The history of Oklahoma's Constitutional Convention begins with conditions leading up to statehood. Originally the area known as Oklahoma was called Indian Territory. After the 1889 opening of the Unassigned Lands within Indian Territory to settlement by non-Indians, in 1890 the western portion of present Oklahoma was created as Oklahoma Territory. Together, the two regions were commonly known as the Twin Territories.
Naturally, when talk turned to statehood the question became whether one or two states would be formed. The single-statehood forces won the day. On June 6, 1906, Congress passed an Enabling Act, the device whereby Congress creates a state. The act provided for a single state to be formed from the Twin Territories.
On November 6, 1906, elections were held in both territories to elect delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Each territory elected 55 delegates, and the Osage Nation elected 2 additional delegates. Of these 112 delegates, 99 were Democrats (known as the “ninety and nine”), 12 were Republicans (the “twelve apostles”), and the remaining delegate was an independent (the “renegade”).
As stipulated in the Enabling Act, the delegates assembled in Guthrie on November 20, 1906, two weeks after their election. Representing the largest economic interests in the territories, the delegates were mostly farmers, with a lesser number of lawyers and laborers. The delegates' average age was early forties. The colorful William "Alfalfa Bill" H. Murray took the chair as president of the Constitutional Convention. Peter Hanraty, an individual strong in the state's infant labor organization, was elected vice president. The Democrats elected Charles N. Haskell as majority floor leader. Attorney Henry Asp of Guthrie led the Republican minority.
Murray played a dominant role in drafting the constitution, both as presiding officer and in making appointments to and directing the work of committees. He often endorsed progressive reforms similar to the ones he had supported as a delegate to the earlier Sequoyah Convention. It is generally alleged that William Jennings Bryan was the most important outside influence on the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Although Murray and Bryan did agree on several constitutional matters, Murray did not hesitate to make any disagreement he might have with Bryan known to the delegates.
The convention adjourned on March 15, 1907. President Murray, however, called the delegates together for several brief meetings prior to the document being put to a vote of the people. The first such assembly was in mid-April so that the delegates could sign the completed document after making some slight changes. In July, after Pres. Theodore Roosevelt put in writing, at Murray's request, his objections to the constitution, Murray called the delegates together, and a few minor revisions were made. Some of the provisions of the final document included the initiative and referendum, prohibition, strict corporate regulation, and woman suffrage limited to school elections.
After some sniping between Murray and territorial officials over the possession of the parchment version of the document and the date for allowing the public to vote on its approval, a date was finally approved. The date selected, September 17, was the same month and day on which the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had signed the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The Oklahoma Constitution was approved by 71 percent of the vote in September 1907.
SEE ALSO: HENRY ASP, ENABLING ACT, GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS, CHARLES NATHANIEL HASKELL, INDIAN TERRITORY, WILLIAM HENRY DAVID MURRAY, OKLAHOMA CONSTITUTION, OKLAHOMA TERRITORY, PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT, SEQUOYAH CONVENTION, STATEHOOD MOVEMENT, TWIN TERRITORIES.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Danny M. Adkison and Lisa McNair Palmer, The Oklahoma State Constitution: A Reference Guide (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001). Danny M. Adkison, “The Oklahoma Constitution,” in Oklahoma Politics and Policies: Governing the Sooner State, ed. David R. Morgan, Robert E. England, and George G. Humphreys (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991). Keith L. Bryant, Jr., Alfalfa Bill Murray (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968). “Oklahoma Constitutional Convention,” Vertical File, Library Resources Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Irvin Hurst, The 46th Star: A History of Oklahoma's Constitutional Convention and Early Statehood (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Semco Color Press, 1957). William H. Murray, “The Constitutional Convention,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (June 1931).
Danny M. Adkison
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