The Making of a State and a Constitution: An Overview
From 1861 until 1889, what would become North Dakota was part of Dakota Territory. A region remained a territory until Congress believed it was ready for statehood. Under the territorial system the president appointed the governors, secretary, and judges; the people elected a non-voting delegate to Congress and the territorial legislature. The governor appointed other officials and could veto legislative bills.
By the 1880s people, especially in southern Dakota, were tired of presidential and congressional control of the political system. The statehood movement grew, especially after the corruption of Governor Nehemiah Ordway’s administration was exposed in 1883. That year and in 1885 residents approved a constitution for Dakota, but Congress rejected the plan. Finally on February 22, 1889, Congress passed the Omnibus Bill that permitted constitution-making for North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington.
The following North Star Dakotan accounts recreate the important steps in constitution-making and present two controversial issues that faced delegates: child labor and women’s right to vote. These viewpoints are quoted directly from the printed record of the constitutional convention.
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.