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Fighting For Public Institutions

In addition to concern over control by large corporations, one other matter in particular caused much bitter wrangling and debate. It was Article XIX on Public Institutions. On the important matter of the location of the State capital, bills were introduced early calling for the location of the capital city to be left to the voters. However, on August 6, the Committee on Public Institutions and Buildings submitted its report, naming 13 state institutions and their locations: the Capitol at Bismarck; the State University and School of Mines at Grand Forks; the Agricultural College at Fargo; a State Normal School at Valley City; a School for the Deaf at Devils Lake; the State Reform School at Mandan; another State Normal School at Mayville; the State Hospital for the Insane at Jamestown; a Soldiers’ Home at Lisbon; an Industrial School at Ellendale; a Scientific School at Wahpeton; a School for the Blind in Pembina County to be located by election in that county; and a School of Forestry in either Ward, McHenry, Rolette, or Bottineau Counties, the site to be left to the voters of the four counties.

Postcard Sketch of UND – A5445This postcard sketch shows a “future” landscape for the University of North Dakota. It was never followed. (SHSND A5445)

In the heated debate on the adoption of the Article, those in favor of locating the capital at Bismarck argued that in order to give all parts of the state fair treatment, the capital and institutions should be located before there was any lobbying; that Bismarck as the capital would help build up the western part of the State; other institutions were located as they were because of popular demand, and the locations were all selected at this time to keep them out of the hands of lobbyists.

Those in opposition stated that the state did not need that many institutions and could not afford all of them; that the capital location at Bismarck was the result of a Fargo-Bismarck conspiracy; that the capital was located at Bismarck in the interests of the railroads in the State; that the people themselves had a right to be heard on these matters. An amendment to substitute Jamestown for Bismarck as the capital site was defeated by a vote of 19 to 56.

Article XIX was finally adopted by a vote of 44 to 30 on August 8; but the battle was not ended. The Convention adjourned that day until August 13. When the delegates returned, communications and memorials from various communities including Grand Forks, Jamestown, Hope, Wahpeton, St. Thomas, and Grafton were read to the delegates. In all, 43 communications or resolutions were read, about equally divided in favor and in opposition to the adoption of Article XIX. At the evening session of August 16, a motion to locate only the temporary capital at Bismarck was tabled; another to submit the entire Article XIX to the voters, as was to be done in the case of Article XX on Prohibition, was also tabled. Feelings still ran high, but the Article was finally adopted by a vote of 43 to 28.

An election was held October 1, 1889, and the Constitution was adopted by a vote of 27,441 to 8,107. Article XX, on Prohibition, was voted on separately by the people of the state and was adopted by a majority of 1,159 votes; 18,552 to 17,393.

Legislative Hall in old capitolLegislative Hall, North Dakota Capitol building. (SHSND A 6781-0001)

The Constitution was then sent to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, who issued the proclamation of admission on November 2, 1889, and North Dakota officially became a state.