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Shoemaker, Francis H. (1889–1958)

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Black and white photograph pf Francis H. Shoemaker, 1934.

Francis H. Shoemaker, 1934. Photograph by International News Photos. Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Francis H. Shoemaker’s 1931–1932 journey from a Leavenworth prison cell to a seat in the U.S. Congress ranks among Minnesota’s most bizarre political odysseys. But little about Shoemaker surprised those following the meteoric career of the radical newspaper editor from Red Wing.

Francis Shoemaker was born in Renville County to Francis M. and Regina D. Shoemaker on April 25, 1889. He later claimed working as a “known speaker” by age fourteen and a labor organizer by age seventeen. He also alleged aiding the prominent, radical labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood. Yet even Shoemaker’s political allies didn’t trust his statements. Henry G. Teigan, a founding father of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party (F-L), said Shoemaker leaned toward “spilling fabrications instead of facts.”

In the early 1920s Shoemaker was active in the farmer labor group Progressive Farmers of America (PFA). A PFA official charged him with misuse of funds in 1926, resulting in Shoemaker’s expulsion and a serious rift within the group. In 1928 Fred A. Scherf, a Nonpartisan League activist and former state legislator, chose Shoemaker as editor of the Scherf-owned Red Wing newspaper the Organized Farmer.

Shoemaker used the newspaper to denounce the area’s dominant Republican party and its leaders. Three-term Republican Congressman August H. Andresen became a popular target of the feisty editor. Shoemaker hoped to replace Andresen in Congress. “Jellyfish,” “rodent,” and “Wall Street tool” were among the names given to the incumbent in the Organized Farmer. Shoemaker, the Farmer-Labor party candidate, ran for Andresen’s Third District seat in 1930. He proclaimed, “Vote for me in November and make it the last of August.” Shoemaker lost.

A bigger challenge now faced the editor. He had written a letter to a Red Wing banker addressed to “Robber of Widows and Orphans, Red Wing, Minn. in care of Temple of Greed and Chicanery.” Local postal workers took note. Shoemaker found himself charged with improper use of the mail. U.S. District Court judge John B. Sanborn Jr. heard his case in St. Paul and sentenced the newsman to a $500 fine. Sanborn added a year and a day in federal prison but suspended that term.

An angry Shoemaker struck back, using his newspaper to question Sanborn’s decision. The now-irate federal judge sent the editor to prison. Shoemaker spent nearly his full term in Leavenworth Penitentiary before being released on November 4, 1931.

America’s Great Depression deepened while Shoemaker served his time. He returned to the newspaper, ready for another run at Andresen. A talented and combative speaker, Shoemaker campaigned aggressively. He knocked out a Clarkfield heckler. A Twin Cities radio station forced him off the air. A Faribault jury, meanwhile, heard an Andresen slander lawsuit against Shoemaker. It took just twenty minutes to find him not guilty.

Shoemaker caught a break when political stalemate resulted in Minnesota’s 1932 race for Congress being run on an “at large” basis. The top nine vote-getters statewide were to be sent to Washington, D.C., and 1932 appeared to be a Farmer-Labor year in the state.

Backed by voters from Greater Minnesota, Shoemaker captured the eighth of nine seats. Andresen placed tenth. Once in Washington, Congressman Shoemaker did little lawmaking. But he did take revenge on his old Minnesota enemies—“ravenous fiends” and “alley rats”—in a June 9, 1933 speech, “My Judicial Crucifixion—How a Judicial Oligarchy Railroaded Me to a Penitentiary.”

During his term, Washington police twice arrested the erratic Shoemaker for assault. Minneapolis officers topped that total, jailing him three times—most notably for a high-speed chase down Hennepin Avenue and during the 1934 Minneapolis truckers’ strike.

Shoemaker overreached in March 1934 when he challenged Farmer-Labor Party leader Henrik Shipstead for his U.S. Senate seat. A bombastic Shoemaker speech nearly stampeded F-L convention-goers to his cause. Party regulars finally put down his mutiny.

Shoemaker ran for Congress four more times, but without success. In July 1934 he claimed he was going overseas as a foreign correspondent. A St. Paul Pioneer Press editorial noted archly, “Never have the citizens of the state more anxiously and passionately desired to believe the congressman’s word.”

Shoemaker later moved to Redwood Falls, where he was arrested for assault in 1938 and 1939. He died in Minneapolis in 1958.

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Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774–1971. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971.

Congressional Record. 73rd Cong., 1st sess. (1933).

Dobbs, Farrell. Teamster Rebellion. New York: Monad Press, 1972.

Douthit, Davis. Nobody Owns Us: The Story of Joe Gilbert, Midwestern Rebel. Chicago: Cooperative League of the U.S.A, 1948.

Dyson, Lowell K. Red Harvest: The Communist Party and American Farmers. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Gieske, Millard L. Minnesota Farmer Laborism: The Third Party Alternative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979.

Hicks, John D. The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmer’s Alliance and the People’s Party. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1931.

Lamb, Charles A. “The Nonpartisan League and its Expansion into Minnesota.” North Dakota Quarterly 49, no. 3 (Summer 1981): 108–143.

Lorentz, Sister Mary Rene. “Henrik Shipstead, Minnesota Independent, 1923–1946.” PhD thesis, Catholic University of America, 1963.

Naftalin, Arthur. “A History of the Farmer Labor Party of Minnesota.” PhD thesis, University of Minnesota, 1948.

Johnson, Frederick L. “From Leavenworth to Congress: The Improbable Journey of Francis H. Shoemaker.” Minnesota History 51, no. 5 (Spring 1989): 166–177.

——— . Goodhue County, Minnesota: A Narrative History. Red Wing, MN: Goodhue County Historical Society, 2000.

Morlan, Robert L. Political Prairie Fire: The Nonpartisan League, 1915–1922. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1985.

Shoemaker, Francis H. “My Judicial Crucifixion—How a Judicial Oligarchy Railroaded Me to a Penitentiary.” Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1933.

White, Bruce, et al. Minnesota Votes: Election Returns by County for Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, and Governor, 1857–1977. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1977.

Related Images

Black and white photograph pf Francis H. Shoemaker, 1934.
Black and white photograph pf Francis H. Shoemaker, 1934.
Black and white portrait of John B. Sanborn Jr., c.1925.
Black and white portrait of John B. Sanborn Jr., c.1925.
Black and white portrait of Republican Congressman August H. Andresen, c.1936.
Black and white portrait of Republican Congressman August H. Andresen, c.1936.
Headline from the Organized Farmer, July 8, 1932.
Headline from the Organized Farmer, July 8, 1932.

Turning Point

In December 1928, Francis H. Shoemaker becomes editor of the Organized Farmer, a Red Wing-based weekly newspaper in which he castigates local business and industrial leaders. He also uses the newspaper as a launching point for his congressional campaigns.



Francis H. Shoemaker is born on April 25 in Renville County to Francis M. and Regina D. Shoemaker.


Shoemaker, a delegate at a Chicago convention of farmer and labor groups, is elected vice president of the Western Progressive Farmers (WPF) organization.


The WPF is now known as the Progressive Farmers of America (PFA) with Shoemaker serving as an organizer. He is expelled from the PFA in December for misusing funds.


Shoemaker moves to Red Wing in December to become editor of the Organized Farmer, a weekly newspaper and a strong, sometimes radical, advocate for farmers.


In December, a St. Paul federal judge fines and issues a suspended sentence to Shoemaker for his misuse of the mail. When Shoemaker claims his hearing was unfair, the editor is sentenced to serve a year and a day in Leavenworth Penitentiary.


Shoemaker is released from prison on November 4 and begins a new campaign for U.S. Congress.


In a Minnesota congressional election conducted on an at-large basis—the top nine vote-getters throughout the state are to be declared winners—Shoemaker places eighth and is elected.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with Shoemaker at the White House and gives the congressman a pardon for his 1930 conviction.


In February and March, Shoemaker opens a campaign to replace his Farmer-Labor party colleague, the incumbent U.S. senator Henrik Shipstead. He alarms Shipstead supporters but fails to win party support.


Shoemaker moves to Duluth and runs as an independent candidate for Congress in the new Eighth District. He fails. Although he runs for office again, Shoemaker’s brief time as a political force in Minnesota is over.


Shoemaker, now in Redwood Falls, operates a farm and unsuccessfully runs for Congress.


Shoemaker fails to win a seat in the House in 1940. He fails again in repeated attempts in 1942, 1946, and 1950.


Shoemaker dies in Minneapolis on July 24.