Jerri Honeyford

Great words float around our State Capitol building in Olympia! The one in the headline above means that our state will be 125 years old on Nov. 11.

Committees are meeting and plans are being formed to celebrate this anniversary.

The first event will take place this President’s Day in the Senate and House when a resolution will be read commemorating the signing of the Enabling Act, which allowed Washington Territory to proceed with the steps necessary to become a state.

On Feb. 22, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed this act appropriately on George Washington’s birthday. On the same day enabling acts were also signed for North and South Dakota and Montana.

It was interesting to read that the Idaho territorial legislature had petitioned Congress in 1885 to have the Panhandle included in Washington Territory. The Washington delegation agreed and that bill passed both houses of Congress. For an unknown reason, President Cleveland vetoed this provision.

The Enabling Act was a very important document. First, it established a process. Delegates to a constitutional convention were to be elected in May; the convention itself was to convene in July; the vote on approval of the constitution and election of state officials was to be on Oct. 1. The territorial governor and the chief judge were to divide the territory into 25 districts of equal population. Three delegates were to be elected from each district, only two of which could be from the same political party.

The Act also set up criteria for statehood. The constitution was to be republican in form, and couldn’t discriminate by race or color. It had to agree with the Declaration of Independence and not contradict any of the principles in the U.S. Constitution.

There had to be “perfect toleration of religious sentiment” and a system of public schools open to all children of the State had to be formed, which would be free of sectarian control.

Upon statehood, land would be transferred from the national government to provide common schools, an agricultural college, normal schools, “a scientific school,” and “charitable, educational, penal and reformatory institutions.”

The general judicial framework of the state was set up and would be under the Ninth Judicial Circuit of the federal court system. Direct representation from the State to the U.S. Congress was granted.

All these steps were made. The Constitutional Convention met at the territorial capitol in Olympia beginning on July 4 and ending on Aug. 23. The work was done by 26 standing committees in secret. Petitions on controversial issues such as the location of the state capital, women suffrage and prohibitions were not dealt with, but were promised separate votes at the October election.

The October election was held. Because of downed telegraph lines from a series of rain storms, the results were not released for two weeks. The all-male voters had approved the Constitution by a 4-1 margin.

Because Ellensburg and North Yakima were both on the ballot along with Olympia as possible sites for the capital, 93 percent of Kittitas County and 89 percent of Yakima County men voted. The two cities together had 28,000 votes and Olympia had 25,000. It is thought that if either Ellensburg or North Yakima had supported the other, the state capital would have been in Central Washington!

Women’s suffrage and prohibition went down by considerable margins. Elisha Ferry was elected governor with 58 percent of the vote. Republicans won great majorities in both the House and the Senate.

So the state of Washington was born.

More later of the planned activities of our quasquicentennial.

‑ Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her “Across our State” columns while the couple is in Olympia during legislative sessions.


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