Fourteenth State Governor: January 2, 1899 – January 7, 1901
Born: March 25, 1854 in Kanna, Småland, Sweden
Died: September 18, 1930 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Married to: Alice A. Shepard (1879)
Ethnic Background: Swedish
Occupation: Lawyer, Teacher, Congressman
Party: Populist-Democratic-Silver Republican
“Reform!” was the rallying cry of late nineteenth-century America, and John Lind was in the vanguard. His election as fourteenth governor—and the first Democrat in fifty years—heralded a new era. Called progressivism, this movement championed the interests of the rural and urban working classes in Minnesota in a reaction against economic and social abuses. Lind, an outspoken political maverick, campaigned zealously for adoption of a more equitable tax burden, enlightened concern for the sick and poor, and direct elections of state officials. Although most of his efforts to change society failed, Lind paved the way for subsequent reform and Minnesota’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial society.
The Swedish-born Lind settled with his family on a Goodhue County farm when he was 13. An accident cost him his left hand and may have encouraged him to cultivate his considerable intellectual talents. He was a teacher and school superintendent for several years and then earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota.
President James A. Garfield appointed the forthright young Republican lawyer to a position in the U.S. Land Office, and, at 32, Lind was elected to Congress. After three terms and a falling-out with more conservative party members, he became the gubernatorial candidate of the Democrats, Populists, and Silver Republicans (advocates of unlimited silver coinage). He lost the election but not his determination to promote progressive ideals. When he ran successfully two years later, he explained his reluctance to commit himself to a particular party by saying, “I am a political orphan.”
The “orphan” was a Democrat during his final term in Congress and then acted as President Woodrow Wilson’s personal representative to Mexico. To the end Lind was an original: cerebral, independent, and fiercely committed to his liberal principles.
Photograph by Charles Alfred Zimmerman (1844-1909) sourced from the Minnesota Historical Society