A July 4th 1889 opening session ceremoniously kicked off the North Dakota Constitutional Convention, and the next four days were spent with the election of officers and organization of two committees – the Committee on Credentials and the Committee on Rules. Frederick B. Fancher was elected president and John Hamilton chief clerk. Upon formal organization, the immediate next step was a resolution to adopt the Constitution of the United States, which was accomplished on the Fifth Day of the Convention on July 8th.
The Committee on Rules established a set of forty-five rules by which the convention would be governed. There were also twenty-three standing committees named, including taxation; public institutions; education; and executive, legislative and judicial procedure. There were even those on such things as public debt and impeachment. Examples were drawn from the constitutions of eastern states to establish a working schedule.
The convention differed from a legislative session. Instead of two houses, there was only one assembly, known as the Committee of the Whole, which consisted of the seventy-five delegates. They produced files, not bills, and these files were formed in committee. The committees worked in the forenoon and in the evening. The main assembly convened in an afternoon session. Members could introduce files on their own, but most of the files originated in committee and had to be voted upon in their entirety. A “no” vote would send the file back to the committee, although the Committee of the Whole could suggest changes. A “yes” vote would send the file to the committee on Adjustment and Revision, which then placed the file into its proper segment of the constitution to ensure there were no conflicting sections.
While the members of the various committees were being chosen by President Fancher, the Committee as a Whole called upon Henry Blackwell from Boston, Editor of the Woman’s Journal to address the assembly on Women’s Suffrage. According to the Jamestown Weekly Alert, he was a sawed-off old gentleman with white hair and a beard, but there was nothing decrepit about his arguments. He made a significant announcement at the end of his speech, stating that if Women’s Suffrage was omitted from the constitution, the promoters did not desire an amendment to be voted upon separately as was planned for a prohibition clause. He requested that they at least permit voting in local elections. He also suggested that instead of using the constitution, they include a provision to empower the Legislature to decide upon Women’s Suffrage in some future session when the judgment of the public would sustain it.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
Jamestown Weekly Alert July 11, 1889
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune June 12, 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 August 17, 1889 Tribune, State Publisher, Bismarck, ND