As I look about at the beauty being displayed this fall, the changing leaves, the crisp air and blue skies, it’s not hard to imagine why one of Montana’s nicknames is “Big Sky Country.” And with Montana’s anniversary of when she became a State approaching, November 8, 2013, I thought it might be time to reflect on her humble beginnings as she became a state on November 8, 1889.
Before Montana was a state, it was a territory. During those early years, the President of the United States appointed territorial governors, justices and other officials to govern Montana. Even back then politics were in play. Citizens of the territory were taxed, had no vote in Congress and longed for statehood so they could elect their own officers and be represented in Congress.
To achieve statehood, Montana’s Territorial citizens needed to prepare a written constitution which Congress would approve. The document was to contain basic laws of the state, the duties of its elected officials and the rights of the people governed.
In 1866, citizens of the Territory, while young and inexperienced, did prepare a document to serve as their constitution. However it never survived a vote of the people or the purview of Congress. In fact it was lost on the way to the printers in St. Louis.
In 1883, the Territorial legislative assembly called for a constitutional convention in Helena and borrowing from the constitutions of Colorado, California and New York, prepared a document that limited the power of the executive branch and placed it with the legislature. However, this document too became a political hot potato, as it stood little chance of approval in Congress since a political stalemate prevailed which prohibited any discussion of the admission of states which could potentially upset the balance of power.
However, in 1889 the impasse in Congress changed abruptly. At once, it was now permissible to add not only Montana to the Union, but three additional western states as well. Montana’s Territorial government called a constitutional convention and put the constitution prepared in 1883 to the vote of the people and it passed by an overwhelming majority. Montana gained admittance as the 41st state to the Union on November 8, 1889.
Joseph Kemp Toole, a Democrat was the first and fourth Governor of Montana. Toole was the only Democrat on the ticket that year to be elected. During his tenure in office of Governor, county treasurers were authorized to collect taxes on personal property and there was legislation to ensure mine safety and mineworker protection.
The first State Legislature convened on November 23, 1889 at the Lewis & Clark County Courthouse amid heated partisan charges of voting irregularities in Silver Bow County. Democrats and Republicans each seated separate delegations from Silver Bow in separate Houses of Representatives. Due to the partisan conflict, the 1st Legislature adjourned February 20, 1890, with nothing to show for its efforts. The two Houses passed separate sets of bills, but a deadlocked Senate - 8 Democrats, 8 Republicans - passed none of them. During that same session, the House consisted of 24 Republicans and 21 Democrats and since it was not a 50/50 split I’d like to believe at least some of their work made it to the Senate side, at least for a brief moment in time.
When I reflect on some of our past Legislative Sessions and the current undertakings of our Federal Government, the finger pointing, the “I told you so’s” and the controversies involving hot topic issues like Benghazi, Obamacare and the debt ceiling which invades our daily media resources, it brings to mind the Word of God as found in Ecclesiastes 1:9 - “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”. And that says it all, as things haven’t really changed since we became a state, at least in regards to our politics, as it’s still like making sausage, very messy until the product is finished!
Now it’s your turn to “Keep in Touch”. I can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 827-4652 or by mail at P.O. Box 1151, Thompson Falls, Montana 59873.