Dakota Datebook

End in Sight


On this date in 1889 the Territorial Legislature was at Day 58 of the sixty day session.  It had been a tumultuous session.  Special interests groups, such as the Farmers Alliance, which had actually garnered the right to call up any bill at any time, created a fractured legislature.  Taxes upon railroad property and the adoption of a Usury Bill limiting high interest rates created additional friction in the Republican ranks.  Cities and counties were pitted against each other vying for the limited resources of Territorial purse strings that were about to close.  Another significant factor is that under the legislative rules, bills were still being introduced, including bills that had already been defeated reappearing in different form.  Additionally, both the Organic Law and the Omnibus Bill allowed for the donation of public lands for the purpose of sustaining agricultural colleges and experiment stations.  This encouraged additional institutions, but the initial appropriations would create an insurmountable bonding debt to be inherited by the fledgling states.

But it was the contemptuous relationship with the Executive Branch that made this last week of the session especially caustic.  Under existing law, any bills sent to the Governor that were not signed within three days became law unless vetoed by the Governor, however if the legislature adjourned prior to the bill being acted upon, the bill failed.  To ensure that any bills, including the railroad taxation bills and any appropriation bills, could have the chance to pass over a governor’s veto, the Legislature had until 5 P.M. on March 5th to carry the bill to the Governor’s Office allowing three days prior to the end of the session on March 8th.  Basically, the essence of the legislative session would come down to hammering out any disagreements and details in two days, March 4th and 5th.  An extension of the session required the permission of the President of the United States.

Governor Church was not without reason in vetoing a number of bills.  Many of the bills carried appropriations that could not be sustained, many were special interest bills and, in the changing political scene, a number of the bills would be better dealt with after statehood was attained, such as prohibition and women’s suffrage.

It had been a grueling ordeal and there was still a lot of work to be done but with the end in sight, the Jamestown Weekly Alert published an appropriate eulogy, “On Its Last Legs.  (The) Last Territorial Legislature Soon to Die, Unwept, Unhonored and Unsung.”

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Weekly Tribune March 8, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert March 7, 1889

Territory of Dakota, Journal of the Council of the Eighteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly, January 1889, Bismarck Tribune Printers. & Binders, 1889

Laws of the Eighteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Dakota, Bismarck Tribune Printers & Binders, 1889

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