Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

History of the 1889 South Dakota Constitution

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

History of the 1889 South Dakota Constitution

Article excerpt


This Article presents a narrative history of the formation of the 1889 South Dakota Constitution. It focuses on events pertaining to the three constitutional conventions preceding the ratification of the 1889 Constitution. This Article does not address the many subsequent amendments to the South Dakota Constitution, including the amendments instigated by the Constitutional Revision Commission established in 1969.


1. The Dakota Territory

President Buchanan signed the bill that established the Dakota Territory on March 2, 1861. (1) Within this territory were included the present states of North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The first territorial legislature convened on March 17, 1862 in Yankton, chosen as the first territorial capital over Sioux Falls, an older town, and Vermillion, the largest town in Dakota. (2)

After the creation of the Dakota Territory, the federal government, being preoccupied with the war, paid relatively little attention to it. (3) Congress, however, subsequently created the Idaho Territory, which included the current states of Wyoming and Montana, leaving the Dakota Territory with just the current states of North and South Dakota. (4) In 1864, Montana was organized as its own territory and Wyoming rejoined the Dakota Territory. (5) Then, again in 1869, Wyoming was separated and organized as its own territory. (6) The last change made to the Dakota Territory occurred in 1882, when a small area was carved away from the territory along the Niobrara River and ceded to Nebraska.

As soon as there was sufficient population, the settlers in the Dakota Territory began taking steps to achieve statehood. (7) After 1868, efforts intensified toward the admission of Dakota, either as a single state or two different states. (8)

During the Great Dakota Boom of 1878 to 1887, the population in both northern and southern Dakota grew significantly, which in turn further intensified the movement for division. Spanning the years 1880 to 1884, settlers in the Dakota Territory increased a quarter of a million. (9) Many of these settlers ended up in the James River Valley area. (10) Mapmakers also experienced difficulty maintaining revised maps due to increased railroad construction. (11) The railroad was an instrumental factor in creating the State of South Dakota. (12) From 1872 to 1880, seven hundred miles of railway were added, with construction during the following four years increasing even more. (13) This construction activity fueled conjecture over town sites and disputes concerning county seat locations. (14)

As the population in the territory increased, and to accommodate the growth of population in the northern and central sections of Dakota, debate ensued over moving the capital. (15) When the territorial legislature met in Yankton in January of 1883, a capital commission of nine persons was charged with finding a new location. (16) This process was accompanied by much political infighting and scheming, and as a result, the commissioners disagreed over a suitable location for the capital in the central or southern part of the territory. (17)

The eventual selection of Bismarck as the new capital outraged people in the southern counties. (18) A lot of blame and criticism regarding the move was focused on the ever-controversial Governor Ordway. (19) To secure the transfer of the capital to Bismarck, Governor Ordway had engaged in much political deal-making with potential opponents of the move--deal-making that included establishing a number of educational and other territorial institutions in the hometowns of various legislatures who in turn promised to vote for the transfer. (20)

Not only had Governor Ordway made numerous political deals so as to locate the capital at Bismarck, but he had also vetoed a bill calling for a constitutional convention for southern Dakota. …

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