Documents of Liberty
"Liberty as North America," French series print after 1886.  Traditional images of liberty and Columbia blended toward the end of the nineteenth century.  They were eventually eclipsed by the Statue of Liberty seen in the distance on right. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society.
Our National Heritage
"The streams of power we trace…to one great and noble source, The People."
James Wilson, Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention
November 24, 1787
Balancing power with power
The Pennsylvania Packet, the first newspaper publication of the United States Constitution, September 19, 1787. Courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia.

To the American way of thinking, a written Constitution is essential for just and effective government. In a constitution, the people delegate, distribute and guard against the misuse of power.

At the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, the Founding Fathers worked to create a government strong enough to serve its citizens, but under sufficient restraint to keep it from becoming their master. Power was balanced with power in three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial.

Documents of Libery and Justice
Royal Charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company, 1629. Courtesy Massachusetts State Archives

Constitutions are not only working plans for government, but also documents of ideas about the meaning of freedom, the nature of justice, and the sources and limits of authority.

The Constitutional Tradition
Draft of the Declaration of Independence in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson with suggested changes by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Courtesy Library of Congress.

To English-speaking peoples before the American Revolution, the word "constitution" meant the body of laws, customs and understandings which governments were expected to follow. For more than 150 years the relationship of the American colonies to the British government was set forth in a series of written documents such as acts of Parliament, royal decrees and charters.

When constitutional conflicts over the stamp tax and other issues ended in revolution, the former colonists not only declared their independence, but took steps to put their own understandings of fundamental law into document of the most authoritative kind—written constitutions.

Will of the People

To assure that a constitution will actually restrain lawmakers and government officials from going beyond the limits set for them by the people, a constitution is elevated above ordinary law.

The tradition of constitutional conventions began in Massachusetts in 1780 when a specially elected convention rather than the Legislature drafted a constitution to be submitted to a vote clearly reflecting the people's will.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Declaration of Independence, 1776
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary….In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men….You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

James Madison
“Father of the Constitution”
The Federalist, No. 51
Equal Justice Under Law

The original U.S. Constitution of 1787 provided guarantees of jury trial, of habeas corpus (a court petition seeking release of a person wrongfully jailed) and important safeguards in treason trials, but lacked a separate Declaration of Rights customary in state constitutions. In 1789-991, the first ten amendments which came to be known as the Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution.

In 1865-70, following the Civil War, amendments abolished slavery, gave national citizenship to native-born and naturalized Americans, and expanded the Bill of Rights to cover actions by individual states. Suffrage for women was among the amendments added in the twentieth century.

Supreme Law of the Land
The Temple of Justice is the home of the Washington State Supreme Court.

“The Constitution of the United States is the Supreme law of the land.” Article 1 Section 2 Washington State Constitution, 1889

A durable foundation for the nation’s political life, the United States Constitution stands as the supreme law of the land—a phrase of the constitution given practical effect in a multitude of decisions by the Supreme Court.

A landmark document, the Washington State Constitution of 1889 continued the American tradition of constitution-making in the west. When it was adopted one hundred years after George Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s first president, the state bearing his name was admitted to the Union.

A More Perfect Union

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 providing for the entry of new states into the Union completed the basic Constitutional foundations of the United States of America.

The constitutional processes inaugurated at the very beginning of our national life have continued without interruption ever since.

John Gast's "American Progress" portrays Liberty with telegraph wires moving westward across the Great Plains toward the Pacific Ocean fulfilling the idea of the country’s Manifest Destiny. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Early Washington History
The Promise of Statehood
American Captain Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River in 1792.  Courtesy Oregon Historical Society.

Anticipating westward expansion Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 providing American settlers in territory northwest of the Ohio River a limited measure of self-government. The law guaranteed rights and promised that new states could enter the Union on an equal footing with the thirteen original states.

The land that was to become the state of Washington came under U.S. jurisdiction when the so-called Oregon country was divided between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel by treaty with Great Britain in 1846.

Washington Territory Created
The Oregon Country Treaty with Great Britain 1846. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society The original Washington Territory 1853 from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society Oregon statehood 1859 Annexation of eastern Oregon country. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society Final boundaries of Washington Territory. Creation of Idaho Territory 1863, Washington statehood 1889

Fourth of July orations in Olympia in 1852 led to conventions at Cowlitz Landing and Monticello (now Longview) and the formal request for a separate Territory north of the Columbia River. Congress granted this in 1853 naming the new territory “Washington” rather than “Columbia” as residents had proposed.

American Indian Citizenship
Nez Perce Chief Joseph fought on the battlefield and spoke in the halls of government for native peoples. Courtesy Library of Congress Yakimas at the Washington State Capitol, Olympia, 1921. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society

The first Territorial Governor, Isaac I. Stevens, conducted treaty signing councils to create reservations of land for native peoples. Tribal governments with treaty rights under federal jurisdiction evolved. Congress granted full U.S. citizenship to American Indians in 1924.

First State Constitutional Convention
Main Street Walla Walla in 1878. Courtesy Penrose Memorial Library, Whitman College

From the 1870’s on, the Washington Territorial Legislature repeatedly petitioned Congress for statehood. In 1878 the first state constitution was written at Walla Walla, then the territory’s most populous town. Voters approved it, but Congress, not having authorized it, did not.

Votes for Women
May Arkwright Hutton, in plaid tie, struck it rich in an Idaho silver mine  and used the funds to carry the message of women’s suffrage to eastern Washington voters. Courtesy  Barnard Stockbridge Photograph Collection, University of Idaho.

A major issue at both state constitutional conventions, women’s suffrage was twice referred to and defeated by the voters. In 1910 voters amended the constitution and Washington became the fifth state to grant women the right to vote.

The Railroads
Trainloads of people from Washington Territory attended the gala last spike driving ceremonies of the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad, Montana, 1883. Courtesy Historical Photography Collections, University of Washington Libraries. Norwegian literature of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Courtesy Historical Photography Collections, University of Washington Libraries.

The coming of the nation’s second transcontinental railroad to Tacoma in 1883 brought an end to frontier days in Washington Territory. Attempts to drive out the Chinese after completion of work on the railroad, however, caused Washington Territory to be condemned in the eastern press as “too unruly for statehood.”

Railroad literature promoted the rich farming potential of the West in eastern states and Europe. An economic boom in the late 1880s and the promise of fertile land attracted the additional population needed for statehood.

The Washington State Capitol, 1905-1927. Courtesy Historic Photography Collection, University of Washington Libraries.
The Quest for Statehood
Statehood Promised
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 first promised U.S. Territorial settlers that new states would be admitted to the Union "on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever... ."

Statehood Delayed
"Keep Washington Out": 1888 Benjamin Harrison's presidential campaign poster, "The Whole Story in a Nutshell," contrasts his ideas with Grover Cleveland’s ideas. Courtesy Chicago Historical Society.

For many years, Congress, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, refused to admit new states whose Congressional delegations might change the political balance.

By the late 1880’s, the impasse was broken. On George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed the law authorizing the creation of four new states: Washington, Montana, and North and South Dakota. Cleveland served a four year term before and again after President Harrison who won the 1888 election. The state Constitutional Convention began on July 4,1889.

Early Pioneeers
The Michael T. Simmons party. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society.

Americans first settled on the southern tip of the Puget Sound in 1845.

No photographs survive of George Washington Bush, a free black in the Simmons party which settled on the southern tip of Puget Sound in 1845.

Rights And Liberties
Due Process of Law
In Magna Carta, "the great charter" of 1215 C.E. promises forced from Britain's King John such as "due process of law" began to become a part of English fundamental law. Courtesy Picture Collection New York Public Library. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 the newly crowned King and Queen of England swore to a Declaration of Rights, which was then enacted as a Bill of Rights.
“No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised,* outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his Peers and by the law of the land.”
Magna Carta, 1215
*deprived of property
“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without Due Process of Law.”
Article 1, Section 1
Washington State Constitution
The Right to Petition
James Madison (second from left) and other members of Congress at work in committee on the amendments that became the Bill of Rights. Courtesy Robert P. Van Nutt.  <br /><br />"A Bill of Rights is what people are entitled to against any government on earth and no government should refuse or rest on inference."<br />Thomas Jefferson<br />Paris, December 20, 1787<br />Letter to James Madison.<br /><br />The framers of the Federal Constitution included various guarantees of freedom, but omitted a formal statement of rights, customary in state constitutions.
“That it is the Right of the subjects to Petition the King….”
English Bill of Rights, 1689
“The Right of Petition and of the people to peaceably Assemble for the common good shall never be abridged.”
Article 1, Section 4
Washington State Constitution
Trial by Jury
Founding Father George Mason by D. W. Boudet after a lost portrait by John Hesselius. Courtesy Virginia Museum<br /><br />Drawing upon earlier assertions of freedom, George Mason penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776.  It established a pattern followed in most subsequent state constitution, and influenced the French Declaration of the "Rights of Man and the Citizen ", 1789.
“That in all…prosecutions a man hath a Right to demand the cause and Nature of his Accusation, to be Confronted with the Accusers and Witnesses, to call for Evidence in his favour, and to a Speedy Trial by an Impartial Jury nor can he be compelled to give Evidence Against Himself….”
Virginia Declaration of Rights
“The right of Trial by Jury shall remain inviolate…”
Article 1, Section 21
Washington State Constitution
“In criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the Right to…Appear and Defend in person, and by counsel, to demand the Nature and Cause of the Accusation against him…to meet the Witnesses against him face to face…to compel the attendance of Witnesses on his own Behalf, to have a Speedy Public Trial by an Impartial Jury….” (original wording)
Article 1, Section 22
Washington State Constitution
Freedom of Speech, Press and Religion
“Congress shall make No Law respecting an establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof, or abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press, or the right of the people to peaceably Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment
United States Constitution
“Every person may Freely Speak, Write and Publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.”
Article 1, Section 5
Washington State Constitution
“Absolute Freedom of Conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed….No religious qualification shall be required for any public office.”
Article 1, Section 11
Washington State Constitution
“A Frequent Recurrence to Fundamental Principles is Essential to the security of Individual Right and the perpetuity of Free Government.”
Article 1 Section 32
Washington State Constitution, 1889
Asahel Curtis photographed these barefoot school children at Burbank, near Pasco in 1909. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society.
The State Constitution
In the strongest language of any state constitution, the framers wrote in Article IX: "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children...without distinction...on account of race, color, creed, or sex."
Local Government and Taxes
A crowd gathers to watch the fire in downtown Seattle, 1889. Courtesy Historical Photography Collections, University of Washington Libraries.

Reports of disastrous fires in Seattle, Spokane and Ellensburg interrupted the State Constitutional Convention in Olympia. The limit of public indebtedness was raised to include local governments to finance the replacement of public buildings and water systems.

Provisions for the organization of cities, towns, and counties as well as for the collection of revenue and taxation are included in the Constitution.

Economic Issues
Statue of Liberty cartoon "Trusts Rising Above the People’s Liberty" by Thomas Nast. <br /><br />Centennial gift to the nation from France, the Statue of Liberty replaced other images and became the symbol of the nation. Courtesy New York Public Library.

Monopolies and trusts, subject of the first resolution of the State Constitution, were forbidden. The State was not to lend its credit or purchase stock in any company.

Congress passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890.

Violence against striking conductors by private detective agents brought a restriction against the corporate employment of armed bodies of men.

The railroad lobby defeated a proposed railroad commission, but future legislators were barred from accepting free rail passes.

Protecting Public Lands

Great potential wealth from timber, minerals and agriculture was at stake, and the preservation of public lands granted with statehood presented the most difficult problem the state constitutional convention faced. Used to finance state governments, such lands in other states were sometimes sold off for as little as ten cents per acre. The state of Washington reserved harbor areas in front of cities, despite railroad opposition, asserted ownership to over 2500 miles of tidelands, and created the office of Commissioner of Public Lands.

Protecting Public Health

The need to regulate the practice of medicine and to control the spread of smallpox and other deadly diseases prompted the creation of a state board of health.

The Legislature was authorized to pass laws for the protection of people working in mines, factories and other employments dangerous to life and health.

1888 Benjamin Harrison presidential campaign kerchief commemorates the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as first President of the United States of America in 1889. Courtesy New-York Historical Society.
Washington Statehood
Elected delegates framed the Washington State Constitution in Olympia, Washington Territory. Courtesy Washington State Historical Society.

Omnibus bill passed by Congress enabling the admission of Washington, Montana, North and South Dakota as States of the Union - February 22, 1889

Washington Constitution Convention Delegates Elected - May 4, 1889

Constitutional Convention held in Olympia - July 4 to August 16, 1889

State Constitution Ratified by Voters - October 1,1889

Statehood Proclaimed by President Benjamin Harrison - November 11, 1889

The telegram announcing Washington Statehood arrived collect at 3:09 p.m. on November 11, 1889. Courtesy, Washington State Archives

The telegram announcing Washington Statehood arrived collect at 3:09 p.m. on November 11, 1889. Courtesy Washington State Archives.

Handwritten Proclamation of Statehood “Done at the City of Washington” as the nation’s capital was still called at the time. Courtesy The National Archives Handwritten Proclamation of Statehood “Done at the City of Washington” as the nation’s capital was still called at the time. Courtesy The National Archives

Handwritten Proclamation of Statehood “Done at the City of Washington” as the nation’s capital was still called at the time. Courtesy The National Archives

First Governor
Arriving at the Territorial Capitol Building, Elisha P. Ferry was inaugurated as the first Governor of Washington State.  November 18, 1889. Courtesy Washington State Archives.

Arriving at the Territorial Capitol Building, Elisha P. Ferry was inaugurated as the first Governor of Washington State. November 18, 1889. Courtesy Washington State Archives.