Growth of Washington Territory, Constitution Ratified

From 1880 to 1888 the progress made in Washington was phenomenal, and was felt in every direction in commerce, manufacture, banks, corporations, schools, growth of towns, improved styles of building, construction of railroads, mining, agriculture, and society. New towns had sprung up among the firs and cedars, the Puget Sound country, and out of the treeless prairies almost in a night; and hitherto unimportant villages had become cities with corporate governments, grand hotels, churches, colleges, and opera-houses.

The board of trade of Tacoma in 1886 declared that “the commercial independence of Washington territory accompanying the completion of the direct line of the Northern Pacific railroad to tide-water should be supplemented by its political independence as a state of the American union. Admission cannot in decency be delayed many years longer, whatever party influences may sway congress. The census of 1890 will show a population within the present limits of the territory exceeding 200,000, and a property valuation of at least $200,000,000.” 1 Governor Squire had said in a report to the secretary of the interior that among the reasons for the admission of the territory were the “sterling, patriotic, and enterprising character of its citizens; its present and prospective maritime relations with the world; its position as a border state on the confines of the dominion of Canada, the most powerful province of Great Britain; its wealth of natural resources and growing wealth of its people; the efficiency of its educational system, requiring that its school lands should be allotted and utilized ; its riparian rights should be settled, capital and immigration encouraged, and the full management and control of municipal and county affairs should be assumed by the legislature, which is not allowed during the territorial condition.”

Governor Semple, in his report for 1888, gave the population as 167,982, showing that the prophecy of the board of trade was not an over-estimate of the probabilities. The taxable property was given at $84,621,182, or a gain of $65,698,260 in ten years, which being taken from the assessment roll was considered conservative enough for the minimum; for as the governor quaintly remarked: “Whatever else an average American citizen may neglect, he never forgets to beat down the assessor.” The revenue produced by a tax of two and a half mills was $212,734.92, showing the ability to erect and maintain the necessary public works, as they should be required. There were in the territory in operation 762.2 miles of standard gauge railroads belonging to the North Pacific railroad company; and 282.6 miles of the same gauge belonging to the Oregon railway and navigation company; the Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern railroad company operated 58 miles of standard gauge road; the Columbia and Puget Sound railroad 44.5 miles; and the Puget Sound and Gray’s Harbor railroad 10 miles -making in all 1,157.3 miles of broad-gauge railways. In addition, there were 40 miles of narrow-gauge road, divided between the Olympia and Chehalis valley, the Mill Creek F. and M. Company, and the Cascade railroad making in all 1,197.7 miles, and the increase of mileage was augmenting yearly. The amount of coal mined in the territory in 1888 was 1,133,801 tons. The output in lumber of the Washington mills in four localities only for the year was 320,848,203 feet, their capacity being a million feet greater, shingles and lath in proportion. The amount consumed within the territory was 105,940,225 feet of lumber; 14,474,000 lath, and 12,921,250 shingles; the remainder was exported. The estimated capacity of all the mills was 1,043,596,000 feet.

An insane asylum, costing $100,000, was completed at Steilacoom in 1888, in which were treated 200 patients; and $60,000 was appropriated for the erection of a hospital for the insane at Medical Lake in eastern Washington, which was being expended on the work. Up to 1887 the territorial prisoners were confined in a private prison, under the control of contractors, but in 1887 a penitentiary was completed at Walla Walla, costing $153,000. At Vancouver a school for defective youth was erected, partly by the citizens of that place donating land, and the rest by the legislature, making at two sessions appropriations for that purpose. The national guard had completed its organization, the legislature having levied a tax of one fifth of a mill for military purposes, and consisted of two regiments of infantry and a troop of cavalry-in all 750 officers and men. These and various other matters, including the question of who should pick the hop crop in Puyallup valley, were reported to the secretary, and Governor Semple put it: “We are rich and reputable, and do not require anybody to settle our bills. Give us the right to regulate our local affairs, and we will not only pay our own officers, but we will render much service to the union.”

In 1888 Miles C. Moore of Walla Walla, republican, was appointed governor to succeed Semple, democrat, but only in time to be immersed in the excitement of a change of government forms, for congress, on the 22d of February, 1889 (very appropriately), passed an enabling act, proposing the terms on which the state of Washington might be admitted to the union. It commanded the governor to issue a proclamation on the 15th of April for an election of seventy-five delegates to a constitutional convention, the election to be held on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in May of that year. The delegates were directed to meet at the capital on the 4th of July for organization, and to declare, on behalf of the people, their adoption of the constitution of the United States, whereupon they should be authorized to form a constitution for the proposed state. The constitution should be republican in form, make no distinction in civil or political rights on account of race or color, except as to Indians not taxed, and not be repugnant to the constitution of the United States and the principles of the Declaration of Independence. It should provide, by ordinances irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of said states, that perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of the state ever molested on account of his mode of worship; that the people of the state should forever disclaim all right to the inappropriate public lands lying within the boundaries thereof, or to the Indian reservations, which should remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of congress; that the lands of non-resident citizens of the United States should never be taxed at a higher rate than the lands belonging to residents; that no taxes should be imposed by the state on lands or property therein belonging to, or which might be thereafter purchased or reserved by, the United States; but nothing in the ordinances should preclude taxing the lands owned or held by Indians who had severed their tribal relations and obtained a title thereto by patent or grant, except those lands which congress might have exempted from taxation, which the ordinances should exempt, so long and to such extent as such act of congress might prescribe. The debts and liabilities of the territory should be assumed and paid by the state. Provision should be made for the establishment and maintenance of public schools, which should be open to all the children in the state, and free from sectarian control.

On the other hand, upon the admission of the state, sections numbered sixteen and thirty-six in every township of said state, or where such sections or parts of sections had been disposed of indemnity lands were granted to the state for the support of common schools, except where such sections were embraced in grants or reservations by the government, and until they were restored to the public domain. The lands granted for educational purposes should not be sold for less than ten dollars per acre, and only at public sale, the proceeds to constitute a permanent school fund, the interest only of which should be expended in their support. But the legislature had power to prescribe terms on which the school lands might be leased, for periods of not more than five years, in quantities of not more than one section to one person or company; and such lands should not be subject to entry under any of the land laws of the United States.

Fifty sections of selected public land within the state should be granted for the purpose of erecting public buildings at the capital for legislative and judicial purposes. Five per centum of the proceeds of the sales of public lands within the state, which should be sold by the United States after its admission, deducting all expenses incident to the same, should be paid to the state to be used as a permanent fund, the interest of which only should be expended for the support of common schools. Seventy-two entire sections were granted for university purposes, none of which should be disposed of at less than ten dollars per acre; but, like the common school lands, they might be leased. The schools and universities provided for in the act should forever remain under the exclusive control of the state, and no part of the proceeds arising from the sale of the granted lands should be applied to denominational schools, colleges, or universities. Ninety thousand acres should be also granted for the use and support of an agricultural college. In lieu of the grant of land for purposes of internal improvement made to new states by the act of September 4, 1841, and in lieu of any claim or demand by the state under the act of September 28, 1850, and section 2479 of the Revised Statutes, granting swamp and overflowed lands to certain states, and in lieu of any grant of saline lands, there was granted to the state of Washington, for the establishment and maintenance of a scientific school, one hundred thousand acres, the same amount for state normal schools; for public buildings at the state capital, in addition to the previous grant for that purpose; and for state charitable, educational, penal, and reformatory institutions, two hundred thousand each; and the state should be entitled to no other grants of land for any purposes. Mineral lands were exempted from all the grants, but lieu lands were allowed in their stead, where mineral should be found on the school sections. But there should be deducted from the amounts granted for any specific object, the number of acres before donated by congress to the territory for similar objects. 2

The sum of twenty thousand dollars, or as much as might be necessary, was appropriated for defraying the expenses of the state constitutional convention. The state should constitute one judicial district, to be attached to the ninth judicial circuit. There should be appointed one district judge, United States attorney, and United States marshal, the judge to receive a salary of $3,500, and to reside in his district, and the clerks of the court to keep their offices at the state capital; the regular terms of court to commence in April and November. The courts of the state were made the successors of the territorial courts, whose business should be transferred to them without prejudice.

The constitutional convention might, by ordinance, provide for the election of officers for full state government, including members of the legislature, and representatives in congress; but the state government should remain in abeyance until the admission of the state into the union. Should the constitution be ratified by the people, the legislature might assemble, organize, and elect two senators of the United States, whose election being certified by the governor and secretary of state, they should be admitted to seats in congress on the admission of the state into the union; and the officers elected to fill state offices should in the same manner proceed to exercise their functions. The election for the ratification of the constitution should take place on the first Tuesday in October. Such, in brief, was the compact to be accepted and ratified.

The delegates met on the 3d of July, at Olympia, and proceeded to business on the 4th. 3 They were a conservative body of men, chosen from the various classes. The constitution which they framed for acceptance or rejection by the people was an instrument well adapted to their needs. It dealt with corporations especially, as required by the public, and settled the vexed question of tide-lands, 4 which it claimed for the state, except such as had been patented by the United States, thus settling disputed titles. It provided for five supreme judges, and ordained superior courts in all the counties. It fixed the number of representatives at not less than 63, nor more than 99, and the senate at not more than half nor less than a third of that number, the first legislature to have 70 members in the house and 35 in the senate. The salaries fixed upon for state officers were liberal without being extravagant, and left the question of the seat of government to the choice of the people at the election for the constitution; or if not decided then by a majority of all the votes, to another election between the two places having the highest number of votes; and when it should be located, it could not be changed except by a two-thirds vote of all the electors of the state. Three articles were to be voted upon separately, namely, woman suffrage, prohibition, and the seat of government. 5

Conventions were held, and party forces marshaled for the election of state officers and representatives, to be held at the same time that the election for the constitution was commanded to be had; namely, on the 1st of October. The returns showed that there were 40,152 votes for the constitution, and 11,879 against it. For woman suffrage, 16,527, and 34,513 against. 6 For prohibition, 19,546, and 31,487 against. For the capital at Olympia, 25,490 votes; for North Yakima, 14,718; for Ellensburg, 12,833; for Centralia, 607; Yakima, 314; Pasco, 120; scattering, 1,088 leaving the seat of government to be decided in the future.

The state officers elected were John L. Wilson, congressman; Elisha Pyre Ferry, 7 governor; Charles E. Laughton, formerly lieutenant-governor of Nevada, lieutenant-governor; Allen Weir, secretary of state; A. A. Lindsley, treasurer; T. M. Reed, auditor; William C. Jones, attorney-general; Robert B. Bryan, superintendent of public instruction; W. T. Forrest, commissioner of public lands. The supreme judges elected were Ralph O. Dunbar, Theodore L. Stiles, John P. Hoyt, Thomas J. Anders, and Elman Scott. Every candidate elected was republican.

The election for state senators and representatives was an overwhelming triumph for the republicans, there being but one democratic senator and six democratic representatives elected, making the republican majority on joint ballot 96. 8 The choice of republican senators was therefore assured. Owing to a delay in the issuance of the presidential proclamation, 9 the state was not admitted until after the legislature had assembled. Considerable confusion and agitation followed, the several senatorial candidates improving the time in labors to increase their following. 10 The state was admitted on the 11th of November. Although the legislature had convened on the 6th of November as required by the constitution, voting for senators could not take place, as the lieutenant-governor could not take his scat as president of the senate until the Monday following, which was the 18th, and to that day the inauguration ceremonies were postponed. Governor Ferry was sworn in by Justice John P. Hoyt, and very great enthusiasm prevailed at the capital. On the following day the legislature being fully organized, balloting for senators took place immediately, J. B. Allen 11 being chosen on the first ballot in both houses, the vote being 25 in the senate and 46 in the house-total 71. On the second ballot Watson C. Squire was chosen by a vote of 30 in the senate, and 46 in the house-total 76, the remainder scattering.

The justices of the Supreme Court had already drawn their terms, Scott and Anders drawing the two slips marked three, and Stiles and Dunbar those marked five, which left Hoyt the seven year term. Scott requested that Anders, who was his elder, should be elected chief justice, which was so done. Solomon Smith of Goldendale was elected clerk, and the rules of the territorial supreme court were adopted for the time, the court adjourning to the first Monday in January. 12

Although the new made state had been thirty-six years in the condition of a territory, few of its members were born on its soil. Yet the average age of its first senators was not far from forty years, although the young majority had mingled with them a dignifying proportion of pioneers, as a few threads of silver on the brow of a mature man add dignity to his still evident youthfulness. Only about half a dozen members of both houses had resided in the territory from the year of its organization; several were Oregonians or Californians by birth, and a few were of’ foreign birth. Almost enough to constitute a company had fought in the battles of the civil war; some had in other states gained experience as legislators, and in both bodies there was a high order of practical intelligence. 13

The machinery of the new state was now in motion, and running without any perceptible jar. It was richly endowed by nature and by the general government. Its legislature would require several months, with the assistance of the code commissioners, to make and revise the laws, which body is in session as I write, and there I leave them, confident in the hope that their work will be performed with a conscientious desire to lay strong and broad and deep the foundations of a commonwealth destined to unimagined greatness. 14


Bancroft, Hubert H. Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889. San Francisco: The History Company. 1890.

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  1. The state auditor in November 1889 reported the resources of the commonwealth from taxes, licenses, prison labor, etc., at 8372,866.35.[]
  2. See p. 216, note, on the misapplication of the university lands.[]
  3. Delegates of Washington Convention, July 4, 1889[]
  4. The vexed question of tide-lands was settled only as to the future; but the trouble of Seattle and Tacoma was that Valentine and McKee held tideland in front of these towns which had been taken up with scrip authorized by congress, to be issued in payment for certain lands acquired by Valentine, known as the Miranda Mexican grant, in Sonoma co., Cal., and which he deeded to the U. S.; the terms of the certificates being that locations could be made ou any unoccupied, inappropriate public lands of the U. S., not mineral,’ etc. The cases to be settled in the courts will involve the question of the right of the U. S. to give or sell the land properly belonging to the future state. The Seattle and Walla Walla R. co. had received a donation of these lands from the city of Seattle, and held them peaceably for years; but after outside lauds began to be valuable, there arose trouble with squatters, who disputed the right of the city to these lands belonging to the government. The same trouble existed at Tacoma, and even at Walla Walla.[]
  5. I am aware that this summary of the constitution is too brief to do justice to that instrument, but space does not permit me to make an extended review. Fortunately, the instrument itself is open to all in the laws of the new state.[]
  6. The suffragists laid the defeat of their cause to the prohibitionists, who were hated by the saloon men, who lumped the two together and fought both. A good many women voted under the law of 1883, but their votes were not counted, and some suits at law were threatened to grow out of it.[]
  7. E. P. Ferry was a popular man with all parties, although he polled only the regular majority of his party, 8,979, and I regret that his modesty has left his antecedents unknown to me.[]
  8. First Senators and Representatives of Washington[]
  9. The delay was occasioned by the omission of the signature of Gay. Moore to the certificate attached to the copy of the constitution forwarded, the enabling act requiring it to be signed by both the governor and secretary.[]
  10. The candidates were, in eastern Washington, John B. Allen, Thomas H. Brents of Walla Walla, and S. B. Hyde and Ex-judge George Turner of Spokane. Tacoma furnished Gen. J. W. Sprague and Walter J. Thompson,[]
  11. John Beard Allen was born in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, May 18, 1813, received a common school education, and in 1864 enlisted in the 138th Indiana infantry, serving in Tennessee and Alabama until mustered out, when he went to Rochester, Minnesota, as agent for a grain firm. He read law, and attended the law school at Ann Arbor, Michigan, being admitted to practice in 1869, and coming to Wash. in 1870, and opening an office in Olympia. His talents were soon recognized, and he was appointed U. S. Attorney for Washington Territory, which position he held for ten years. He removed to Walla Walla in 1881, and was, as elsewhere mentioned, elected to congress, though he did not take his seat.[]
  12. Chief Justice Anders was born in Seneca County, Ohio, in 1838, and admitted to the bar at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1863. He came to Washington in 1871, was associated with Thomas H. Brents of Walla Walla in law practice, and was prosecuting attorney of that district for five terms.[]
  13. C. G. Austin was born in Avon, Ohio, March 18, 1846. Served in the war of rebellion, was twice clerk of the 7th judicial district of Minnesota, and after removing to Washington was appointed clerk of the district court for Garfield and Asotin Counties. His business was that of a dealer in grain and agricultural machinery.[]
  14. Brief Bios of Washington Senators and Representatives[]

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