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Washington State Constitutional Convention 1889

Constitution Writing in the American West (NEH)

Washington's first constitutional convention met between July and August 1889 to draft the state's foundational text.

Cite as: Hector Manzanerez, Joseph Andersen-Stanley, Yana Andersen-Stanley, Ethan Bassett, Daniel Little, Ashlynn Poelman, Caleb Stowell, Hannah Thayne, Chris Vizcardo, Nicholas Cole, Lauren Davis, Washington State Constitutional Convention 1889, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2023).

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People Icon95 People
Procedures Icon1321 Procedures
Documents Icon456 Documents
Decisions Icon2686 Decisions

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Washington State Constitutional Convention 1889 Washington State Constitutional Convention 1889

The Constitution of Washington (1889) was written from July to August 1889. Following the Enabling Act of 1889, which permitted Montana, Washington, and North and South Dakota to enter the Union as states, 75 Washington delegates from 25 districts met at the Territorial Capitol Building in Olympia to draft the state’s foundational text.

Like other state constitutions of a similar time, the Convention did not begin with a full, coherent draft of a constitution (such as the Virginia Plan in the 1787 Federal Constitutional Convention), but rather, followed a format wherein delegates presented propositions, which were referred to standing committees appointed to consider propositions relevant to their subject of expertise. These standing committees reported back to the Convention with recommendations on the propositions they had received and proposed articles for incorporation into the constitution. These recommendations and articles were then considered within the Convention. Successful articles were ultimately enrolled as the Constitution of Washington, approved by the Convention, and ratified on November 11, 1889.

To construct the Quill timeline, the editors consulted a number of sources, most notably the Journal of the Washington State Constitutional Convention. This official record provided an overview of each sitting throughout the Convention and the major events that occurred. However, it not uncommonly omitted the texts of certain motions, even at times the texts of pieces of proposed constitutional text. It also displayed a particularly tidy approach to record keeping, wherein “like” events were grouped together. For example, all delegates’ propositions were often recorded in the Journal as being presented at the same time. A comparison of the Journal with several contemporary newspapers, such as the Spokane Falls Review and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, indicate a less tidy account of the proceedings. Events are described in the newspapers as occurring in different orders. In many cases, the newspapers described events that were not accounted for in the Journal and occasionally provided pieces of proposed text that were missing from the official record, or at least provided enough context to allow the texts to be editorially reconstructed. Events where text has been editorially reconstructed have been indicated by editors’ note and the text in square brackets.

The editors selected these newspapers, as they supplemented the information provided in the Journal. However, where there was a discrepancy between the Journal and the newspapers, the editors in most cases prioritized the official record. In the contentious moments where editors opted for a newspaper as a primary source, they have provided an editors’ note explaining their reasoning. Future iterations of this project could incorporate the accounts of the proceedings published in other contemporary newspapers as well as other archival materials.

Compared to other state constitutional conventions, the Washington Convention was not exceptionally complicated in its committee approach. However, users may be interested in how pieces of proposed constitutional text circulated throughout the Convention. This procedure is captured in a document event’s “Related Events” tab. A more general overview of documents’ journeys throughout the Convention is provided by the “Calendar View”. The “Document Library” view provides a zoomed out look at all documents that were introduced in the Convention and will be compelling to those users who are approaching the project with an interest in particular documents.


Senior Documentary Editor

Quill Project

Pembroke College, Oxford.

July 2023.

Sessions Chart

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5 historical records used for this dataset.


31 committees met in 295 sessions.

Average 59.00 sessions each.


Dates from Thursday, 04 July 1889 to Thursday, 22 August 1889.


95 people in 25 voting delegations.

Top 5 most active people are:

Summary of person events:

  • Person join icon 301 join a committee.
  • Person leave icon 4 leave a committee.
  • Person elect icon 119 elections to a position.


1321 procedural motions considered.

Summary of procedural events:

  • Procedural motion icon 1321 procedural motion proposed.
  • Debate motion icon 43 motions debated.


456 documents considered with 1011 amendments presented.

Summary of document events:

  • Create a new document proposal 456 new documents created.
  • Document copied 462 documents passed from another committee.
  • Document amended 1002 amendments to a document proposed.
  • Debate a document proposal 169 debates on a proposal.


2686 number of decisions made.

Summary of decision made:

  • Vote adopt icon 1481 proposals adopted.
  • Vote reject icon 560 proposals rejected.
  • Vote refer icon 370 proposals referred to another committee.
  • Postpone debate icon 50 debate of a proposal postponed.
  • Vote drop icon 83 proposal dropped from discussion without a formal vote.
  • Vote drop icon 15 some other decision on a proposal.

List of proposals by delegation

List of proposals by person

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