The Original Oregon Constitution: Foundation for Statehood

This original, signed copy of the Oregon Constitution is permanently housed in the Oregon State Archives. The Constitution defined and established the organization of government in Oregon from 1859 to 1902, when the initiative and referendum amendment was added.

Provisional and Territorial government in Oregon was based on a series of fundamental laws which were proposed by the legislature and voted on by the people. These Organic laws functioned as a constitution in every way but in name. The movement to frame a formal constitution to replace them was tied to the statehood issue.

Oregon became a territory of the United States in 1848. For the next ten years, the question of statehood was debated annually in the legislature. Oregonians voted down proposals to hold a constitutional convention in 1854, 1855, and 1856. Many believed that Oregon was too small and not ready to become a state. The slavery issue also played a large role in the voting. Slavery had been prohibited in Oregon since 1844. However, some Oregonians did hold pro-slavery sentiments. Not holding a convention deferred resolving whether Oregon would be admitted into the union as a "free" or as a "slave" state.

The 1857 Constitutional Convention

Original Oregon Constitution (via Oregon Blue Book)

Additional resources

Constitution cover

 

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