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North Dakota’s First Year


On this date in 1890, one full year had elapsed since the creation of the states of North and South Dakota. On November 4th, 1889, Gov. John Miller issued a proclamation requesting all duly elected legislators to meet on Tuesday, November 19th, to elect two senators for the United States Congress and attend to the duties of setting up the laws for the new government. On the first ballot, Gilbert A Pierce was elected the first US Senator, but it took nine more ballots before Lyman Casey won a clear majority to become the second Senator. They would join Henry Clay Hansbrough who had been elected as the first congressman in the General Election.

The newly created Constitution outlined the rights of the citizens of North Dakota, but it was the duty of the legislature to define these rights and set up a civil and penal code. For this purpose the legislature was granted one hundred and twenty days instead of the sixty days allotted for a regular session. The legislators began the task of sorting through two hundred and thirty-nine senate bills and three hundred and fifty-seven house bills. They would use the full 120 days and adjourn on March 18, 1890.

With the Farmer’s Alliance in control, much of the session was involved with farmer related legislation. Several years of drought had famers eager to set interest rates on loans and limit the ability of banks to foreclosure on farmland. Another large block of time was spent limiting the power of the railroads and granting regulatory authority to the Board of Railroad Commissioners.

On February 3, 1890, Senate Bill 167 was introduced to move the Louisiana Lottery from Louisiana, where it was no longer sanctioned, to North Dakota. Money flowed freely into the hands of those who would support the bill and more was offered if it was passed. The Lottery Company offered the state one hundred fifty thousand dollars annually along with 250 thousand bushels of seed wheat for impoverished farmers. In the end, the House indefinitely postponed a vote on the bill, defeating it by inaction.

The Agricultural College, among other institutions, was authorized, but no funds were appropriated to construct them, making that the task of the cities where they were located. Women’s Suffrage was ignored. The Prohibition Law passed on December 19, 1889, with attempts to lessen the fines and eliminate jail time moderately successful.

It would take several more sessions to correct various omissions and errors in the new laws, but overall the new Ship of State was afloat. Popular pontificator Dennis Hannifin, the so-called Squatter Governor, and incidentally now a teetotaler, was pleased.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Bismarck Weekly Tribune March 14, 1890 page 1

Laws Passed at the First Session of the Legislative Assembly of the State of North Dakota, Bismarck Tribune Printers and Binders, Bismarck, ND. 1890

Journal of the Senate of the First Session of Legislative Assembly. Bismarck Tribune Printers and Binders, Bismarck, ND. 1890