When Leonard August Rosing became chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Party in 1896, he had his work cut out for him: Republicans had controlled the governorship since before the Civil War. But Rosing was successful in unseating Republicans and getting Democrat John Lind elected governor in 1898.
Eight-year-old Rosing arrived in Minnesota with his parents from Malmö, Sweden in 1869. The Rosings settled on a farm near Cannon Falls in Goodhue County. Young Leonard expected to become a farmer like his immigrant father, August.
Rosing worked on the family farm until the age of twenty. Deciding he did not want a life in farming, he took a job as a store clerk in Cannon Falls. Bright and ambitious, the hardworking young man saved his money. He married Mary Belle Season in 1886.
Known as a "natural salesman," Rosing became the junior partner in a village boot and shoe store in 1888. By 1893 Rosing was the senior owner, with Samuel Kraft as his partner.
Rosing took an interest in politics and joined the Republican Party, the dominant political organization in the state. Minnesotans had voted Republican in every presidential and gubernatorial race since the Civil War. Voters chose Republicans in nearly every election for Congress. Rosing opposed the tax policies of the national party, however, and in 1890 he became a Democrat, placing himself in a minority party.
He was not alone. By 1890, unhappy Republicans were changing sides. Populist farmers, upset with the abuses of unfettered capitalism, organized their own political parties. Farmers and Democrats alike believed Republican candidates sided with corporate power and against their interests. In particular, farmers felt railroad freight rates were rigged and unfair, while factory workers complained that industry exploited their labor.
In 1896, Democrats chose Leonard Rosing as chair of their State Central Committee. Later that year he helped engineer a near upset in a raucous race for governor. Five candidates were running for the job. America was in the midst of a deep economic depression, and factions within the major parties split over a solution. Rosing convinced Democrats to throw their support to John Lind, a former two-term Republican congressman. He was known as a "Silver" Republican." for his belief that silver should be used as money as well as gold. The farmer-supported Populist Party also agreed to back Lind.
The fusion of Democrats, Populists, and Silver Republicans nearly brought Lind the governorship. In the end, David M. Clough, the Republican, won by just 3,352 votes. Encouraged, Democrats unanimously reelected Leonard Rosing their chairman. Then, in 1898, they tried for the governorship again. With support of the now-divided Populists and some Republicans, they ran John Lind a second time. A bitter Governor Clough decided to support Lind after his party nominated another Republican, William H. Eustis, to run in his place.
In 1898, under Rosing's party leadership, Lind defeated Eustis by more than 20,000 votes. The Republicans had lost the governorship for the first time since 1860.
Governor Lind was impressed with Leonard Rosing's work in the previous two elections and asked him to be his private secretary. Rosing served as a political advisor, confidant, and gatekeeper, handling schedules and correspondence. Rosing performed the job well. Nonetheless, Lind narrowly lost his 1900 reelection try to Samuel Van Sant by 2,254 votes.
In 1902 the Democrats nominated Leonard Rosing as their candidate for governor. He lost to incumbent Van Sant. In July of that year, citizens in Morrison County named one of their northern townships after Rosing. He served as a delegate to his party's national convention in 1904, and was also elected Chairman of the Democratic State Executive Committee that year.
In 1905 Rosing was appointed to the State Board of Control. This supervisory group oversaw state-operated institutions. In April 1909 Rosing suffered a blood clot in the brain. Surgeons at St. Joseph Hospital in St. Paul opened his skull in a vain attempt to remove the blockage. Rosing still held his position on the board when he died in St. Paul on April 14, 1909.
Chrislock, Carl H. The Progressive Era in Minnesota,1899–1918. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1971.
Graham, H. E. A Souvenir, Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Red Wing: Wall & Haines, 1900.
Helmes, Winifred. John A. Johnson: The People's Governor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1949.
Hicks, John D. The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmers' Alliance and the People's Party. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1931.
Historical Sketches of Cannon Falls, 1854–1954. Cannon Falls: Cannon Falls Beacon, 1954.
"L.A. Rosing Leads State Department." Minneapolis Tribune, June 26, 1902.
A/R821 and A/+R821
Leonard A. Rosing and Family Papers, 1882–1932
Manuscript Collections, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Includes Papers kept by Rosing, as chairman of the Minnesota Democratic State Central Committee (1886–1900).
"Leonard A. Rosing Dies in Hospital." Minneapolis Tribune, April 15, 1909.
Hanson, P.E., Secretary of State. "Biographical Sketches." Legislative Manual of the State of Minnesota, 1907.
McClure, Ethel. "An Unlamented Era: County Poor Farms in Minnesota." Minnesota History 38, no. 8 (December 1961): 365–377.
Mickelson, Peter. "Nationalism in Minnesota During the Spanish-American War." Minnesota History 41, no. 1 (Spring 1968): 1–12.
Minnesota Municipal and Commercial League. "Proceedings of Minnesota Municipal and Commercial League Annual Convention." St. Paul: 1904.
"Permanent Fight Begun." Minneapolis Tribune, March 19, 1903.
Upham, Warren. Minnesota Place Names: A Geographical Encyclopedia, 3rd ed. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2001.
Flandrau, Judge Charles E. "Leonard A. Rosing." Encyclopedia of Biography of Minnesota, vol. 1. Chicago: Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1900.
White, Bruce, Jean A. Brookins, Burt Cannon, Carolyn Gilman, June D. Holmquist, and Dorothy Kidder. Minnesota Votes: Election Returns by County for Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, and Governors, 1857–1977. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1977.
In 1898, Leonard Rosing's work for the Minnesota Democratic Party breaks Republicans' hold on Minnesota's gubernatorial politics and gets John Lind elected as governor.
Leonard August Rosing is born in Malmö, Sweden, on August 29.
The Rosing family moves to Goodhue County, near Cannon Falls.
Twenty-year-old Rosing gives up farming to become a Cannon Falls store clerk.
Rosing marries Mary Belle Season.
Rosing enters into a partnership with Henry Van Campen and they open Van Campen and Rosing Boots and Shoes in Cannon Falls.
The politically active Rosing decides to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party.
Rosing is the senior partner in Cannon Falls's Rosing and Kraft Shoe Store.
Democrats choose Rosing as chair of the Democratic State Central Committee. His efforts come close to bringing their candidate John Lind the governorship.
Rosing continues to lead the state Democratic Party and helps John Lind win election as governor.
Governor Lind selects Rosing to be his private secretary.
Democrats nominate Leonard Rosing to run against incumbent Samuel Van Sant for governor, but Rosing loses.
Rosing is instrumental in organizing the Minnesota Municipal and Commercial League and is the group's first elected president.
Party members elect Rosing chairman of the Democratic State Executive Committee.
Rosing is appointed to the State Board of Control.
Leonard Rosing dies in St. Paul at age forty-seven.