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Henrik Shipstead (January 8, 1881 – June 26, 1960) was an Americanmarker politician. He served in the United States Senate from March 4, 1923, to January 3, 1947, from the state of Minnesotamarker in the 68th, 69th, 70th, 71st, 72nd, 73rd, 74th, 75th, 76th, 77th, 78th, and 79th Congresses . He served first as a member of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party from 1923 – 1941 and then as a Republican from 1941 – 1947.

Few members of Congress in American history were more consistent in opposing U.S. foreign interventionism than Henrik Shipstead.

Shipstead was born on a farm in Kandiyohi County, Minnesotamarker, in 1881 to Norwegian immigrant parents. Shortly after the turn of the century, he set up a dental practice and was elected president of the village council of Glenwood in neighboring Pope Countymarker.

Shipstead started as a Republican but in 1922 was elected to the U.S. Senate under the banner of the new Farmer-Labor Party. While he generally shared the party’s leftwing agenda, he rejected the extreme anti-capitalism of some members. Although he was the only Farmer-Laborite in the Senate, he won appointment to the powerful Foreign Relations Committee.

Shipstead opposed U.S. entry into the League of Nations and the World Court. He called for the cancellation of German reparations which he regarded as vindictive. Unlike some foreign policy non-interventionists in the Old Right, he objected to the U.S. occupation of Haitimarker, the Dominican Republicmarker and Nicaraguamarker. He blamed these interventions on the Theodore Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1905 which had turned the United States into an arrogant “policeman of the western continent."

Shipstead did not consider himself an “isolationist." While he favored a policy of political non-intervention overseas, he opposed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 which he charged was “one of the greatest and most vicious isolationist policies this government has ever enacted.” He argued that high tariffs “raise prices to consumers” and make “monopolies richer and people poorer.” Affable and dignified, his adversaries generally liked him on a personal level. He concluded that “It doesn’t necessarily follow that a radical has to be a damned fool.”

Along with Congressman Robert Luce of Massachusettsmarker, he introduced the bill that formed the United States Commission of Fine Arts, which governs planning in Washington, D.C.marker. The bill, the Shipstead-Luce Act, is still in effect.

Shipstead defected from the Farmer-Labor party in the late 1930s charging that Communist elements were taking control. He won reelection to the Senate in 1940 as a Republican. All the while, few fought more tenaciously against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to enter the war in Europe. Although Shipstead voted for the declaration of war after the attack on Pearl Harbormarker, he was not about to give Roosevelt a blank check. In October 1942, for example, he took the extremely lonely stand of voting against Selective Service, just as he had in 1940.

Shipstead’s vote against U.S. entry into the United Nations was entirely predictable to anyone who had followed his career. It was the capstone of decades of opposition to foreign entanglements. Unlike many modern conservative critics of the UN, however, he not only feared that it would foster a world superstate but also that it would be used by the major powers to dominate smaller countries. His dissenting vote was political suicide and he probably knew it.

A new breed of “internationalists,” led by Governor Edward John Thye and former Governor Harold Stassen, had assumed leadership of the state GOP. In 1946, he lost in the Republican primary to Thye.

Shipstead retired to rural western Minnesota, where he died in 1960.

Further reading

  • Barbara Stuhler, "The Political Enigma of Henrik Shipstead," Ten Men of Minnesota and American Foreign Policy 1898-1968. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1973. pp. 76–98.

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