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South Dakota State Constitutional Convention 1889

Constitution Writing in the American West (NEH)

Cite as: South Dakota State Constitutional Convention 1889, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2023).

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People Icon90 People
Procedures Icon536 Procedures
Documents Icon214 Documents
Decisions Icon698 Decisions

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South Dakota State Constitutional Convention 1889 South Dakota State Constitutional Convention 1889

The Constitution of South Dakota was written from July to August of 1889. The so-called ‘Omnibus’ Enabling Act of 1889 permitted the splitting up of the Territory of Dakota into two states, in addition to the admittance of Montana and Washington into the Union. Following the passage of the Enabling Act, 75 delegates from 25 districts met at Sioux Falls on July 4 to write the state’s foundational text.

The Enabling Act left the question of whether to draft a new constitution from scratch, or to adopt the provisions of the ‘Sioux Falls’ Constitution of 1885, which had been approved by the south half of Dakota Territory but rejected by the House of Representatives, to voters. They decided to ratify the constitution of 1885. Consequently, instead of individual delegates submitting propositions to the Convention, the South Dakota Convention began the drafting process by sending each article of the Sioux Falls Constitution to one of its 32 standing committees. These committees, established to consider propositions relevant to their subject of expertise, prepared reports in which they recommended the changes necessary to make the articles conform to the provisions of the Enabling Act. These amendments were mostly perfunctory, restricted to minor edits to wording—changing ‘Dakota’ to ‘South Dakota’, for example—and the alterations necessary to account for the drawing of state boundaries between North and South Dakota, such as the reapportionment of congressional districts. The reports were then referred to the Convention. Often, the Convention voted to adopt or reject the standing committee’s recommendations on a particular article wholesale. Occasionally, as in the case of the report from the Committee on Indebtedness on Article XIII, the Convention amended the committee’s recommendations before voting on them. Once a report was adopted, the relevant article was automatically passed to the Committee on Arrangement and Phraseology to be amended in accordance with the standing committee report. From there, articles were sent to the Committee on Engrossment and Enrollment, where they were ordered into an enrolled copy of the constitution. This was then referred to the Convention, where it was adopted and signed by the delegates. It was ratified on October 1 1889.

To construct the Quill timeline, the editors consulted the Journal and the Debates of the South Dakota Constitutional Convention. Where relevant, both sources have been used to corroborate the events in the timeline. A full list of source materials can be found on the “Full Record” view. Future editions of this project could incorporate the accounts of the proceedings published in other contemporary newspapers.

From these sources, the editors have reconstructed a view of the daily proceedings of the Convention and the Committee of the Whole. As is often the case with state constitutional conventions, the standing and select committee records do not survive. Instead, the committee’s proceedings have been reconstructed from the reports that were presented to the Convention. In order to avoid implying that sittings occurred on days where there is no evidence to suggest that was the case, the standing committee sessions have been created to align with the days on which they reported to the Convention.

Some standing committee reports, such as that of the Committee on Judiciary on Article V, were formatted as a list of recommended amendments. Others, such as the report of the Committee on Congressional and Legislative Apportionment on Article XIX, took the form of a re-written article incorporating the committee’s amendments. From the written records, it is difficult to visualise the effect of the committee’s proposed amendments upon the original 1885 article in the case of the former, and to discern the changes between the original article and the re-written article in the case of the latter. To overcome this, the editors have attached documents highlighting the textual differences between the original 1885 articles and the articles as amended by the standing committees, to any report that recommended amendments to an article.

An examination of the few committee reports that contained both a list of proposed amendments, and a re-written article, reveals some minor differences in spelling, punctuation, and formatting between the Sioux Fall articles and the re-written versions that are not included in the list of committee amendments. From this, it is clear that the standing committees used a different edition of the Sioux Falls constitution than the one available to the editors. Therefore, the editors have chosen to only include substantive amendments (i.e. changes to phrasing), and to exclude changes to spelling, punctuation, and formatting, in the versions of the committee articles attached to the reports.

Unusually for a Parliamentary-style negotiation, none of the reports upon articles were referred to the Committee of the Whole, a fact that perhaps reflects that the substantive negotiation had already taken place during the convention of 1885.


Documentary Editor

Quill Project

Pembroke College, Oxford.

July 2023.

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3 historical records used for this dataset.


41 committees met in 175 sessions.

Average 58.33 sessions each.


Dates from Thursday, 04 July 1889 to Monday, 05 August 1889.


90 people in 25 voting delegations.

Top 5 most active people are:

Summary of person events:

  • Person join icon 446 join a committee.
  • Person leave icon leave a committee.
  • Person elect icon 83 elections to a position.


536 procedural motions considered.

Summary of procedural events:

  • Procedural motion icon 536 procedural motion proposed.
  • Debate motion icon 116 motions debated.


214 documents considered with 163 amendments presented.

Summary of document events:

  • Create a new document proposal 214 new documents created.
  • Document copied 198 documents passed from another committee.
  • Document amended 163 amendments to a document proposed.
  • Debate a document proposal 105 debates on a proposal.


698 number of decisions made.

Summary of decision made:

  • Vote adopt icon 404 proposals adopted.
  • Vote reject icon 34 proposals rejected.
  • Vote refer icon 159 proposals referred to another committee.
  • Postpone debate icon 1 debate of a proposal postponed.
  • Vote drop icon 34 proposal dropped from discussion without a formal vote.
  • Vote drop icon 1 some other decision on a proposal.

List of proposals by delegation

List of proposals by person

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