Preamble Debate Erupts; “Almighty God” Questioned
July 18, 1889
The proposed preamble to the new constitution came under fire today. The preamble, as set forth by the committee of the whole, read: “We, the people of North Dakota, acknowledging the supreme and perfect law of Almighty God, in order to perpetuate the peace, prosperity, and happiness of our citizens, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
Cooperstown lawyer David Bartlett rose to move that the words, “acknowledging the supreme and perfect law of Almighty God,” be removed. He argued that the framers of the U.S. Constitution kept Almighty God out of their work. “Unfortunately,” he maintained, “there is a large class of people that declare that the only law there is lies within the lids of the Bible.”
Reuben Stevens, a lawyer from Lisbon, immediately rose to challenge Bartlett. “When you strike those words from this Constitution, you strike a blow at civil liberty, because without a true reverence for Almighty God all forms of government must crumble in the dust, and the enlightenment of our day goes back into the dark ages of the past.” Stevens charged that the move to remove Almighty God was a total disgrace.
Fellow delegate from Dickey County, Lorenzo Bartlett, was also disturbed by the acknowledgment of the perfect law of Almighty God. “For my part I am willing that they should claim that they are governed by a higher power, but not to say that they are controlled by the law of God,” he stated. He went on to move that “Supreme Ruler of the Universe” replace “Almighty God.” Bartlett’s motion lost and “Almighty God” stayed in the preamble.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.