Dakota Datebook

North Dakota Secedes From The U.S.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

 

In 1934, controversial Governor William “Wild Bill” Langer was convicted of misappropriating federal resources for political reasons by promoting his political party, the Non-Partisan League, to federal workers in the state capital. This was a felony, and state law declared that no one could be Governor if convicted of a felony.

 

Lieutenant Governor Ole Olson believed that Langer’s authority was removed at the moment of conviction. Langer asserted that he would remain governor until he exhausted the appeals process. Langer continued to perform the duties of governor, supported by his followers, while Olson and his party struggled to take control.

 

On this date in 1934 the Supreme Court of North Dakota decided that Langer was to be removed from office. Langer stubbornly refused, barracading himself and his most trusted supporters in the governor’s offices.

 

At 10 o’clock that evening, Langer and 26 of his followers signed a declaration of independence, each declaring that they were present when the governor “declared martial law marking the Declaration of Independence for the State of North Dakota.” An hour later, Langer issued Executive Order No. 10, calling out the National Guard and explicitly declaring martial law over the entire state of North Dakota.

 

By the morning of the 18th, however, tempers had cooled. Langer and his staff left the governor’s office and departed the Capitol grounds. Ole Olson took his position as interim governor and withdrew the order of martial law, but did not make any mention of Langer’s sedition. Two years later, with his conviction overturned, Langer was re-elected as Governor, then later elected to the United States Congress in 1940.

 

However, Congress refused to seat Langer due to his history of questionable ethics, and his declaration of independence was shown as evidence. Langer’s response avoided the secessionist language, and he said it was simply “a nucleus for going out and putting up one great, big fight.” Langer’s true intentions on that evening in 1934 may not be known, but one might argue that for those few hours the State of North Dakota was briefly an independent nation due to “Wild Bill” Langer’s struggle to stay in power.

This Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.

Sources:

Senator from North Dakota : hearings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections, United States Senate, Seventy-seventh Congress, first session, relative to a protest to the seating of William Langer, a senator from the state of North Dakota : November 3 to 18, 1941., USGPO, 1941.

 

“Footnotes to History”, http://www.buckyogi.com/footnotes/natno.htm retrieved 6/17/2013.

 

Erwin, James. Declarations of Independence: Encyclopedia of American Autonomous and Secessionist Movements, 2007

 

Cooper, Jerry and Glenn Smith. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard, University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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