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Centennial States


In 1889, following the Governor’s Proclamation providing for the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention, the political air was heating up across northern Dakota Territory. Although there were pleas from all across the territory to refrain from party politics and encourage voters to select those best suited to frame the constitution, political caucuses were being held in each of the twenty-five districts. There was too much at stake. The Constitution would shape how laws were made, what officials and agencies would govern, provide for constitutionally mandated educational institutions, and provide for the setup of county and local government.

For politicians, it was noted that the districts established in compliance with the Omnibus Bill could possibly be retained as the political districts after statehood. Getting early foot in the door as a delegate could be crucial for an extended career in politics. There was also the considerable influence by the railroads to obtain favorable constitutional privileges, by the Farmers Alliance to regulate big business, by the prohibitionists to add a plank to the constitution, and by the liquor dealers who opposed prohibition.

In Fargo, the various factions of the Republican Party had resolved their differences after a disappointing loss in the November election that allowed the single Democrat, Edwin McNeil, to be elected to the Senate from Cass County. In Bismarck things were not so peaceful when the Burleigh County Republican Committee, including former Territorial Governors Pierce and Ordway, met to plan their convention. E. A. Williams moved that the committee select the delegates, but this was looked upon as a way to control who got nominated, and after a heated exchange, that motion was defeated. It was then determined to allow the main convention to select the delegates on May 4th.

The Democrats were advised by none other than William Springer, whose tactics in the US House had delayed statehood for years. He suggested that each district elect officers and align with anti-prohibitionists, Farmers Alliance candidates, and even liberal Republicans to ensure at least a one-third representation in the Constitutional Convention.

But the highlight of the week was the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of George Washington taking the oath of office on the 30th Day of April in 1789. In a proclamation, Governor Mellette stated that, “The supreme duty of forming organic laws and government for two new states to be forever members of the Federal Union, which confronts the citizens of Dakota….render it specially fitting for them to devote a day of contrite prayer, thanksgiving songs and patriotic story.” After all, North and South Dakota were being called the “Centennial” States.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Weekly Tribune April 26, 1889

Jamestown Capital May 3, 1889

North Dakota Republican May 3, 1889