On this date in 1889, the Territorial Legislature was thirty-six days through the sixty day session and was getting down to business. The Farmers Alliance controlled the legislature, and as a result, bills dealing with the railroad and flour monopolies received considerable attention. The constitutionality of many of the proposed railroad bills was questioned due to the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act, and it was also necessary to ensure that any law enacted could be passed over the governor’s veto, which would surely come. The mining interests, who also suffered from high rail rates, supported the farmers. To emphasize this, a number of legislators took an excursion to the coal mine at Sims to examine the underground mine.
Many major bills surfaced at this time including two-year terms for sheriffs and county treasurers, a bill requiring marriage licenses, and also a Women’s Suffrage Bill. Mrs. Helen Barker, one of the founders of the Equal Suffrage Association from Huron was asked to address the legislature. Her speech was well received, but the bill was defeated, since many legislators believed women’s suffrage also meant prohibition, along with other social reforms. Those who supported suffrage had not wanted the bill introduced in the session as they feared a defeat would affect any consideration of suffrage being included in the state’s constitution.
In other business, Valley City won out over Fargo in the placement of the Agricultural College with a 15 to 5 vote in the Council, but when it came down to the final crunch, the bill failed to pass, giving Fargo a second chance.
With Congress slow to decide on the Omnibus Bill, there was talk of adjourning the legislature until Benjamin Harrison became President, and then imploring him to hold a special session of Congress. In all probability they would also have a new governor and would not have to worry about vetoes. The situation had worsened when the Legislature removed the $3.00 fees paid to the Governor for Notary Public licenses, allotting those fees instead to the Secretary of the Territory. The Governor claimed he needed those fees to pay his staff. Legislative members responded that if it he didn’t like it, he could resign. So intense was the dislike of Governor Church by the Republican legislators that a bill was introduced to change the name of Church County to McCormack County.
With such a hostile atmosphere existing already, Denny Hannifin, the pundit of the so-called “Third House,” stated he didn’t even need to create any havoc on his own, he only had to sit back, watch and smile.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Jamestown Weekly Alert February 14, 1889
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune February 15, 1889
The Grand Forks Weekly Herald February 14, 1889