Quentin N. Burdick, U.S. Senator

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Quentin Northrup Burdick

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Munich, Cavalier, ND, USA
Death: September 8, 1992 (84)
Fargo, Cass, ND, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Usher L. Burdick and Emma Cecelia Burdick
Husband of Jocelyn Burdick, U.S. Senator
Brother of Rosemary Burdick and Eugene Allan Burdick

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About Quentin N. Burdick, U.S. Senator


Quentin Northrup Burdick (June 19, 1908 – September 8, 1992) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he represented North Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives (1959–1960) and the U.S. Senate (1960–1992). At the time of his death, he was the third longest-serving Senator (after Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd) among current members of the Senate.

Early life and education

Quentin Burdick was born in Munich, North Dakota, as the oldest of three children of Usher Lloyd Burdick and Emma Cecelia Robertson. His father was a Republican politician who served as Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota (1911–1913) and a U.S. Representative (1935–1959). His mother was the daughter of the first white settler in the area of North Dakota that lies west of Park River. He was the brother of Eugene Allan Burdick, who was judge of the fifth judicial district of North Dakota from 1953 to 1978. His sister Rosemary was married to Robert W. Levering, who was a U.S. Representative from Ohio (1959–1961).

In 1910, Burdick moved with his family to Williston, where his father engaged in farming and practiced law. As a child, he enjoyed breaking wild ponies on his father's ranch. He attended local public schools, and graduated in 1926 from Williston High School, where he was class president and captain of the football team. He then studied at the University of Minnesota, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1931. During college, he played on the football team as quarterback to Bronko Nagurski, and was president of the Sigma Nu fraternity. He also suffered a knee injury that disqualified him from military service in World War II. In 1932, he received his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and was admitted to the bar.

Early career

Burdick joined his father's law firm in Fargo, where he advised farmers who were threatened with foreclosure. He later recalled, "I guess I acquired a social conscience during those bad days, and ever since I've had the desire to work toward bettering the living conditions of the people." In 1933, he married Marietta Janecky, to whom he remained married until her death in 1958; the couple had one son and three daughters. Like his father, Burdick became active in politics and joined the Nonpartisan League (NPL), a populist-progressive group which was allied with the Republican Party. As a candidate for the NPL, he unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 1934 and 1940, state senator from Cass County in 1936, and lieutenant governor in 1942.

Burdick, who believed the NPL was dividing the state's progressive vote, began to advocate aligning the NPL with the Democratic Party. He subsequently ran for Governor of North Dakota in 1946 as a Democrat, but was again unsuccessful. He was a delegate for former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, who ran as a candidate of the Progressive Party, in the 1948 presidential election. In 1956, the NPL finally aligned with the Democratic Party to create the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. That same year, Burdick suffered his sixth and final electoral defeat when he ran against Republican incumbent Milton Young for the U.S. Senate.

Congressional career

U.S. House of Representatives

In the spring of 1958, Usher Burdick, who was afraid of being defeated for re-election in the Republican primary, offered to withdraw his candidacy if the NPL agreed to support his son as the Democratic candidate for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Quentin subsequently received the NPL endorsement in April, and was elected to North Dakota's At-large congressional district the following November. With his victory, he became the first Democrat elected to the House of Representatives from North Dakota.

During his tenure in the House, Burdick served as a member of the House Interior Committee, where he promoted the Garrison Diversion Project to provide water from the Missouri River to North Dakota. He received high ratings from organized labor and the Americans for Democratic Action. An opponent of the Eisenhower administration's farm policies, he called for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson his maiden speech on the House floor.

U.S. Senate

After the death of Senator William Langer in November 1959, Burdick ran in a special election on June 28, 1960 to fill the remaining four and a half years of Langer's term. His Republican opponent was Governor John E. Davis. During the campaign, Burdick received strong support from the National Farmers Union, and called for high price supports and strict production controls on grains with high surpluses. His campaign slogan, "Beat Benson with Burdick," referred to Agriculture Secretary Benson, whose policies were unpopular with the state's wheat farmers. Burdick narrowly defeated Davis by a margin of 1,118 votes. Nine days after the election, he married Jocelyn Birch Peterson; she had two children from a previous marriage, and together the couple had one son.

On August 8, 1960, Burdick resigned his House seat and was sworn in as a member of the U.S. Senate. He secured a full six-year term in the heavily Democratic year of 1964, having defeated Republican Thomas Kleppe, later a member of the U.S. House from North Dakota and the United States Secretary of the Interior. Burdick easily defeated Kleppe in a rematch in 1970, another national Democratic year. He was reelected by wide margins in 1976 and 1982. Burdick became the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 1987.


Burdick died from heart failure at St. Luke's Hospital in Fargo, at age 84. After his death, his widow Jocelyn was appointed by Governor George Sinner to fill his unexpired term until a special election.

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Quentin N. Burdick, U.S. Senator's Timeline

June 19, 1908
Munich, Cavalier, ND, USA
September 8, 1992
Age 84
Fargo, Cass, ND, USA