Ernest Lundeen

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Ernest Lundeen
Lundeen in April 1940
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
January 3, 1937 – August 31, 1940
Preceded byGuy V. Howard
Succeeded byJoseph H. Ball
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota
In office
March 4, 1933 – January 3, 1937
Preceded byGeneral Ticket Adopted
Succeeded byHenry Teigan
ConstituencyGeneral Ticket seat 8
3rd district
In office
March 4, 1917 – March 3, 1919
Preceded byGeorge Ross Smith
Succeeded byWalter Newton
Constituency5th district
Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives
from the 42nd district
In office
January 3, 1911 – January 4, 1915
Preceded byWilliam Campbell and John Godspeed
Succeeded byJohn Sanborn Jr. and George Sudheimer
Personal details
Born(1878-08-04)August 4, 1878
Beresford, Dakota Territory, U.S.
DiedAugust 31, 1940(1940-08-31) (aged 62)
Lovettsville, Virginia, U.S.
Cause of deathPlane crash
Political partyRepublican
Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party
SpouseNorma Lundeen
Alma materCarleton College
University of Minnesota Law School
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
UnitCompany B-12th Minnesota Volunteer Regiment
Battles/warsSpanish–American War

Ernest Lundeen (August 4, 1878 – August 31, 1940) was an American lawyer and politician who represented Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives from 1917 to 1919 and 1933 to 1937 and the United States Senate from 1937 until his death in 1940. He was a member of the Republican Party before joining the Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party.

A veteran of the Spanish–American War, he got his beginning in politics when he served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from the 42nd district, between 1911-14. Originally elected as a Republican, he represented Minnesota's 5th congressional district for a single term between 1917-1919, and he would go on to lose renomination in 1918 due to his opposition to American entry into World War I. He was killed in a plane crash near Lovettsville, Virginia, on the afternoon of August 31, 1940, along with 25 others. At the time of his death, he was the subject of a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation due to his ties to Nazi Germany.

Family and education[edit]

Lundeen was born and raised on his father's homestead in Brooklyn Township of Lincoln County near Beresford in the Dakota Territory. His father, C. H. Lundeen, was an early pioneer who was credited with the naming of Brooklyn Township as well as with helping to establish the school and other institutions located there. Most of Ernest Lundeen's brothers and sisters died during a diphtheria epidemic during the 1880s. In 1896, Lundeen and his family moved to Harcourt, Iowa, and then to Minnesota. He graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1901 and then studied law at the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1906 he was admitted to the bar.


Lundeen served in the United States Army during the Spanish–American War. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives 1911–14.[1] He then served as a Republican from Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives, from March 4, 1917, to March 3, 1919, in the 65th congress. He was one of 50 representatives to vote against the declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917.[2] Owing to the vote, he would lose renomination for the Republican primary in 1918 to the eventual winner, Walter Newton. He served as a Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party member in the House from March 4, 1933, to January 3, 1937, in the 73rd and 74th Congresses.

In 1934, during the 73rd Congress, Lundeen sponsored the Workers' Unemployment Insurance Bill. The bill embodied a far-reaching unemployment insurance and social insurance program formulated by the Communist Party in 1930 and openly and vigorously advocated by the party for the next several years. Despite the bill's Communist origins, the party mustered considerable support for it, including from union locals, international unions, and state labor federations. The bill attracted support from liberals dissatisfied with the less generous and much less radical Wagner-Lewis bill (which became the Social Security Act). With Lundeen's help, a subcommittee of the Labor Committee heard testimony from 80 witnesses on the benefits of the bill and the suffering of the unemployed. Many were Communists, including Party chairman Earl Browder. The bill was narrowly voted out of the Labor Committee, but it was killed by House leadership, which wanted no competition for Wagner-Lewis.[3]

U.S. Senate[edit]

Lundeen was elected to the United States Senate in 1936 as a member of the Farmer-Labor Party. He served from January 3, 1937, in the 75th and 76th Congresses until his death. Initially, his Communist sympathies remained strong: in 1936, then Senator-elect Lundeen addressed a meeting of the "Friends of the Soviet Union" at Madison Square Garden as Tovarishchi ("Comrades"). But he remained isolationist and was later denounced by the group as a reactionary.[4]

Lundeen's isolationist views led him to be sympathetic to Nazi Germany. He had close ties to George Sylvester Viereck, a leading Nazi agent in the U.S. Viereck, after giving the Senator millions of dollars in bribes, often used Lundeen's office, and "sometimes dictated speeches for Lundeen, openly using the Senator's telephones to obtain material from Hans Thomsen at the [German] embassy." Some of these speeches were pro-German and pro-isolationist. Viereck would then have Lundeen's staff print thousands, and in some cases, even millions of copies of the speeches, which would then be distributed to the public.[5][6]

On June 14, 1939, Lundeen joined a civilian and press delegation aboard USS Hammann for its sea trials off Fire Island. The ship reached a maximum speed of 40 knots, came to a complete stop in 58 seconds, and then travelled in reverse at 20 knots.[7] Lundeen said the experience was "astounding" and that the test showed that American ship designers "need bow to none."

Death and an FBI investigation[edit]

On the afternoon of August 31, 1940, Lundeen was a passenger on Flight 19 of Pennsylvania Central Airlines, flying from Washington, D.C. to Detroit. The plane crashed near Lovettsville, Virginia, and all 25 persons on board were killed.[8] Also on board were "a Special Agent of the FBI, a second FBI employee, and a prosecutor from the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice."[9]

In 2022, Rachel Maddow released a podcast series titled Ultra, which explored Lundeen's complicity in Nazi Germany's intelligence and propaganda operations in the U.S. during the 12 to 18 months immediately preceding America's entry into World War II. At the time of his death, the FBI was investigating Lundeen's ties to George Sylvester Viereck, a top Nazi spy working in the US to spread pro-Hitler and anti-Semitic propaganda.[9][10]

After the plane crash, Lundeen's wife Norma Lundeen tried to clear his name by covering up his involvement with the Nazi regime. Within two days after the crash, she travelled to his office in the Capitol to retrieve the "Viereck files". Within the year after the tragedy, the story that Lundeen's speeches had been written by Viereck had been reported by several journalists.[11] Norma Lundeen tried to prevent that narrative by claiming that "no one wrote [her] husband's speeches" and threatening to sue one of the journalists who was reporting on it. Viereck's defense called her as a witness during his trial. She then proceeded to falsely testify that she indeed took the Viereck files, but the files were gone due to a burglary that had taken place at their residence.[12] It was later discovered that the files were actually stored in the Lundeen family archives.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ernest Lundeen, Minnesota Legislative Reference Library-Minnesota Legislators Past and Present
  2. ^ Current Biography 1940, p. 527
  3. ^ Klehr, Harvey. The Heyday of American Communism, pp. 283-284.
  4. ^ Klehr, p. 289.
  5. ^ Frye, Alton (1967). Nazi Germany and the American Hemisphere 1933-1941. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press. p. 161.
  6. ^ "How a U.S. Senator from Minnesota became a key player in a Nazi plot". MinnPost. January 11, 2023. Retrieved February 14, 2023.
  7. ^ "Latest in Destroyers" (PDF). The Evening Star. June 14, 1939. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 27, 2022. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  8. ^ "Accident Details". Retrieved June 23, 2007.
  9. ^ a b "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra | an MSNBC original podcast". MSNBC.
  10. ^ "Editorial: Minnesota's pro-Hitler senator". November 13, 2022.
  11. ^ "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra - Episode 4: A Bad Angle". MSNBC. October 24, 2022.
  12. ^ a b "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra - Episode 5: Shut It Down". MSNBC. October 31, 2022.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Farmer–Labor nominee for Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Farmer–Labor nominee for U.S. Senator from Minnesota
(Class 2)

Preceded by
Floyd B. Olson
Farmer–Labor nominee for U.S. Senator from Minnesota
(Class 2)

Succeeded by
Al Hansen
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 5th congressional district
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Representative from Minnesota
General Ticket Eighth Seat

Succeeded by
General Ticket Abolished
Preceded by
General Ticket Abolished
U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 3rd congressional district
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from Minnesota
Served alongside: Henrik Shipstead
Succeeded by