James Alsak Peterson (1859-1928) was a lawyer by profession. A Republican party activist he was elected to represent District 42, which covered part of Minneapolis, in the 32nd Legislature, serving 1901-1903. He challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Knute Nelson in the Republican primary on June 17, 1918, but was defeated by a wide margin. In the midst of the campaign, he was charged with violating the federal Espionage Act. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison by District Court Judge Page Morris, a close friend of Nelson. Unbowed Peterson appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case for dismissal in October 1920. Peterson v. United States, 254 U.S. 660 (1920). It was dismissed on April 5, 1921.
Meanwhile Peterson left politics to write novels. His first, Hjalmar, or the Immigrant's Son, was published by K. C. Holter Publishing Company, Minneapolis, in 1922, and the second, Solstad: The Old and The New was published in 1923 by the Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis.
Solstad is posted here. This copy is inscribed by the author to Julius E. Olson (1858-1944), who surely identified with some sections as he was "Professor of Scandinavian" at the University of Wisconsin from 1884 to 1930.
Citizens who questioned the U.S. entry into the War, particularly leaders of The Nonpartisan League, were accused of "disloyalty" during the political campaign of 1918. It was a charge James Peterson faced in federal court as well. One wonders whether his conviction, even though nullified, had an infinitesimal influence on his novels--did they reaffirm the author's loyalty to his country? Solstad ends with Knute Solstad asking for a ride to the county seat. He explains that he wants to become a "citizen of the United States" and this will permit him "to vote for Abraham Lincoln."
James Peterson died on March 9, 1928. The Winona Republican-Herald carried his obituary:
"Minneapolis-AP-James A. Peterson, 68 years old, former Hennepin county attorney and prominent in politics for more than 30 years died early today at his home following a heart attack. Mr. Peterson had been a candidate for the United States senate, for congress and for lieutenant governor and had served as special city attorney. During the war he adopted an antiwar attitude and was tried and convicted in federal court on a charge of espionage act violation. He was sentenced to serve four years at Leavenworth, but he carried the case to the higher court and finally it was remanded to the lower tribunal because of error and subsequently nolled.
"He was a candidate for the United States senate in 1918 against Senator Knute Nelson and before that time ran against Loren Fletcher for congress. It was during his campaign against Senator Nelson that the espionage charge was raised. He is survived by his widow and one son."