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May Archives treasure #1: Washington Constitution, 1878

by Brian Zylstra | May 8th, 2012

(Image courtesy of Washington State Archives)

State history buffs know that Washington officially joined the Union as the 42nd state on Nov. 11, 1889. But did you know there was an ongoing effort for many years to persuade Congress to make Washington a state?

In fact, Washington Territory voters approved a constitution on Nov. 5, 1878. The State Archives has the original of that document, and it’s the first “contestant” for the May version of the Archives “treasures” online poll. The book containing the proposed constitution is handsomely bound in leather and hand-written with iron gall ink on vellum.

The University of Washington’s Gallagher Law Library has background on the drafting of a constitution in the late 1870s:

In 1876, citizens of the Territory voted to apply for statehood. In 1877, Orange Jacobs, Washington’s Delegate to Congress, requested an enabling act that would allow Washington to become a state as soon as a state constitution was drafted and ratified by the voters. In 1878, fifteen delegates met in Walla Walla for Washington’s first Constitutional Convention.

In November 1878, voters overwhelmingly approved the proposed constitution. The new “Constitution of the State of Washington” was sent to Congress along with a memorial requesting Statehood for Washington. Even though Washington’s representatives heavily lobbied for admission, the U.S. Congress failed to act on the proposed Constitution. Still, the 1878 Constitution is an important historical document that shows the political thinking of the time. It was used extensively during the drafting of Washington State’s 1889 Constitution.

The second Constitutional Convention met in Olympia from July 4 through August 22, 1889. Seventy-five delegates helped draft the constitution. The people of Washington ratified the 1889 constitution on October 1, 1889. President Harrison issued a proclamation admitting Washington to the Union on November 11, 1889.

During the Constitutional Convention in 1878, delegates narrowly rejected adding women’s suffrage to the proposed set of laws.

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