The Rising Star
Statehood appeared imminent in 1889—towns boomed and populations swelled. Republicans controlled the
federal government, making it easier for the Republican-leaning territory to be admitted as a state. In February,
Congress enabled Washington, the Dakotas and Montana to become states. By July, framers were locked in
debate at the constitutional convention.
Much of their hard work focused on government structure, legislative powers and controversial topics including
women’s suffrage and Prohibition. Fraught with complications, ownership of the valuable tidelands between high
and low water sharply divided the delegates. The level land and its position as a gateway for business and
navigation appealed to special interests, cities and private citizens alike.
George Turner, a delegate at odds with the railroad moguls who hoped to acquire the tidelands, recalled an
encounter with lobbyists. Fire had just gutted his law office in Spokane Falls. Turner claimed lobbyists offered him
$25,000 for his upcoming Senate bid to leave the convention and tend to matters at home. His response was “brief,
direct, adequate, just, forgivably profane, and legally unprintable,” wrote Turner’s biographer. Turner remained.
Delegate James Moore labeled the settlers and business that had settled on the tidelands “trespassers”: “They
tearfully demanded that they be left alone, the poor fellows who have made millions, then they come down here
with an army of lobbyists and an open sack. They have the audacity to come to a constitutional convention,
supposed to be composed of honest men, and ask us to throw down the bars and step in to grab the peoples’
property. Why, Mr. Chairman, there are more graves of statesmen on these tidelands than we have any idea of.”
In the new constitution, the state asserted perpetual ownership of the harbors and tidelands, and authorized
the legislature to take further action to define harbor lines. Tidewater cities received the right to extend streets
over certain tidal areas. The convention ended in August and the drafters sang a song by delegate Francis
Henry, “Acres of Clams,” later made popular by Seattle restauranteur Ivar Haglund. The constitution was
On October 1, more than 40,000 male voters of Washington
Territory ratified the constitution. U.S. President Benjamin
Harrison declared Washington the Union’s 42nd state at 5:27
in the afternoon on November 11.