History and Opinion
By Phil Roberts
Primary Documents: Constitution and Statehood
M. C. Brown Comments on the Wyoming Constitution
"The constitution was framed in the interest of the masses. Its makers were close to the great heart of the common people. It is restrictive of corporate and individual greed, restrains combinations and trusts, and makes secure the privileges of all persons. It many respects it is peculiarly original. While the rights of corporations are properly guarded, their powers are surrounded by such just provisions as to render the exercise thereof, to the injury of the State or the people, impossible. A feeling existed in the convention that corporate influence had adversely affected territorial legislation, and that this influence in time might become so strong as to injuriously affect the rights and interests of the people; hence the controlling clause of the constitution.
"The constitution has some imperfections; but as a whole, it is unexcelled. It was the first constitution of any state or nation to ordain the equality of all persons before the law; and if it could be commended for no other reason, this would give it first place. Equality is the basic element of justice, and to this sprit of justice, this element of character in Wyoming men, may be attributed their action in this establishing by their Bill of Rights, the equality of all persons before the law. It has often been claimed that woman should be shielded from the graver responsibilities of life, that she should not be exposed to the demoralizing influences of politics, that she should be deprived of her equal political rights out of tenderness to her. But I have noticed the man who talks on that line will let his wife get up first in the morning when the nights are cold and start the fire! He never objects to her cutting the wood, milking the cow, cleaning the barn, and churning the butter. His wife could stand over the wash-tub or ironing board the hottest day, while he talked politics at the store! But HE is altogether too tender of the dear, weak creature to expose her to the contaminating influences of the ballot!
"Others urge that her natural rights should be denied her because of her lack of capabilities. Men who argue in this vein, I have noticed, are generally very ignorant. This objection has seemed to me to come largely from a spirit of jealousy or cowardice. The coward always wants some mean advantage, and jealousy is ever alert to prevent a leveling of rights….
"The men of Wyomingwere never cowards and never unwilling that others should have an equal chance with them. They are too energetic to let their wives drudge while they talk politics at the store; they, too, have a high appreciation of good women, and because of their courage they are proportionately just….
"No petition from women, no importunities from professional suffragists, no special influence was brought to bear upon the convention; it was a voluntary act, based upon the simple proposition of justice. It was believed that old American doctrine was the true one that the right to govern should depend upon the consent of the governed; that woman, being necessarily subject to the same laws and liable to the same penalties as man seemed a good reason why, as a matter of natural right, she should have an equal voice in making such laws. Thus, upon the theory of simple justice, the broadminded men of the convention established the principle of equality of all persons as the fundamental law of our State, and this for the first time in the history of man. If the constitution possessed no other merit, for this alone it should stand as a monument to the nobility, courage and sprit of justice of Wyoming….
"Our constitution is in advance of other constitutions in the matter of irrigation….
"It is sometimes claimed there is too much legislation in our constitution, and this is urged as a mistake. The old-time idea was that constitutions should be a collection of general rules and maxims, restrictive in character, in accordance with which the powers of sovereignty should be uniformly exercised; that self-enforcing provisions, descending to minute details, should be condemned, generally, as legislation. There was wisdom in that idea, and were it not for the fact that particular interests often unjustly control legislation, it would be a true theory. The experience of men teaches that large combinations of capital, representing peculiar interests, may prevent much needed legislation. So strong has this grown that the sentiment among the common people that just legislation in their interests is frequently prevented by interested monopolies, that the referendum system is seriously urged in several states. … Legislatures can not always be trusted. I am, therefore, in favor of legislation in certain directions by constitution. The most serious mistake in our constitution was lack of legislation, failure to fix a tonnage tax upon the output of coal mined in our State being perhaps one of the gravest omissions. The matter was very fully debated in the convention, the vote on the proposition varying at different stages of the proceedings. There were in the convention some men interested in mining coal; others, attorneys for corporations interested in coal product. Whether their employment affected the judgment of corporation lawyers, I do not know, but they, as well as those interested in producing coal, and many others having no personal interest to subserve, were against the proposition of a tonnage tax. I could not insinuate most distantly that any member was actuated by improper motives. On the contrary, every man voted on the proposition according to his highest and best judgment. It is now generally believed, however, after several attempts of our legislature to fix a tonnage tax on the output of coal, that is should have been settled by the constitution. A reasonable tonnage tax on the coal output would bring a sum of money from consumers in adjoining states that would greatly lessen the burdens of taxation and eventually discharge state and county indebtedness….
"Your constitution was evolved out of conditions that made us indeed “a peculiar people.”
--Melville C. Brown, Laramie, Wyoming. Brown was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Albany County. The members selected him as the presiding officer.
Source: “Constitution Making,” An Address Given Before a Meeting of Pioneers at Cheyenne, Wyoming Winter of 1898,” Wyoming Historical Collections 1919/20, pp. 96-108.
John Hoyt Speaks in Favor of Women Suffrage in the Constitution
“Wyoming stands at the front, she stands upon the summit of this pinnacle, in the progress of women. For 20 years the women of this territory have taken part with the men of the territory in its government and have exercised this right of suffrage equal with them, of the results of which we are all proud. No man has ever dared to say in the territory of Wyoming that woman suffrage is a failure. There has been no disturbance of the domestic relations, there has been no diminution of the social order, there has been no diminution of the dignity which characterizes the exercise of the elective franchise; there has been on the contrary an improvement of the social order, better laws, better officials, a higher and better civilization. We stand today proud, proud of this great experiment…."
John Hoyt, during debate in Constitutional Convention on whether to include women suffrage in the document.
Source: Proceedings and Debates, p. 354. 14th day of session, Sept. 17, 1889.
Hoyt (b. Ohio, 1831) first came to Wyoming as territorial governor in 1878. Educated in both law and medicine, he became a founder of the University of Wyoming and its first president in 1887. He was serving as UW president at the time of his election to the Constitutional Convention in 1889.