Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960

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Governor of North Dakota and member of the U.S. Congress.

From the description of Correspondence, 1937. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 20649146

Lt. Governor of North Dakota, 1911-1912; U.S. House of Representatives, 1935-1945, 1949-1959.

From the description of Usher Burdick papers, 1730-1958. (State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives). WorldCat record id: 17662392

CITATION: "Burdick, Usher Lloyd," written by Edward C. Blackorby, in the Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 4: 1946-1950, p. 85-87. "Burdick, Usher Lloyd (Feb. 21, 1879-Aug. 19, 1960) lawyer, congressman, and author, was born near Owatonna, Minn., the son of Ozias Warren Burdick, a farmer, and Lucy Farnum. In 1882 the family moved to a homestead northwest of Carrington, Dakota Territory, and in 1884 to Graham's Island, Benson County, Dakota Territory, where frontier farming experiences adjacent to the Fort Totten Sioux Indian reservation and a rural schoolteacher's influence provided important formative experiences. He became an expert marksman, acquired the ability to lasso, learned to speak a Sioux dialect fluently, and gained some knowledge of other Indian languages. Burdick attended Mayville Normal School (now Mayville State College), intermittently teaching in rural and village schools until he graduated with a teaching certificate in 1900. His success in quieting unruly students in one school earned him appointment as deputy country superintendent of schools. He married Emma Rassmussen Robertson on Sept. 5, 1901; they had three children. Burdick enrolled in the law department of the University of Minnesota, supporting his family by teaching classes in a business college. A large-framed man, standing 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 220 pounds, he participated in track-he ran the 100-yard dash in 10.5 seconds-and played right end on the Big Ten championship teams of 1903 and 1904. In 1904 he received the LL.B. and was admitted to the North Dakota bar. He combined law practice with employment in a bank in the village of Munich, N.Dak., a construction crew base for a Great Northern Railroad feeder (branch) line. Munich was home to seventeen illegal liquor establishments, a row of sporting houses along the railroad tracks, and a local reform movement that engaged Burdick's legal talents and physical prowess; he gained a county-wide reputation and was elected state representative from Cavalier County in 1906. Theodore Roosevelt's books on western history and his reform image won Burdick's admiration. (He named his oldest son Quentin, after one of the president's sons.) He joined the coalition of liberal Republicans and Democrats that ousted the railroad-dominated Alexander McKenzie machine and elected a liberal Democrat, John Burke. as governor in what became known as the "North Dakota Political Revolution of 1906." In the ensuing legislative sessions, Burdick became a leader, supporting anti-pass legislation-which made it a criminal act to give or receive free transportation on railroads for political purposes-primary elections, and popular election of senators. Reelected in 1908. Burdick was chosen speaker of the lower house. In 1910 he was elected lieutenant governor. The same year he transferred his law practice to Williston, N. Dak., near the Montana border, where he also dabbled in farming and ranching. In 1912 he declined the Progressive nomination for governor, sensing that a third-party ticket for state office and congressional seats in the 1912 general election could not result in his one election to office and would encourage Progressives who were Republican nominees to support Taft instead of Roosevelt. In 1914 he accepted the Progressive endorsement but was defeated by the incumbent conservative, L. B. Hanna. Two years later, Hanna did not run and Burdick was again backed by the Progressives. Election seemed certain, but the emergence of the Nonpartisan League (NPL) diverted the protest vote and elected Lynn. J. Frazier. From 1913 to 1915 Burdick was state attorney and from 1915 to 1920 special prosecutor of Williams County, and from 1929 to 1932 he was assistant United States District attorney for North Dakota. During these years he helped organize and briefly led the North Dakota Farm Bureau. Later he was associated with the Farmers Union. Writing about western history, Indians, and the agrarian movement began to occupy much of his time. roused by the hardships of his many farm clients, he denounced the Federal Reserve, the Agricultural Credit Corporation, the War Finance Corporation, and the Federal Intermediate Credit Banks as instruments of the "Twin City bank gang," and he supported Robert La Follette's 1924 presidential candidacy. As a consequence of cases he prosecuted as United States district attorney, he became an outspoken opponent of the Eighteenth Amendment. Marital difficulties developed, ending in separation in 1920 and subsequent divorce. He then married Helen White, a secretary; they were divorced in 1926 or 1927. (According to Quentin Burdick, his father managed his second marriage and both divorces so carefully that the family did not know the time or place of the divorce proceedings.) Burdick transferred his law practice to Fargo, N. Dak., and was not a major participant in North Dakota politics until farmer hardships caused him in 1932 to become North Dakota president of the Farm Holiday Association. Again he became a statewide figure. Without endorsement he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1932, but in 1934 he worked with the Farm Holiday Association won him NPL endorsement, Republican party nomination and election. He was reelected four times. In 1932 Burdick had supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president, but in 1936 he supported the Union Party presidential candidacy of William Lemke; as a consequence he lost his seniority rights in Congress. Burdick's congressional career was that of an agrarian reformer and, until Pearl Harbor, an isolationist in foreign affairs. He consistently supported work relief, housing legislation, and assistance to debtor farmers. Although he customarily supported New Deal programs, he initially opposed social security, perhaps because of his adherence to the Townsend Plan. He opposed investigation of the sit-down strikes and refused to join the attacks on Frank Murphy (who, as governor of Michigan, had supported the strikes) when Murphy was appointed attorney general. Burdick supported both the Ludlow Resolution, asking for a plebiscite before declaration of war, and the neutrality legislation sponsored by Senator Gerald P. Ney; he opposed big armaments, the draft, and lend-lease. After Pearl Harbor he vigorously supported the war effort and voted for the Fulbright Resolution, calling for a postwar international peacekeeping organization, a position he reversed during the postwar period. In 1944, with NPL backing, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination against the incumbent Nye. The senatorial effort cost Burdick his seat in the House of Representatives, and he returned to Williston, where he again practiced law and engaged in farming and ranching, specializing in breeding cattle and palomino horses. Burdick defeated incumbent Charles Robertson for the Republican congressional nomination in 1948 and subsequently won in the general election. During his second congressional career, his interest in writing, the West, and Americana moved from avocation toward vocation. He spent much time browsing in antique shops for rare books; he established a library of some 12,000 volumes on his Maryland farm, where he specialized in raising milk goats. As a congressman, Burdick did not sponsor any significant legislation; nor had he made a major effort on the Post Office, Civil Service, or Judiciary committees. But on the Indian Affairs and Pensions committees he sought to protect Indian interests, as well as those of his constituents. Burdick served in Congress until 1959. Characterized as a "direct actionist" - an agrarian spokesman who brought voter pressure in support of farm legislation to bear upon his colleagues - he never forgot his pioneer roots, and he cultivated the image of a prairie, cowboy westerner, informal in personal appearance, who welcomed battle with the monopolistic eastern bankers and capitalists and thwarted their efforts to place American farmers in permanent thralldom. A gregarious and convivial man, he was a powerful speaker and a colorful personality, known as a raconteur skilled in the use of dialects; he could entertain while persuading, whether in court of Congress, on the campaign trail, or in informal social groups. He tended to be the center of attention of any group. His position on domestic policy did not change notably during his final ten years in Congress. On foreign policy he quickly reverted to an isolationist position and voted against arms of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, opposed continued appropriations for the Marshall Plan, and advocated withdrawal from the United Nations. He pressed for legislation that would have prevented congressmen, judges, and other public officials from accepting fees for speeches, a position consistent with anti-pass laws he sponsored when first elected to public office in 1906. On July 31, 1956, he married a government employee, Mrs. Edna Bryant Sierson, who on Aug. 30, 1956, was accidentally killed while horseback riding on the Burdick ranch near Williston. On Feb. 28, 1958, he married another congressional employee, Mrs. Jean Rogers. Some marital difficulties ensued which may have influenced his decision not to run for reelection in that year. The 1956 decision of the NPL to endorse candidates in the Democratic primary gave conservatives control of the North Dakota Republican party, and in 1958 they refused Burdick endorsement. He withdrew, influenced by the certainty that his NPL-endorsed son, Quentin, would be the Democratic general election candidate. He backed Quentin in the election, and his son became the first Democrat to be elected to the House of Representatives from North Dakota. Burdick's final political action was to facilitate the development of North Dakota into a two-party state. He died in Washington, D. C., a few days after his son became United States Senator."

From the description of Papers, 1897-1959 (University of North Dakota). WorldCat record id: 727740272

Usher L. Burdick served as Lieutenant-Governor of North Dakota and was later elected to Congress from that state. He also wrote several pamphlets and articles on aspects of North Dakota history. He began his inquiry into the Pound case at the request of Rex Lampman, who knew of Burdick's concerns about the possible political abuse of involuntary commitment laws.

From the description of Usher L. Burdick papers, 1945-1972. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80809204

From the description of Usher L. Burdick papers, 1945-1972. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702147911

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Burke, John, 1859-1937. Papers, 1906-1942 (inclusive). University of North Dakota, Chester Fritz Library
creatorOf Reno, Milo, 1866-1936. Papers, 1927-1959. [microfilm]. University of Iowa Libraries
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. Usher L. Burdick papers, 1945-1972. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ludlow mss., 1898-1948 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
creatorOf Burdick, Quentin N. (Quentin Northrup), 1908-1992. Papers, 1958-1968 University of North Dakota, Chester Fritz Library
referencedIn Peirce, J. Dexter, 1857-1945. J. Dexter Peirce collection, 1795-1945. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
referencedIn Witter Bynner papers, 1829-1965. Houghton Library
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. [Usher L. Burdick autographed clipping] University of North Texas Library, UNT
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. Usher L. Burdick papers, 1945-1972. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Daniels, Frances. Frances Daniels papers, 1950s. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
referencedIn North Dakota Farm Holiday Association. Records, 1932-1933, 1970. North Dakota State University Library
referencedIn Benington, Walter, b. 1872,. Ezra Pound Collection. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Paulson, John D., 1915-2001. John D. Paulson papers, 1932, 1958, 1981-1985, 1998. North Dakota State University Library
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. Usher Burdick papers, 1730-1958. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
creatorOf Buckler, Richard Thompson, 1865-1950. Richard T. Buckler and family papers, 1886-1957. Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn New Directions Publishing records Houghton Library
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. Correspondence, 1937. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Reno, Milo, 1866-1936. Papers, 1927-1959. University of Iowa Libraries
referencedIn Holiday meeting broadsides, 1930s. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
creatorOf Leekley, Richard. Richard Leekley papers, 1939-1940. Minnesota Historical Society Library
creatorOf Unger, Claude W., 1882-1945. C. W. Unger letters received, 1921-1937. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
referencedIn Theodore Roosevelt Collection: Books, pamphlets, periodicals, 18-- - <ongoing> Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. Papers, 1897-1959 University of North Dakota, Chester Fritz Library
referencedIn International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America. Local 74 (Minot, N.D.). International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffers, Warehousement, and Helpers of America, Local 74 records, 1936-1960; 1985. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
referencedIn Rayburn, Sam, 1882-1961, Papers, 1822, 1831, 1845, 1903-2007 Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
creatorOf Eastman, Mary H. (Mary Henderson), 1818-1887. The prophet of the sun : a romance of history / by Mary H. Eastman. Newberry Library
referencedIn Democratic-NPL Party (N.D.). North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party records, 1906-2009. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
referencedIn Blackorby, Edward Converse. Edward Converse Blackorby manuscript, 1998. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
creatorOf Burdick, Usher L. (Usher Lloyd), 1879-1960. Usher and Emma Burdick family correspondence, 1901-1940s. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
referencedIn Bangert, Charles G., 1879-1969. Papers, 1900-1966. North Dakota State University Library
referencedIn North Dakota congressional delegation newsletter collection, 1935-2010. State Historical Society of North Dakota State Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Arnold, Thurman Wesley, 1891-1969. person
correspondedWith Bangert, Charles G., 1879-1969. person
associatedWith Bank of Mecklenburg (Charlotte, N.C.) corporateBody
associatedWith Blackorby, Edward Converse. person
associatedWith Buckler, Richard Thompson, 1865-1950. person
associatedWith Burdick, Emma. person
associatedWith Burdick family. family
associatedWith Burdick, Quentin N. (Quentin Northrup), 1908-1992. person
associatedWith Burke, John, 1859-1937. person
associatedWith Bynner, Witter, 1881-1968. person
associatedWith Daniels, Frances. person
associatedWith Democratic-NPL Party (N.D.) corporateBody
associatedWith Eastman, Mary H. (Mary Henderson), 1818-1887. person
associatedWith Imai, Harry. person
associatedWith International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America. Local 74 (Minot, N.D.) corporateBody
associatedWith Lampman, Rex. person
associatedWith Leach, John. person
associatedWith Leekley, Richard. person
associatedWith Ludlow, Louis, 1873-1950 person
associatedWith Morès, Antoine Amédée Marie Vincent Manca de Vallombrosa, marquis de, 1858-1896. person
associatedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
associatedWith North Dakota Farm Holiday Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Orin G. Libby Manuscript Collection (Chester Fritz Library) corporateBody
associatedWith Paulson, John D., 1915-2001. person
associatedWith Peirce, J. Dexter, 1857-1945. person
associatedWith Pound, Dorothy. person
associatedWith Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972. person
associatedWith Rayburn, Sam, 1882-1961 person
associatedWith Reno, Milo, 1866-1936. person
associatedWith Unger, Claude W., 1882-1945. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
North Dakota
United States
North Dakota
North Dakota--Grand Forks
North Carolina--Charlotte
Poets, American
Banks and banking, American
Dakota Indians
Lieutenant governors
Little Bighorn, Battle of the, Mont., 1876


Birth 1879-02-21

Death 1960


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