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Utah-Nevada Territory

Map of Utah-Nevada Territory

DeGroot's Map Of Nevada Territory Exhibiting A Portion Of Southern Oregon & Eastern California With County Boundaries, Mining Districts, Railroad Routes, Wagon Roads, Table Of Distances, &c. &c. Published By Warren Holt, 305 Montgomery St. San Francisco, Cal. 1863

The Nevada Constitution

Nevada’s Constitution was written in 1864 and is still Nevada’s constitution, although it has been amended over 100 times. Download a detailed history of the making of Nevada's Constitution here:

Nevada Territory: First Constitutional Convention in the Archives

Chapter CXXII of the Laws of the Territory of Nevada, 1862, authorized a state election to determine whether there should be a Nevada Constitutional Convention. 80% of the voters in the September 1863 election approved the question of whether to frame a constitution for the "State of Washoe." The convention, which began on Nov. 2, 1863 and lasted 32 days, was presided over by John W. North, with William M. Gillespie serving as secretary.

The First State Constitutional Convention was authorized only by the Nevada Territorial Legislature and did not have the sanction of Congress. A statehood bill for Nevada was introduced in Congress in 1863 and passed by the Senate on March 3 by a vote of 24-16 after debate, which had centered on the population of the territory. However, the 37th Congress expired at midnight the same day and the statehood bill was lost in the House of Representatives when a motion to suspend the rules and take up the bills to admit Colorado and Nevada into the union failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority.

At the Convention there was a spirited contest over the naming of the state. The act creating the convention referred in the title, and again in the body of the act, to the "State of Washoe." But the delegates apparently did not consider the name a given and eventually the name "Nevada" was approved.

Of the thirty-nine delegates to the Constitutional Convention, all but five had come to Nevada by way of California, all but five were under fifty years of age, and all but two had been in the territory less than five years. Thus, it was only natural that the Constitution was based largely on the Constitution of the State of California, which in turn was similar to the New York State Constitution. The most important member of the convention was William Stewart, a Virginia City lawyer identified closely with leading Comstock mining corporations. Stewart fought a losing battle during the debates against the taxation article which provided for taxation of the shafts, drifts, and bedrock tunnels of mines, regardless of whether they were productive or not. Stewart wanted taxation only on the net proceeds of productive mines. Ironically Stewart supported the proposed Constitution on the presumption that the first state Legislature would amend the new constitution to provide taxation only on the net proceeds of productive mines.

In addition to compiling a constitution, the convention delegates nominated a list of state officers for the ensuring election of January 19, 1864, as follows:

State Office Nominee Nominee's County
Representative in Congress John B. Winters Lyon County
Governor Miles N. Mitchell Storey County
Lieutenant Governor M.S. Thompson Humboldt County
Attorney General Henry G. Worthington Lander County
Justice of Supreme Court J.B. Harmon Storey County
Justice of Supreme Court M.D. Larrowe Lander County
Justice of Supreme Court Richard S. Mesic Esmeralda County
Clerk of the Supreme Court Alfred Helm Ormsby County
Secretary of State Orion Clemens Ormsby County
State Treasurer William B. Hickok Lyon County
State Controller Edwin A. Sherman Esmeralda County
Superintendent of Public Instruction A.F. White Ormsby County
State Printer George W. Bloor Storey County

The Constitution was opposed by a large group of disappointed candidates who had been defeated at the Union Party nominating convention. Since the Union Party was the only important political organization in the territory, these losing candidates hoped to have another chance by defeating the Constitution and thus voiding the election of officials to serve under the provisions of the document. The Union Party split, the mining tax provision, and public mistrust of the ambitious Stewart’s motives in supporting statehood appear to be the main reasons the voters turned down the proposed Constitution by better than a 4 to 1 majority.

The official reporters of the convention were Andrew J. Marsh of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise newspaper and Amos Bowman of the Virginia Daily Union. Marsh was assisted by his newspaper colleague Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), brother of Orion Clemens, Secretary of the Territory. According to provisions in the constitution, they were to be paid when government under the new constitution commenced. However, with the constitution defeated in the 1864 election, the trio remained unpaid and the proceedings were unpublished until 1972, except as serialized in the Enterprise and Daily Union. The only known surviving copies of the original published proceedings are in scrapbooks compiled by Orion Clemens which now reside in the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California, Berkeley. "Discovered" in the early 1970s by Professor William C. Miller of the University of Nevada (Reno), the proceedings were edited by Miller, Eleanore Bushnell, Russell W. McDonald, and Ann Rollins and published by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau in 1972 as Reports of the 1863 Constitutional Convention of the Territory of Nevada.

Fortunately, although the proceedings went unpublished for 109 years, the official minutes, journal, roster of delegates, drafts of the constitution, and final version as passed by the convention survived. Ironically, after being voted down, the final version of the 1863 Constitutional Convention was used as a starting point for the 1864 Constitutional Convention and bears additions in red ink indicating changes to be adopted in the new constitution.

Nevada Territory: Second Constitutional Convention in the Archives

The First Constitutional Convention in 1863 produced a document that was not ratified by the voters of Nevada Territory and in fact, was not authorized by the U.S. Congress. In February 1864 Senator James Rood Doolittle of Wisconsin introduced a Nevada statehood bill in the U.S. Senate that was passed by both houses and signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 21, 1864. Instructions in the Enabling Act, reflective of the influences of the Civil War, specified that the new constitution be republican in nature and not repugnant to the Federal Constitution or the Declaration of Independence; that there be no slavery or involuntary servitude other than for punishment of crimes, without the consent of the U.S. and the people of Nevada; that the Constitutional Convention disclaim all rights to unappropriated federal lands in Nevada; and that there be no taxation of federal property by the state. The Enabling Act also stipulated that once the constitution was ratified by the people of Nevada and inspected by President Lincoln, the president could declare Nevada a state with no further action on the part of Congress.

Delegates for the second Constitutional Convention were elected in June 1864 and ranged in age from 26 to 64 years of age. Three were foreign-born, eleven were lawyers, thirty-three had come to Nevada from California, and all but one were registered as Unionists. The president of the convention was J. Neely Johnson, a former California governor and a future justice of the Nevada Supreme Court.

The delegates met on July 4 to draw up a constitution that was very similar to the one that had been turned down by voters in 1863. The two most significant changes regarded taxation of mines and mining claims and election of state officials. The 1863 Constitution provided for taxation of all mines and mining claims, whether producing or not, and supplied a list of candidates for state offices. The 1864 document specified that only the proceeds of mines and claims could be taxed and omitted listing candidates for state offices. With these issues modified, the proposed constitution passed and President Lincoln declared Nevada a state on October 31, 1864.

The citizens of Nevada Territory approved the constitution but the president did not receive either of the two copies sent overland and by sea.