8.1.1 Great Plains (1850-1900): Constitutions As Barometers of Social Change

Bleeding Kansas, Nebraska Grangerism,  Dakota and Oklahoma Progressivism
 
  • Oklahoma, the last Great Plains state, was admitted to statehood nearly a half-century after Kansas, the first state in the region.  The constitutions of the new states thus provided a good barometer of American social and constitutional changes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 
  • Kansas (1861) and Nebraska (1867) created their constitutions at the end of the era of Jacksonian legal reform, and their constitutions incorporated many Jacksonian reforms including an elective judiciary, abolition of imprisonment for debt and a requirement that corporations be created only by general laws (see §§ ___).  The constitutions also reflected increasing skepticism about state and federal subsidies for railroad construction and other internal improvements, a skepticism that peaked in the neighboring Midwest region in the late 1860s and early 1870s.  In 1875, Missouri inaugurated an era of “Granger” constitutions that extensively regulated railroads; Nebraska promptly followed suit in its new constitution of the same year.
  • North and South Dakota were next:  their 1889 constitutions contained a full set of Granger regulations and contained hints of the era of Populist and Progressive reforms that was about to begin.  Both Dakota constitutions required their legislatures to regulate railroad rates, contained antitrust provisions and, in South Dakota, gave the people the right to legislate directly through the initiative and referendum – two reforms that many other states adopted during the Progressive era. 
    • Oklahoma’s 1907 constitution, enacted at the height of the Progressive era, contained an advanced menu of Progressive reforms – with a Southern tinge.  In addition to detailed railroad regulation and antitrust provisions, the Oklahoma constitution created numerous regulatory agencies including departments of labor and mining and banking and corporation commissions.  It contained protective child labor provisions, mandated an 8-hour day for government projects, and incorporated a direct primary as well as initiative and referendum measures into the state’s political system.  But Oklahomans also enshrined segregation and the separate-but-equal principle (see § ___) in their constitution and, alone among the Great Plains states, Oklahoma catered to a fear of land speculation by prohibiting foreign ownership of land.    
     

     

    Kansas

    Nebraska

     

    North Dakota

    South Dakota

    Oklahoma

     

     

    1861

    1867

    1875

    1889

    1889

    1907

    Jacksonian-era reforms:

    Elective judiciary

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

    Incorporation must be by general laws

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

    Homestead exemption (or legislature required to enact such a provision)

    X

     

     

    X

     

    X

    Married women’s property law (or legislature required to enact such a law)

    X

     

     

    X

     

     

    No imprisonment for debt (with limited exceptions)

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

    Post-Jacksonian reforms:  government aid for internal improvements

    State prohibited from or limited in subsidizing internal improvements

    X

    X

    X

     

    X

     

    Municipalities prohibited from or limited in subsidizing internal improvements

    X

    X

    X

    X

    X

     

    Limits on municipal debt

     

     

    X

    X

    X

    X

    Limits on state debt and/or extension of credit

    X

    X

    X

     

    X

    X

    Granger reforms:

    Railroads must maintain local office and make annual reports

     

     

    X

    X

    X

    X

    Competing railroads may not consolidate operations

     

     

    X

     

     

    X

    Railroads may not dilute stock

     

     

     

    X

    X

     

    Legislature required to enact or may enact laws regulating railroad rates

     

     

    X

    X

    X

    X

    Discriminatory railroad rates prohibited

     

     

     

     

     

    X

    Railroads required to provide switching facilities for larger businesses

     

     

     

     

     

    X

    Progressive-era reforms:

    Good government:  legislature prohibited from “logrolling” (trading favors in return for votes, putting non-budgetary laws in budget bills)

     

     

     

    X

     

    X

    Good government:  initiative provision

     

     

     

     

    X

    X

    Good government:  referendum provision

     

     

     

     

    X

    X

    Good government:  direct primary

     

     

     

     

     

    X

    Anti-competitive behavior:  no interference with existing employment

     

     

     

    X

     

     

    Anti-competitive behavior:  no employer blacklisting

     

     

     

    X

     

     

    Anti-competitive behavior:  monopolies and price-fixing prohibited

     

     

     

     

    X

    X

    Public utilities:  State can operate businesses for public purposes

     

     

     

     

     

    X

    Department of labor, mining inspector, banking and corporation commission created

     

     

     

     

     

    X

    Compulsory arbitration of mining and public-service corporation labor disputes

     

     

     

     

     

    X

    Child labor restrictions

     

     

     

    X

     

    X

    Eight-hour day on government works

     

     

     

     

     

    X