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Dakota Constitutional Convention


Citizen delegates from Dakota Territory held the first Constitutional Convention in Sioux Falls on this date in 1883. The purpose of the convention was to frame a state constitution that would justify Dakota’s admittance as a state, or two. As it turned out, whether or not Dakota Territory should be divided into two separate states became the focus of debate during the convention.

Division of Dakota was not a new issue, however. Many proposals had been made in prior years, including a north-south, an east-west, and even a three-way division. The majority of southerners favored a division, believing the Territory was much too large to be admitted as a single state. An early proposal suggested that the northern half be re-named Pembina Territory, while the southern half be admitted to the Union as simply the state of Dakota, being the more populated of the two halves. Another proposal suggested the Territory be divided into northern and southern states, with the western third becoming the Black Hills Territory.

Those living in the north, however, favored a single entity, believing that such a large state would hold more power and be cheaper to run. Along the proposed border, residents opposed division, hoping to avoid being relegated to one area or the other, divided from neighbors, or becoming neglected on the fringes of either state.

When the territorial capital was moved from Yankton to Bismarck in 1883, southerners of the Territory clamored for division. They called a “pre-convention” in June and July of 1883, meeting in Huron to plan their agenda for the upcoming fall convention. Deciding to seek division from the north and admittance to the Union as a state, despite any feelings on the part of their northern neighbors, they discussed and outlined their plans for a state government. To the credit of the southern politicians, they were largely able to quiet opposition to division during the convention that fall, and even convinced most northerners of the benefits of creating two separate states.

Although the U.S. Senate passed the bill granting Dakota statehood the following year, the House failed to vote before their adjournment. The Territory would have to wait until 1889 to be granted statehood. The constitution drawn up in September of 1883, however, eventually became a large part of the South Dakota state constitution.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

Kingsbury, George W. 1915 History of Dakota Territory, Vol. II. S. J. Clarke
Publishing Company: Chicago.
Lounsberry, Clement A. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History. Liberty Press: Washington, D.C.