Dakota Datebook

Session Dilemma


Having completed a third of their allotted time of sixty days, the Territorial Legislature was keeping a keen eye on the United States Congress. The legislature was in a very difficult position. The lawmakers had a territorial government to run, and money had to be appropriated to fund it, possibly for the next two years until the next session, if there was a next session. There were some significant questions that needed answering


If the Federal omnibus bill passed in its present form, South Dakota could become a state in approximately one year. The state constitution would be sent to voters in October, and a new election of state officers would be held, as they applied for admission as a state.


Meanwhile, North Dakota would need to hold a constitutional convention and then follow basically the same steps, allowing for statehood in 1891. However, if there was agreement to come in as one state, instead of two, the state of Dakota could be admitted almost immediately with some modification of the constitution submitted by South Dakota. On the other hand, if the Dakota Bill was adopted, and it had received a favorable vote in the US Senate, South Dakota would be admitted immediately. Then North Dakota could hold a constitutional convention and, in all probability, be allowed to attain statehood in the fall.


So, the legislators in Bismarck were in a quandary. What should be funded and where? In the first twenty-one days, over one hundred and eighty bills had been introduced in the Council, and one hundred and fifty in the House – many involving significant building projects. Territorial officials were paid through the federal coffers, but all institutions, roads, bridges and other necessary items had to be funded by the Territorial Treasury, and that meant increased taxes.


The Farmers Alliance, which controlled the legislature, was looking at the excess profits that the railroads and millers were extracting from Dakota. Numerous bills were introduced to tax railroad profits and property, revise the Board of Railroad Commissioners, and control the milling of flour, but this ensured a confrontation with Governor Church. Church had already vetoed Council Bill 22, which proposed an investigation of the shoddy construction at the Yankton Asylum, and he promised a liberal use of his veto power.


In the meantime, since it was winter in Bismarck, one of the first bills passed by the legislative session was House Bill 73, which contained a new duty for the Territorial Secretary. He was instructed to provide the necessary fuel for heating the Capitol Building.


This Countdown to Statehood edition of Dakota Datebook was written by Jim Davis



Grand Forks Weekly Herald January 25, 1889

Bismarck Daily Tribune January 18, 1889

Bismarck Daily Tribune January 26, 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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