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Out of Money


August 15, 1889 marked the forty-third day of the Constitutional Convention, and great strides had been made in cementing a constitution for the State of North Dakota. Congress had appropriated twenty thousand dollars to cover the expenditures of the convention, but with expenses running over six hundred dollars per day, there was only enough money to cover the first thirty-one days. They were out of money. Many clerks and accountants were discharged shortly after August 3rd. With no funding in territorial coffers to provide payment, the new State of North Dakota would need to assume the debt. The convention would provide certificates of indebtedness to the remaining handful of clerks, pages, doorkeepers, custodians and stenographers who were deemed necessary to complete the task. The rates varied from two dollars per day for a page, five dollars for a janitor and six dollars for a stenographer or committee clerk.

On August 5ththe Great Seal was approved and the name, North Dakota, was also added to the constitution. Major John Wesley Powell, director of the Geological Survey, addressed the convention on the value of irrigation, but more importantly, he advised the new state to retain the rights to all flowing waters within its boundaries, for which a resolution was soon adopted.

One of the more heated battles of the convention came on August 7thas the Committee on Public Institutions permanently placed the Capitol in Bismarck. On numerous occasions, Jamestown had attempted to steal the capital, but at the convention, it was Grand Forks that made a bid. In a bitter session, proponents of Grand Forks accused Bismarck and Fargo of collusion. For its support of Bismarck, Fargo obtained the much coveted Agricultural College. The Committee also named the locations of normal schools, as called for in Section 17 of the Omnibus Bill. Additional institutions were also placed across the state. Alexander Griggs stated that it was the job of the legislature to place these institutions at the will of the people, but the report of the committee prevailed.

On August 13ththe Constitution in its entirety was submitted to the members of the Committee of the Whole along with recommendations for changes. Some major stumbling blocks still had to be dealt with, like suffrage, prohibition and the Australian ballot, but for the convention members, the end was in sight. Some were anxious to finish as it was time to harvest the grain; others, looking toward the fall elections, were anxious to harvest the votes.

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