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John Burke Statue

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The National Statuary Hall is one of the most popular locations in the U.S Capitol Building, with tourists flocking year-round to see the collection of statues from across the 50 states. The hall is one of the earliest examples of Greek revival architecture in America. The hall has the shape of an ancient amphitheater, with pilasters made of sandstone and columns made of Breccia marble quarried along the Potomac River. The Corinthian columns were carved from white marble in Carrara, Italy.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe and his successor, Charles Bulfinch, designed the the hall and workers built it between 1815 and 1819. It was originally intended to replace the chamber for the House of Representatives after British troops invaded and burned the Capitol in 1814, but the hall had insufferable echoes that made it ill-suited as a meeting chamber.

For almost 50 years people debated what to do with the hall. Eventually it was approved to become an art gallery, and in 1864, Congress invited every state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens to be permanently displayed. North Dakota would not become a state for another 25 years, but submitting a statue took even longer – much longer. It was 1963, and the statue was that of John Burke, a North Dakota Governor remembered for his integrity, which had earned him the nickname, “Honest John.” Some liken him to Lincoln due to his honesty and for standing up for oppressed people. In Lincoln’s case the slaves, and in Burke’s case, small farmers.

Burke was elected in 1906 in a campaign that shifted the state’s politics. Railroad baron Alexander McKenzie had controlled elections since 1883. Burke’s election was so significant it is sometimes called, “The Revolution of 1906.” However, many historians question how much truly changed, because of McKenzie’s continued influence. Even so, Burke was able to pass a primary election law that weakened McKenzie’s power and started the beginning of the end for his control. Many people were glad to have an honest face in office and they re-elected Burke in 1908. Burke would later became treasurer of the United States during the Woodrow Wilson years, then serve on the North Dakota Supreme Court until his death on May 14, 1937.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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