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Peaceful Transfer of Power

North Dakotans witnessed the first peaceful transfer of power between governors on this date in 1891. Governor John Miller was the state’s first governor and did not seek a second term in 1890. He was succeeded by Andrew Burke, a Republican and a former treasurer of Cass County. The state was young – President Harrison had proclaimed statehood just 14 months prior.

On the occasion of the transition, North Dakota lawmakers, state officials and residents gathered in the House chambers of the Capitol in Bismarck at three o’clock to hear speeches from the two executives. The Bismarck Daily Tribune described the event as Governor Miller stepped down and Governor Burke, age 40, took “hold the reins.”

New Lieutenant Governor Roger Allin introduced outgoing Governor Miller, who “proceeded to read his message in a clear and distinct voice.” He spoke at length of the state’s financial standing and its institutions as well as the issues of the day such as prohibition. He said that “The severing of my official relations with this commonwealth in no way loosens the ties that bind me to her and her people. May North Dakota be blessed with exceeding prosperity and realize the full fruition of her grandest possibilities.”

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bartholomew swore in Governor Burke and other incoming office holders. Lieutenant Governor Allin introduced the new governor, who commended Miller as “my honorable predecessor” in his inaugural address.

Governor Burke told the 1891 Legislature: “It will to me be a source of pride and gratification if, at the end of your session, I shall have earned your confidence and respect for having pursued a course both courteous and impartial; for having been governed by principle and not by expediency, ever mindful that each of you was my peer, worthy of that respect always due a representative of the people.”

More than a thousand people greeted the two governors at the inaugural reception, which also included supper in the Senate chambers and a ball.

One footnote of North Dakota’s 1891 Legislature: 39 of the state’s 93 lawmakers were foreign-born, hailing from Iceland, Ireland, Norway, England, Switzerland, Sweden, Scotland, South America, Germany, Denmark and Canada. Most members of North Dakota’s citizen legislature were farmers or merchants in their 30s or 40s.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1891, Jan. 8. Pages 1, 3, 6, 7, 8.

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