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Williams’ Constitution


Twenty-five days into the Constitutional Convention for North Dakota, the Constitution was progressing rapidly. By this date in 1889, over one hundred and thirty resolutions or files had been introduced since July 12th. These covered a variety of topics from the Preamble to Women’s Suffrage, but originally there was no uniform constitution on which to base the resolutions. The subjects were introduced at random and were sent to one of twenty-three committees to be adopted, revised or discarded. The deadline for the introduction of resolutions was July 22nd unless approved by a unanimous consent of the Committee of the Whole.

On July 20th, E. A. Williams introduced a complete constitution. Known as File 106, it was well organized and legally sound. Complete with a preamble, it was neatly divided by topic and concise in the responsibilities of each unit of government. Williams claimed that he had no knowledge of the origin of the document except that it had been given to him by a Bismarck attorney who had received it from an Eastern attorney. It would take fifteen years before it was finally revealed that Professor James Bradley Taylor of the Harvard Law School was the author. He compiled the document at the request of Henry Villard, Chairman of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Due to the fact that anything supplied by the railroad would come under suspicion, it was deemed prudent to keep the origin a secret.

Immediately after the introduction of the Williams constitution, the South Dakota Constitution was also introduced as File 107. The convention finally had some substantial examples on which to base the constitution. The Williams document would be heavily used over the next several weeks as the details were ironed out.

All committee reports were required by July 25th, including the Suffrage Committee. Although full suffrage was not to be granted, women were to be allowed to vote at any election held specifically for school purposes and to hold school offices. The legislature was empowered to decide on full suffrage, but that was modified, allowing the legislature to decide only when authorized by a vote of the people. That was an important provision, since an election to authorize the legislature would have to be held prior to the legislative session.

As the rest of the committees reported, a constitution unique to North Dakota began to take shape.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Weekly Tribune July 26, 1889

Ibid. August 2, 1889

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