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Constitution Composition


After forty-five days, North Dakota had its Constitution, but where did it come from? According to Clement Lounsberry, the delegates had access to the constitutions and charters of other states. These documents had been compiled over a period of one hundred years and were valuable in providing features that had stood the test of time as well as the pitfalls to avoid. Also, E. A. Williams had supplied them with abstracts from Hough’s American Constitution that provided topics which he thought may be relevant to include in North Dakota’s constitution. The Omnibus bill contained certain features that needed to be addressed such as the distribution of lands granted for public institutions or for educational purposes, and they needed to be made part of the constitution. It also required a compact between the state and the United States.

Gov. Millette had cautioned against over-legislation, as times would change and the constitution needed to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes. When the convention had completed its task on August 17th, only a small portion of the constitution was original. Most of it had been borrowed from other documents. From the Illinois Constitution they gleamed the system of county courts. From Minnesota they adopted the provisions for the sale of school lands and the investment of the monies derived from the sale. From Pennsylvania’s Constitution they obtained the section on the Board of Pardons, and from New Hampshire they adopted the provisions on amending the constitution.

Some of the key sections on the taxation of the railroads came from the Constitution of California. This topic had been heatedly debated throughout the convention. The provisions from the California Constitution were a last minute compromise to appease the Famers Alliance members who had controlled much of the convention.

From the complete constitution introduced by Williams and authored by James Thayer, they adopted the Preamble and many of the Legislative provisions. The United States Constitution provided some of the provisions in the declaration of rights. The ceding of jurisdiction over military posts came from the Secretary of War. The inscription of the Great Seal, “Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable,” came from an 1830 speech by Daniel Webster to Congress concerning state’s rights.

The convention was over, but the politics were just beginning. All over the Territory, political conventions were quickly convening, for in only six weeks they would be electing new officials to administer the new state.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune August 23, 1889

Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History, Clement Augustus Lounsberry Washington D. C., Liberty Press 1919.