Preamble Debate Erupts; “Almighty God” Questioned

July 18, 1889

The proposed preamble to the new constitution came under fire today. The preamble, as set forth by the committee of the whole, read: “We, the people of North Dakota, acknowledging the supreme and perfect law of Almighty God, in order to perpetuate the peace, prosperity, and happiness of our citizens, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

David Bartlett.  Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Cooperstown lawyer David Bartlett rose to move that the words, “acknowledging the supreme and perfect law of Almighty God,” be removed. He argued that the framers of the U.S. Constitution kept Almighty God out of their work. “Unfortunately,” he maintained, “there is a large class of people that declare that the only law there is lies within the lids of the Bible.”

Reuben Stevens.  Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Reuben Stevens, a lawyer from Lisbon, immediately rose to challenge Bartlett. “When you strike those words from this Constitution, you strike a blow at civil liberty, because without a true reverence for Almighty God all forms of government must crumble in the dust, and the enlightenment of our day goes back into the dark ages of the past.” Stevens charged that the move to remove Almighty God was a total disgrace.

Fellow delegate from Dickey County, Lorenzo Bartlett, was also disturbed by the acknowledgment of the perfect law of Almighty God. “For my part I am willing that they should claim that they are governed by a higher power, but not to say that they are controlled by the law of God,” he stated. He went on to move that “Supreme Ruler of the Universe” replace “Almighty God.” Bartlett’s motion lost and “Almighty God” stayed in the preamble.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change