The Constitutional Convention had gotten off to a slow start. It was not until the 11th Day of the convention that the first resolution or file was introduced. Even then, procedural problems plagued the session and hampered any significant progress. Using language found in the constitutions from other states, delegates introduced possible articles, but often these were redundant and covered a wide variety of topics. There was of yet, no unified guide on which to base the constitution.
On this date in 1889, the twentieth day of the convention, the Committee as a Whole was pursuing the concept of a single house or a bicameral legislature. Ruben Stevens of Lisbon proposed a unicameral system with approximately one hundred members from fifty legislative districts. This was championed heavily by The Bismarck Tribune and other state newspapers. The debate lasted almost four days, but in the end the idea was discarded.
Of course there was always the “Third House” to consider, or in the case of the Constitutional Convention, the Second House. The Squatter Governor, Dennis Hannifin was back, pontificating in his caustic style on the shape of politics and government in general. He desired tax reform in this constitution and stated, “No man should be compelled to pay taxes unless he owns a railroad, rides in palace cars or runs for office.” When it came to Prohibition, he believed that all alcohol sales should be prohibited except to temperance lecturers or political reformers, such as himself. He advocated numerous political funerals for “shake-hand” politicians as a provision of the constitution and, he added, that the new breed of politicians created by the Farmers Alliance was worthy of suspicion.
In fact, when it came to the Farmers Alliance, Hannifin said, ‘The rapidity with which the men are climbing from the plow to political eminence is raising a crop of rural dudes that is alarming. Unless something is done pretty soon there will be no one left to till the soil but women and children.” He suggested that the old-time politicians, such as he, should join the Alliance and hold the offices, otherwise agriculture in the Northwest will soon be a lost art.
Upon completing his speech amid generous applause, especially from members of the press, the Squatter Governor ensured his followers that he would remain vigilant and promised to continue to submit his Bill of Rights – or Wrongs – to the Constitutional Convention.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune July 19, 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.