Ignatius Donnelly: Myth-Making Minnesotan

November 3 was the natal day of demagogic populist politician and pseudo-scientific author Ignatius L. Donnelly (1831-1901). It seems well to take note of him on this day when millions of Americans contemplate the re-election of their crackpot “President”.

A lawyer from Minnesota, Donnelly had founded a Utopian community called Nininger City before becoming Minnesota’s Lt. Governor and a U.S. Congressman as a Radical Republican. Later he was to be one of the founders of the People’s Party, known colloquially as the Populists, penning many of their founding principals. He worked for the rights of women and African Americans, and later, farmers (as opposed to business and banking interests). He was the Populist candidate for Vice President in 1900.

Donnelly believed ancient myths of Atlantis were early references to Mayan Civilization

But today Donnelly is best known as the author of three books: Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882), Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883), and The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon’s Cipher in Shakespeare’s Plays (1888, in which he advanced the spurious theory that Bacon authored Shakespeare’s plays). A free silver man, he also wrote The Bryan Campaign for the American People’s Money (1896) and a utopian science fiction novel called Caesar’s Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century (1890) chronicling an agrarian revolution against a corporate oligarchy. The latter book and several other novels were written pseudonymously.

At any rate, a century after Donnelly, Minnesota was also to give us the interesting phenomenon of Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a former profesional wrestler who served from 1999 to 2003. As Minnesota goes, so goes the nation.