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June 7: Special Sessions

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Leading up to the June 11 primary, we're celebrating democracy in action from North Dakota history, large and small.

North Dakota’s first-ever special session was held in 1892 during the term of Governor Andrew Burke, just a few years after North Dakota became a state. The session met in June, with a focus mainly on electoral matters. Governor Burke stated in his delivery to the joint session, that the legislators had been called back for “an extraordinary occasion” due to the “lack of provision in the laws of the state” concerning presidential elections. The session met to provide for the election of presidential electors and for state, district, and county officers. They also needed to create a state board of canvassers and establish a mechanism for deciding any contested election of the presidential electors.

The special session also appropriated funds for North Dakota’s presence at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Though some funds had been appropriated during the regular session, a large number of citizens did not believe it was enough to show what the state had to offer.

Governor Burke echoed a sentiment appearing in newspapers, telling legislators: “It is the wish of the people of this state… that your session be short, and that you consider only the questions named above.” He reminded them that all these wishes came from the people, saying: “believing, as we all do, in that fundamental principle of American liberty, that the people are the rulers, and that your honorable body, as well as myself, are but the servants of the people.”

Most of the legislators returned for this inaugural special session, but some were not available. In the House, those who did not return included two who had passed away since the regular session adjournment. According to the Bismarck Tribune, “Their desks in the room were appropriately decorated with mourning emblems and beautiful bouquets of white roses.”

In the end, this first special session got its work done in three days.

North Dakota wouldn’t call another special session until 1918 during Governor Lynn Frazier’s tenure. This session provided aid to farmers. Frazier then called another special session the very next year, again to aid farmers, and also to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


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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