Journalistic coverage of the 1883, 1885 and 1889 constitutional conventions.

Author:Spurlin, Candice
Position:South Dakota constitutional conventions - III. The 1885 Constitutional Convention B. State Sovereignty and National Politics through V. Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 230-255


In September 1885, the Evening Free Press (Pierre) reprinted an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which once opposed the division of the Dakota Territory into two states but now supports it:

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has generally opposed the division of Dakota, but now comes out in favor of it. We clip the following editorial from that journal of the 9th: The Sioux Falls convention, which assembled yesterday, while it lacks some of the spontaneous and enthusiastic popular backing which has accompanied other similar movements, serves an important purpose. It stands a concrete protest against the tyranny which a democratic congress has determined shall characterize the relation of the general government toward the helpless people of the territories. In fact, just as far as there was less bustle of preparation for this convention, in just as far as the people of South Dakota stopped to question whether it was worth their while to make a success of this meeting to draft a form of government, by just so much do they emphasize the injustice which has almost driven away hope, the last resort of those who suffer wrong. There is nothing which the people of Dakota could do to express their desire for division and admission, for the first right of American freemen, participation in the government which they acknowledge, that they have not already done. It is not wonderful if it should seem to them scarcely worth the while to frame another protest and appeal, to present to the body which has denied them when the proof was equally as clear as now. It is as a continuance of agitation that this convention is valuable, and that it has a work to do. Agitation is the only resort short of revolution which remains to a people kept out of just rights by the insolent dominion of superior power. And agitation has been found effective in this country, where people think for themselves. All that Dakota has to do is to keep her demand before the eyes of the people in order to win her final triumph. There is no longer a shred of pretext for opposing division and admission. The census returns have swept away the last frail defense behind which partisans took refuge. Not even a democrat will have the hardihood henceforth to assume that Dakota lacks one of the requisites of statehood. With a case so clearly established, this question cannot longer be kept from assuming rank as a national issue. If the democratic party insists, as it is prepared to do, that Dakota shall stay out simply because her coming in would probably imply an addition of two senators on the republican side, then Dakota will play a prominent part in the next national contest between the two parties. There is a limit beyond which not even party attachment can be relied upon for the perpetuation of wrong. It is, therefore, well considered for Dakota's representatives to meet in council, to prepare a constitution and to renew formally their petition for the rights that are constitutionally theirs. Let the territory speak once more with no uncertain sound. If a greedy and unprincipled natty shall again turn a deaf ear, the people will soon hear and answer. (48) C. CONVENTION PERSONNEL, COMMITTEES AND PROCEDURES

On April 10, 1885, the Black Hills Daily Times (Deadwood) publicized scheduling and procedures of the 1885 constitutional convention.

The law providing for the holding of a constitutional convention for that portion of Dakota lying south of the 46th parallel, introduced and championed by Hon. F. J. Washabaugh of Deadwood, provides that on Tuesday, the first day of September, 1885, the separate counties shall, at a regularly called election, select delegates to attend the convention at Sioux Falls on the 29th of September, which convention shall draft a constitution, which shall be submitted to a vote of the people at a special election, at the same election state officers provided for in the constitution, members of congress and members of the legislature shall be elected. Members of said constitutional convention shall be paid at the rate of $2.50 for each day's attendance and five cents per mile for the distance necessarily traveled, but cannot draw pay for more than a thirty day's session. The expenses pertaining to the convention and elections shall be paid originally by the territory, but afterwards refunded by the counties participating in proportion to their assessed valuation. The convention shall consist of one hundred and eleven delegates, apportioned among the counties as follows: (49) Aurora 2 Bon Homme 3 Buffalo 1 Brule 3 Beadle 4 Brookings 3 Brown 4 Butte 1 Clark 2 Clay 2 Custer 1 Campbell 1 Codington 2 Charles Mix 1 Day 2 Davison 2 Deuell 1 Douglas 2 Edmunds 1 Faulk 1 Fall River 1 Grant 1 Hand 3 Hamlin 1 Hanson 2 Hughes 3 Hutchinson 3 Hyde 1 Jerauld 2 Kingsbury 2 Lawrence 8 Lake 4 Lincoln 2 McCook 2 McPherson 1 Moody 2 Miner 2 Minnehaha 6 Pennington 2 Potter 1 Roberts 1 Sanborn 2 Spink 6 Sully 2 Turner 4 Union 3 Walworth 1 Yankton 4 Total: 111 Halfway through the 1885 convention, this article appeared in the Black Hills Daily Times (Deadwood), as an announcement from the convention delegates to the people of Dakota. A number of topics were discussed, including corporations.

We the undersigned, were appointed by the Constitutional Convention, to issue an address to the people of Dakota, to accompany the Constitution prepared by that Convention, setting forth to you in a brief manner the reasons which, in their judgment, should commend this instrument to your hearty support; and the way in which its adoption would advance your interests, and secure a speedy admission of this State into the Union.

Your representatives in that Convention, have spent but fifteen days, of the thirty days allotted to them, and but little over half the appropriation set apart for them by the Legislature, in preparing the Constitution which we submit to you for adoption or rejection.

In order to accomplish this work in this short time, and to effect this saving of the public money, we have labored night and day, working from early morning until late at night.

The delegates to that Convention, were composed in a large degree of the farming and industrial element of the people, while the mercantile and professional classes were also represented by many of their ablest and most respected members.

Your delegates have had the advantage of having before them in their formation of this Constitution, the Constitutions of all the States of the Union.

Among these especially do we call your attention to the last reform Constitutions of Pennsylvania and Illinois, in which are to be found the latest, best and most stringent guards, against the abuses of the power of corporations, special legislation, bribery and corruption, excessive taxation, and the extravagant incurring of municipal, county and state indebtedness, and the most careful and guarded protection of the school funds and interests of the people.

With the aid of these former Constitutions, and especially of the two last named, the Convention has been able, we think, to combine in the Constitution we present to you, all the best provisions of these Constitutions, together with such others, as we could frame ourselves upon the subjects referred to.


We call your attention, especially, to the provisions of this Constitution in Article 3, Sections 4, 8, 25, 26 and 28.

By these Sections your Constitution, if adopted, will restrict the power of the Legislature to enact special laws, and will thereby prevent, as far as can be done by a Constitution, log-rolling, jobbing, bribery and corruption. It will make it dangerous, for a legislator to be bribed, and dangerous, for any one to bribe him.

It will make Capital Commissions, and other like measures of colossal bribery, which have disgraced and injured this Territory impossible under the State. In this same connection we ask your attention to Section 11 of Article 4, with regard to the bribery of the Governor.


We call your especial attention, to the provision upon appropriations, contained in Section 10 of Article 4, and Section 2 of Article 12. By these provisions, we think the Constitution will effectually prevent such disgraceful appropriations as have characterized many of your Legislators. By the jobbery, always incident to a general appropriation bill, over $80,000 were expended by the last legislation against the protests of many of its best ... members.


We also call your especial attention to the limit placed by the Constitution upon taxation. That limit for the State is two mills on a dollar, of the assessed valuation, of all taxable property, in the State, be ascertained by the latest assessment made for State and county purposes.

The maximum tax provided for by your last Territorial Legislature is three mills on a dollar, larger than the taxation of twelve States in the Union; and the prospect is that in every successive Territorial Legislature, especially if it shall continue to meet in North Dakota, under the influence of the immense Railroad corporations of that section, the rate of your taxation, and the amount of annual expenditures, will increase in an almost geometrical ratio, until the burdens of taxation of the people of this Territory, will be larger than that of the people of any State in the Union.

This one feature, answers completely and forever, the argument of the enemies of Statehood, that a State government, will cost you more than a Territorial government.

The fact is that under the present Territorial government, not only do you pay all the expenses, Territorial, county, and municipal, which you would pay under a State government, except the salaries of a few officers, and the pay of Legislators, but you pay almost twice the sum annually that you could pay under the limitations of this Constitution.


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