The Shawnee Demands were a list of proposals adopted by several groups that sought to influence the writing of the Oklahoma Constitution. In June 1906 Congress passed the Enabling Act for Oklahoma, authorizing the creation of a state constitution to be submitted to the voters. Delegates to the constitutional convention would be elected in November of that year. In August representatives of the Oklahoma Farmers' Union, the Twin Territories Federation of Labor, and the independent railroad brotherhoods met in Shawnee, Indian Territory, to develop their list of proposals. Social reformer Kate Barnard also attended as a representative of the Women's International Union Label League. Ten members of these groups formed a legislative board charged with writing the list of demands, which was released on September 10, 1906.
While many of the demands reflected the interests of agriculture and labor, the two main groups at the Shawnee meeting, broader governmental and social reforms were included as well. Agrarian interests wanted an elected commissioner of agriculture, a liberal homestead exemption law, and the prohibition of gambling in farm products. Labor forces demanded an eight-hour work day for miners and public employees, the creation of the elective offices of labor commissioner and chief mine inspector, health and safety measures for laborers, and protection for employees injured on the job. The list included requests for the initiative, referendum, and recall, as well as for direct primary elections. Compulsory education and free textbooks printed by the state also appeared on the list. Social reforms included prohibitions on most types of child labor and on the contracting of convict labor outside prison walls. Two separate corporation commissions were proposed. One would regulate and maintain rates for railroads, insurance and telephone companies, and all other corporations. The other, a corporate tax commission, would have the authority to inspect corporations' accounting records as well as determine the valuation of stocks and bonds. Both commissions would consist of three elected members. Another of the Shawnee Demands reflected the desire to prohibit railroads from owning or leasing mines.
Many of the twenty-four demands were similar to recently adopted Democratic Party platform planks as well as to provisions of the constitution that was written at the Sequoyah Convention in 1905. A total of 124 candidates for the constitutional convention seats pledged to support the Shawnee Demands, of whom 101 were Democrats. Of these supporters, 67 Democrats and 3 Republicans were elected.
The Democratic Party overwhelmingly controlled the constitutional convention, winning 99 of the 112 seats as well as the support of the lone independent delegate. The voters generally identified with the reform-minded measures, such as the Shawnee Demands, that most Democratic candidates advocated. Although several items, including the recall and an elected commissioner of agriculture, were omitted from the Oklahoma Constitution, most of the Shawnee Demands were reflected in the instrument's final draft, which was ratified by the voters in September 1907.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kenny L. Brown, "Progressivism in Oklahoma Politics, 1900-1913: A Reinterpretation," in "An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before": Alternative Views of Oklahoma History, ed. Davis D. Joyce (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994). Danney Goble, Progressive Oklahoma: The Making of a New Kind of State (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). James R. Scales and Danney Goble, Oklahoma Politics: A History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982).
Matthew Rex Cox
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