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Nodland: North Dakota's unique constitution and why it matters

"A few months ago, I wrote an article on the United States constitution and how it was framed at the beginning of the United States. This has inspired me to look into the constitution of North Dakota and how it was framed," writes George Nodland.

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Fmr. Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson

A few months ago, I wrote an article on the United States constitution and how it was framed at the beginning of the United States. This has inspired me to look into the constitution of North Dakota and how it was framed. North Dakota was part of the Dakota Territory created on March 2, 1861 by a bill signed by President Buchanan, which originally included both North and South Dakota, and most of Montana and Wyoming. Then congress created the Enabling Act on February 22, 1889, signed by President Cleveland which provided for creating four states including North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington. The Enabling Act provided that 75 delegates meet in Bismarck on July 4, 1889, to frame a constitution which would be submitted to voters in October that same year.

These seventy five delegates were elected from the thirty eight territorial counties in the state (Fifty six from east of the Missouri and nineteen from west of the Missouri). They were all men (women could not vote at that time) and they were very young compared to today. Sixty five of them were less than forty years old as the state settlers in the territory were young men. None of them were Dakota Territory born. Fifty two were American- born and twenty three were foreign- born, ten from Canada and thirteen from Europe.

There were two main controversies that caused most of the issues in the convention. One was the question of prohibition of manufacturing or importation of intoxicating liquor. The delegates knew this was a much divided issue, so they had it voted on by the people before the constitution vote and it passed on a slim margin of 18,552 to 17,393. The other issue was how many and where to locate state institutions. Article 19 called for thirteen public institutions in the state. Dickinson Normal School, (Dickinson State University today), was not in this Article 19 as it was established later on June 24, 1918. The delegates felt that there would be an advantage for the cities that would get a public Institution for population growth, income, etc.

Other issues were the western delegates fought the adoption of the number of legislative districts which provided one Senator and two Representatives per district which favored the more populated eastern districts. Another issue was women were not allowed to vote, but Native Americans and Black Americans were allowed to vote. (Today, all American citizens in North Dakota are allowed to vote in all elections). There was also a long discussion on child labor for children under thirteen years old. It finally was approved to not allow children under thirteen to work in a factory, mine, or workshop, but there was no limit on the age of children working on a farm as it was considered healthy out in the open air.

The constitution is very long, about six times the length of the United States constitution. It has two hundred seventeen sections, grouped in twenty articles. The convention took 45 days and was drafted on August 17, 1889, and was approved by the people of the state on October 1st, 1889, including the positions of Governor, Legislators, state officials and congressmen. President Harrison declared North Dakota a state on November 2, 1889, and Governor John Miller became the first state Governor at that time. Thus, the beginning of our great state, North Dakota!

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George Nodland is an former politician who served in the North Dakota Senate from the 36th district from 2008 to 2012. He is a guest columnist for The Dickinson Press.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Dickinson Press, nor Forum ownership.

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