View Washington Constitutional Convention Members

The 1889 constitution makers came from the heart of America, the east coast and countries worldwide. Because of the territory’s explosive population growth, the only delegate born in Washington was a 31-year-old real estate agent named Gwin Hicks. Roots of the others can be traced to California, the Midwest, Canada, Scotland and Germany.

Some 43 Republicans, 29 Democrats and three Independents made up the convention. But the real split wasn’t along party lines. The convention was divided between “populists” and those considered more business-minded. Together—in the fields of law, agriculture, real estate, mining and more—these drafters represented a cross-section of 1889 life.

Delegates included George Tibbetts, a 44-year-old entrepreneur from Maine. Tibbetts fought in the Civil War, was captured at the Battle of Deep Bottom in 1864 and incarcerated as a POW for seven months. J.J. Browne from Spokane Falls ranked among the territory’s wealthiest men—he bought a quarter of the town site when he arrived in 1878. Ohio native John Hoyt practiced law and managed a Seattle bank; he was a former Michigan lawmaker and a Supreme Court justice in Washington Territory. The convention named Hoyt president after delegate George Turner withdrew from the race.

The youngest delegate, 30-year-old P.C. Sullivan from Nebraska, practiced law in Tacoma. A 69-year-old farmer from Ritzville named D. Buchanan was the oldest member. The Scot arrived in Washington some three decades before statehood. Buchanan’s tireless plea for reduced government spending in the new state earned him the nickname “the thrifty Scotsman from Ritzville.”

As the men prepared to convey the fundamental governing principles of Washington state, delegate Allen Weir from Port Townsend reminded them of advice given to North Dakota on its own journey to statehood:

“Remember that times change, that men change, and that new things are invented, new devices, new schemes, new plans, new uses of corporate power, and that such things are going on hereafter for all time.”

The year 1889 did not mark Washington’s first attempt at statehood. In 1878, 15 delegates drafted a state constitution in Walla Walla that was ratified.

However, the bill died in a congressional committee, largely because the territory’s population was too small.

Constitutional Convention

History of Washington’s farm-based Grange predates statehood by more than a decade. But the first statewide organization began at the Pioneer Store in La Camas, just two months before Washington was admitted to the Union amid strong criticisms of the proposed constitution. Farmers took great exception to the number of offices the constitution created and its proposed salaries.

George Turner

Cogent and direct, George Turner was one of the most able and controversial delegates. His role as a constitution maker was a singular event in a remarkable life. Before it was over, Turner had advanced from a one-room Missouri schoolhouse to the Washington Supreme Court.

Turner was born in Edina, Missouri, on February 25, 1850. His ambition and willingness to glean all he could from older mentors offset his minimal formal education.

George Turner

A messenger boy for the Union in the Civil War, Turner studied telegraphy and joined the Military Telegraph Corps. He moved to Alabama at 16 or 17 and read law under his brother’s guidance. The political career that followed saw him nominated for state attorney general in 1874 and appointed a U.S. marshal for Alabama in 1876. Turner was twice head of the Alabama delegation at the Republican National Convention. After Reconstruction ended in the South, Turner headed west. He soon became a justice on the Supreme Court of Washington Territory. There, Turner took on the powerful railroads in his judicial opinions. He also authored Harland v. Territory, the 1888 decision that struck down a law giving women the right to vote on the grounds it was inconsistent with the federal law creating Washington Territory.

At the 1889 Constitutional Convention, the Republican represented the 2nd District of Washington Territory, chaired the Judiciary Committee, penned the judiciary article and drew a hard line with the railroads in a legendary battle over the tidelands.

Turner later ran for the U.S. Senate as a “Silver Republican,” a candidate who supported an increased money supply. He was unsuccessful in his first bid, denounced Republican leadership and switched in 1896 to the “fusion” ticket comprised of Silver Republicans, Democrats and Populists. That ticket swept the 1896 election and Turner served in the U.S. Senate until 1903. No fight appealed to the senator like the pursuit of justice. “Liberty knows no clime, no color, no race, no creed,” Turner avowed in defense of Filipinos. In 1904, George Turner campaigned unsuccessfully for Washington governor.