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Capitol Relocation


This week in 1889, Bismarck was busy preparing for the arrival of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, which was to begin on the 4thDay of July, as stipulated in the Omnibus Bill. But among a number of the delegates there was growing discontent with the Capital City. In fact, there was some indication, as acknowledged in the Northwest News published by W.R. Bierly, that the Farmers Alliance was actively promoting the relocation of the convention to another city. Although the Omnibus Bill required that the delegates must convene in Bismarck, the capital city, given enough support, there was a remote chance that another city could be called upon to host the convention.

There were two possible ways of implementing the change. The Omnibus Bill specifically stipulated that the convention take place in Sioux Falls for the South Dakota convention, but for the conventions in Washington, Montana, and North Dakota, it stated that the delegates shall meet at the seat of government. So, a special session of the legislature could change the seat of government. However, this was unlikely as it would require a meeting of the full legislature, including those from the southern half of the territory. But there was another possible solution. While the delegates were instructed to meet in Bismarck, and after organizing, to follow a set of procedures, there was no mandate to remain there for the rest of the convention.

The motive to relocate was quite simple. It appears that the larger hotels in the city were increasing their rates from one dollar and seventy-five cents per night to four dollars a night. This may seem like a trivial problem, but the delegates were not the only ones upset. Lobbyists and other people with a vested interest in the Constitution needed to be there to voice their opinions or influence the delegates. They were outraged at the increase. Other cities, such as Jamestown, Fargo and Devils Lake offered to house the delegates for little or nothing. However, that also required a favorable nod to relocate the Capitol to that city.

Clement Lounsberry, former editor of the Bismarck Tribune, had cautioned against what he called, a Capitol on Wheels. A majority of each session of the legislature would be engaged in determining the location of the capital and the inherent power to sell the capital location would lead to corruption and instability. With a significant amount of land and money already invested, the capital needed to remain in Bismarck. The greed of a few businessmen could be dealt with in other ways.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Mandan Pioneer May 3, 1889

Bismarck Tribune June 24, 1889

Grand Forks Herald June 23, 1889