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Nelson, Knute (1843–1923)

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Reference Department, Minnesota Historical Society
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Knute Nelson

Knute Nelson, c.1895.

Norwegian immigrant Knute Nelson served state and country throughout his life, first as a soldier and a lawyer, then as a legislator and the twelfth governor of Minnesota. He was the state's first foreign-born governor.

Nelson was born in Evanger, Voss, Norway, on February 2, 1843. In 1849, he and his widowed mother immigrated to the United States, settling first in Chicago (1849–1850) and then in Dane County, Wisconsin, where he enlisted in the Fourth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (1861–1864) during the Civil War. After the war, Nelson graduated from the Albion Academy and studied law in a Madison, Wisconsin, law office. He was admitted to the bar in 1867. The same year, he married Nicolina (Nicoline) Jacobson. Nelson, a Republican, was a representative in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1868 to 1869.

In 1871, he moved with his family to Alexandria, Minnesota, where he practiced law while farming a homestead tract. He served as Douglas County attorney (1872–1874), Minnesota state senator (1875–1879), presidential elector (1880), University of Minnesota regent (1882–1893), and Fifth Congressional District representative (1883–1889).

Nelson was elected governor of Minnesota in 1892 and 1894, holding the post from January 4, 1893, to January 31, 1895. He resigned in 1895 to run successfully for the US Senate, where he remained until 1923. Nelson was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Committee on Public Lands, and he was active on the Commerce and Indian Affairs committees. His most notable legislative measures included the Nelson Bankruptcy Act (1898) and the act creating the Department of Commerce and Labor (1902). He also helped establish the Interstate Commerce Commission. Nelson supported a low tariff, a federal income tax, Prohibition, the Sherman Antitrust Act, and the League of Nations. He died on April 28, 1923, during his fifth senatorial term. He is buried in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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Turning Point

In 1895, Knute Nelson is elected to the US Senate, the culmination of a long career of political service.

Chronology

1843
Knute Nelson is born in Evanger, Voss, Norway, on February 2.
1849
He and his widowed mother immigrate to the United States, settling in Chicago, then Wisconsin.
1861
Nelson enlists in the Fourth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
1867
He is admitted to the bar in 1867 and marries Nicolina (Nicoline) Jacobson.
1868
Nelson, a Republican, is a representative in the Wisconsin Assembly, serving until 1869.
1871
He moves with his family to Alexandria, Minnesota, to farm and practice law.
1872
Nelson becomes Douglas County attorney and holds the position until 1874.
1875
He becomes a Minnesota state senator and serves until 1879.
1882
He is University of Minnesota regent and serves until 1893.
1883
He is a Fifth Congressional District representative until 1889.
1892
Nelson is elected governor of Minnesota and holds the post until January 31, 1895.
1895
He resigns as governor to run successfully for the US Senate, where he remains until 1923.
1923
He dies on April 28, during his fifth senatorial term.