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Joint Commission


For thirty-eight years North and South Dakota were joined at the hip, but they were never really a unified territory. Even from the very beginning there had been a difference in ideology and a sense of regionalism. Although they developed two separate social and economic systems, they jointly accumulated a heavy debt and thousands of records from almost four decades of cohabitation, sharing the same name and the same government. Section 6 of the Omnibus Bill mandated that during the state constitutional conventions, a commission shall meet at Bismarck and obtain an equitable disposition of all records and territorial property, as well as adjust the debts and liabilities of each proposed state.

Known as the Joint Commission, six members from each state met on July 16thand began developing procedures for reviewing the territorial records now residing in Bismarck. The Joint Commission was itself divided into six committees including Records, the Public Library, Miscellaneous Property, Militia, Federal Appropriations and the most significant committee, Claims and Accounts, dealing with financial matters.

Claims and Accounts had the more difficult task, as most territorial institutions had been bonded with outstanding indebtedness. North Dakota had a hospital, a university and a penitentiary, as did South Dakota, but South Dakota also supported a Deaf School, a Reform School, a School of Mines, two normal schools, and an Agricultural College. An agreement was reached where each state would assume the indebtedness of the institutions within its borders with some adjustments due to appropriations for building repairs allowed at the last session. For this South Dakota would pay North Dakota $45,000. In the end, North Dakota assumed almost six hundred thousand dollars of debt for its institutions, including the Capitol Building. South Dakota’s debt was approximately seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Armaments belonging to the Territorial Militia would remain with each armory except the .45 caliber rifles at the Capitol, which would be granted to North Dakota.

Significant territorial records were to be transcribed and provided to each state. Records from institutions would remain within the state of issue. The remainder of the accumulated records would be divided by lot, with a coin toss determining who got first choice. Among these were the correspondence from the governors and other elected officials, warrant registers, proclamations, and the oaths and bonds of territorial officials. With a sealed bid of $4,000, South Dakota obtained the Territorial Library.

It took fifteen days for the Joint Commission to complete its task, and on July 31st a final draft concerning the division of property and indebtedness was submitted to the respective conventions for approval. With this amicable settlement, they were ready to go their separate ways.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Journal of the Constitutional Convention for North Dakota , Publisher Bismarck, N.D., Tribune, State Printers, 1889.

Official report of the proceedings and debates of the first Constitutional Convention of North Dakota, assembled in the city of Bismarck, July 4th to Aug. 17th, 1889 . Publisher Bismarck, N.D., Tribune, State Printers, 1889