, rather than by large corporations or outsiders seeking a more favorable business climate. It is primarily a product of local resources, from financial support by Twin Cities banks to the supply of skilled manpower in the tradition of Scandinavian craftsmanship and German precision.
Duluth was the one significant exception to this pattern. From the 1870s it had been an industrial colony of the lower Great Lakes cities, particularly Cleveland, and a business colony of the Twin Cities. One result of this is that its politics in part reflected the struggle between a labor force that remained tied to its locality and corporate stewards serving absentee owners while holding great political power locally. In the 1980s this began to turn around and Duluth's recent renaissance is a result of it becoming more like the rest of the state in the sources of its economic development.
In view of the state's past history, it is not surprising to find an important labor movement in Minnesota, composed to a very large extent of highly skilled workers. Organized labor is strong in politics, local as well as national, and is exceptionally successful in its ability to gain community support for its demands. This is in so small measure because unions in Minnesota have been able to organize middle-class elements, such as the retail clerks and state and local government employees, in a basically middle-class population. This, in turn, has created a labor movement with some markedly different goals from those of the labor movements in other areas, one concerned with civic responsibility as well as "bread and butter" issues. The organization of government employees has also increased the level of labor activity in the political realm by creating a dual stake in politics for a large segment of the local labor movement.
An industrial base which rests primarily on skilled labor drawn from much the same population base as the business and professional people has prevented the development of the divergences in outlook between the business-professional subcommunity and the labor subcommunity in Minnesota consistently found in other states where the two subcommunities have, to a great extent, been drawn from culturally different streams as well as from different ethnic groups. In the latter, the earlier arriving native streams had supplied the bulk of the business and professional elements while the latecoming European elements were more or less automatically assigned to the working class upon arrival and were forced to "work up" as individuals. Perhaps paradoxically, however, the similarity in cultural background between the two elements at one point stimulated class conflict to an extent not experienced elsewhere.
While the complex origins of class cleavage in politics are not easily unraveled, two factors stand out as important. In the first place, because the Old World-originated streams flowed into Minnesota directly from Europe at the outset of its settlement, some of the class consciousness more common to European politics went into the very formation of the state's political system. Furthermore, class differences could not be masked by ethnic or cultural ones. Rather, the similarity in cultural backgrounds between those who became the business and professional classes and those who entered the working class made the latter more conscious of class as a factor.
Since obviously inferior status and economic conditions could not be explained away by pseudo-historical rationalizations about the "rights' of earlier groups or pseudo-racial theories about a "superior northern and western European stock," resentment between the two elements grew as the labor subcommunity demanded a better place in the local sun. In time, this led to a sharp cleavage between the two subcommunities which, in the European manner, has come to be expressed through politics. Since the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) won much of what the radicals demanded after World War II, including a dominant position politically, while business-labor cooperation on common projects brought both elements to a new level of communication with and understanding of each other. All of this has gone by the boards.
Minnesota's Sectional Location
These conflicts were both exacerbated and balanced by Minnesota's sectional location. Sectionalism -- the expression of social, economic, and especially political differences along geographic lines -- is part and parcel of American political life. The more or less permanent political ties that link groups of contiguous states together as sections reflect the ways in which local conditions and differences in political culture modify the impact of the frontier. This overall sectional pattern reflects the interaction of the three basic factors. The original sections were produced by the variations in the impact of the rural-land frontier on different geographic segments of the country. They, in turn, have been modified by the pressures generated by the first and subsequent frontier stages. As a result, the sections are not homogeneous socioeconomic units sharing a common character across state lines, but complex entities combining highly diverse states and communities with common political interests that generally complement one another socially and economically.
The Interior Northwest, for example, is a section bound by ties tight historical, commercial, ethnic and social ties even though the differences between each of the states within it are quite noticeable even to the casual observer.
This section was first defined by the railroads of the rural-land frontier. It was reinforced by the institutional patterns which followed in their wake, whether we are speaking of the circulation of Twin cities newspapers throughout the section or the location of medical care facilities. Long before interstate banking became an accepted practice in the United States, the three great banks of the Twin Cities -- First National Bank of Minneapolis, Northwestern National Bank, and the First National Bank of St. Paul -- developed bank holding companies through which they established what were, in effect, branches throughout Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana.
Intrasectional conflicts often exist but they do not detract from the long-term sectional community of interest. More importantly for our purposes, certain common sectional bonds give the states of each section a special relationship to national politics. This particularly true in connection with those specific political issues that are of sectional importance, such as the race issue in the South, the problems of the megalopolis in the Northeast, and the problems of agriculture and agribusiness in the Northwest.
The nation's sectional alignments are rooted in the three great historical, cultural, and economic spheres into which the country is divided: the greater Northeast, the greater South, and the greater West. Following state lines, the greater Northeast includes all those states north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers and east of Lake Michigan. The greater South includes the states below that line but east of the Mississippi plus Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. All the rest of the states compose the greater West. Within that framework, there are eight sections: New England, Middle Atlantic, Near West, Upper South, Lower South, Western South, Northwest, and Far West. Minnesota is located in the greater West and is the mother" state of the Northwest.
From the New Deal years through the 1960s, Americans' understanding of sectionalism was submerged by their concern with urban-oriented socioeconomic categories, such as the struggle between labor and management or between the haves and have-nots in the big cities. Even the racial issue, once the hallmark of the greater South, began to be perceived in nonsectional terms as a result of black immigration northward. This is not to say that sectionalism ceased to exist as a vital force, only that it was little noted in those years.
Beginning in the 1970s, however, there was a resurgence of sectional feeling as economic social cleavages increasingly came to follow sectional lines. The sun belt-frost belt contribution is the prime example of this new sectionalism. Sun Belt is the new code word for the Lower South, Western South, and Far West; frost belt is the code word for the New England, Middle Atlantic, and Near West. Significantly, the Interior Northwest was left out of either grouping, reflecting its isolation and special character. Hence we can expect its development on the new frontier to proceed in its own direction and at its own pace.
Sectionalism promises to be a major force in the post-1976 generation, closely linked to the rurban-cybernetic frontier.
A perennial problem of the states, hardly less important than that of direct federal-state relationships, is how to bend sectional and regional demands to fit their own needs for self-maintenance as political systems. One way in which the states are able to overcome this problem is through the use of the formal political institutions they control. In the first place, the formal institutions are the major features distinguishing one section from another that do follow state lines. The states are protected to the extent that no problems can be handled governmentally without making use of those formal institutions.
Some would argue that the use of formal political institutions to deflect national or sectional developments into a state mold is "artificial" interference with the "natural" flow of the nation's social and economic system. Partisans of the states would respond not only by questioning the naturalness of a socioeconomic system that was created by people who migrated freely across the landscape as individuals in search of opportunity but by arguing that the history of civilization is the record of man's efforts to harness his environment by means of his inventions, all artificial in the literal and real sense of the term. It need not be pointed out that political institutions are among the foremost of those inventions. Today, globalization is making national boundaries seem just as "artificial" but they remain important to their people.
Minnesota is one of the best examples in the United States of the interplay between statehood and sectionalism. As a state it is located in the transitional zone between the greater Northeast and the greater West, pulled in both directions but more western than eastern in its social mores. The balance was tipped by Minnesota's sectional position as the heart of what is variously known as the Northwest or the Upper Midwest, a section best delineated by the boundaries of the Ninth Federal Reserve district, designed in 1913 with the section in mind. Headquartered in Minneapolis, it includes the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern and northwestern Wisconsin, all of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and Montana.
Since the 1960s the Twin Cities' grip on its section has loosened as the colonial relationship between the Cities and their hinterland has been replaced by one of greater interchange. Nevertheless, the sectional pattern remains to be considered and still helps define the North Star State.
The Successful Civil Society
The importance of government in shaping Minnesotans' self-image has been reaffirmed over the past two decades by Minnesota's prominent national image, where it is viewed as a model of American achievement in "quality of life" matters. While the accepted quality of life measures suggest that Minnesotans are correct in their self-assessment, their pride in their state goes even beyond objective considerations. In a 1988 poll, for example, 70 percent of Twin Citians believed that they lived in a climate that was average or above average (Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 10, 1988, p. 1B).
Much of that image has to do with perceptions of the high quality of Minnesota's state and local government. It began with the surfacing of so many Minnesotans in national public affairs -- Harold Stassen, Luther Youngdahl, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Orville Freeman, Eugenie Anderson, Geri Joseph, Warren Burger, Harry Blackman, and Walter Mondale, to name only the most prominent -- most of whom began their careers in state or local government within Minnesota. It then carried over into the focusing of national attention on the high quality of government in the state.
John Fischer, long-time editor of Harper's, put it as follows in his column of April, 1969: "Minnesota is the best governed state in America. It is also the most imaginative, far-sighted, and ambitious. Its people have known this all along. Fischer, like so many others, suggested that this was so because of the state's unique political tradition which involves a population overwhelmingly Yankee, Scandinavian and German in descent who, whatever their other differences, have always shared a common political culture which includes a "lively and responsible interest in the affairs of their own small communities."
Minnesota's movers and shakers have a high level of commitment to public service. Fischer again, "The archetypical man-who-has-made-it in, say, Miami may enjoy his leisure on a yacht, and in Hollywood among his collection of starlets -- but if he lives in Minneapolis he would spend it in committee meetings." Fischer also observed that Minnesota "is young people's country. The whole power structure -- in government, politics, and business -- is run predominantly by men in their 30s and 40s...it is not weighted down with a mass of timid, tired, and conservative old people -- perhaps because they move to a warmer climate as soon as they retire." This plus clean patronage-free government in which the political parties tend to be quite open and dominated by amateurs gives the state a particular quality.