County Government Day

Purpose

The purpose of The American Legion County Government Day is to provide high school students with the opportunity to learn about how their local government works. Each year in Nebraska, over 5,000 students in more than 60 counties spend County Government Day visiting their local courthouse and learning more about the duties and responsibilities of various county officials. Students also participate in a mock trial. This program enjoys cooperation from school and county officials as well as the U.S. Army National Guard in Nebraska.

History of the Program

Each of the 93 counties in Nebraska has its own governmental organization. In many ways, this organizational structure is similar from one county to another; in other ways, it may be dissimilar depending upon the population size of the county. In any event, the services performed by counties are those designated by legislative enactment, and are designed to provide governmental services for all citizens. In the democratic system, governments have been established to carry out assigned functions, and local governments are in a unique position to relate these functions to the needs and wishes of the citizens that they serve.County government in the United States has deep historical roots. When the framers of the Nebraska Constitution established a framework of governance for the state, a system of county organization was created as an integral part of that framework.This organization reflected characteristics of a governmental system that was developed in English colonies in America, and which was, in many respects, similar to those that had existed in England at the time of colonization.

At Cornhusker Boys’ State one year, Chief Justice Robert G. Simmons of the Nebraska Supreme Court, a Past Department Commander of the American Legion, was in charge of the elections. He overheard a boy, who had been defeated for state office in the primary election, say in tones of disgust, “I guess all there is left for me to do is run for one of those old county offices.” That remark bothered the Chief Justice. He knew that county government was important; because it touched the daily lives of the people probably more closely than any other form of government.Yet he knew it was misunderstood, even as the Boys' Stater proved.He knew that good government and good citizenship had to start at home. Considering all these points, Chief Justice Simmons conceived the idea of providing instruction in government at the county level, as Boys' State and Girls' State gave it at the state level. Cornhusker Boys' and Girls' County Government was the outgrowth of that idea.

The years of World War II prevented putting the idea into concrete action. However, when the state conventions of The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary were held in the late summer of 1947, Chief Justice Simmons went before both groups to plead for this new idea. He won endorsement from both organizations and was also given financial backing.

To give permanency to the program Cornhusker Boys' and Girls' County Government was officially incorporated under the laws of the State of Nebraska on November 17, 1947. At the outset, the corporation had as its board of directors Chief Justice Simmons; Dr. Archer Burnham, executive secretary of the Nebraska State Education Association; Department Commander Earle P. Barnes and Department Adjutant R. C. Patterson, all of The American Legion, and Department President Helen Magnuson, Mrs. Bess Swett, a former District President, and Mrs. Alma Armstrong, a Past Department President, of the American Legion Auxiliary.

For Additional Information:

- Download Suggested Activity Program for County Government Day

- Download Guide to Nebraska County Government Booklet

- Contact American Legion Department of Nebraska Assistant Adjutant Brent Hagel-Pitt at 402-464-6338.