In the fall of 1894, Governor Knute Nelson was easily re-elected to a second term. During the campaign, there were rumors that he would run for U. S. Senator, a post held by William Washburn, a fellow Republican who was seeking re-election, but he deflected them, and assured Washburn that he was not a candidate. On January 3, 1895, however, he announced he was a candidate for Senator. An alarmed Washburn rushed to the capitol to meet the Governor. Newspapers reported their meeting:
"Well, Governor, I am expecting that you will come out and give my cause a big boost."
Scratching his head for a moment and looking down at the carpet the Governor replied: "Well I don't know about that. Last night I made up my mind to be a candidate myself." Senator Washburn expressed his surprise and referred to the Albert Lea speech and numerous letters from Nelson saying that he was not a candidate and the impression which Nelson had allowed to go over the state before election that he was a candidate for Governor and Governor only.
"I never said that I would support you," said Nelson.
"Very true, replied," Washburn, "but you said you would not be a candidate against me and in a letter told me that you would lay no obstacle in my path."
Nelson admitted he had made that statement in a letter and then began to talk about the way in which the newspapers had been abusing him. . . .
At this time, U. S. Senators were elected by state legislatures. The Minnesota House and Senate in 1895 were dominated by Republicans and, as a consequence, the Washburn-Nelson battle was waged within the party and emphasized their personalities, patronage power and other qualities that had little to do with the social and economic issues of the day. On January 23, Nelson was elected in a joint session of the legislature. He resigned as governor at the end of the month and was sworn as Senator on March 4, 1895. Elected four more times, he died in harness on April 28, 1923, aged eighty-one.
In January 1924, Elmer E. Adams, a Fergus Falls businessman, supporter and confident of Nelson, wrote his recollections of this senatorial battle for the local newspaper. Adams's article is posted here, followed in the Appendix by a shorter account by Harlan P. Hall, a St. Paul journalist, published in 1904, and a compilation of the returns of elections in which Nelson ran from 1874 through his last in 1918.