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Dubious Legislation: A North Dakota Tradition

By Staff | Apr 2, 2015

If you think some of the proposals being considered in the present legislative session are dubious, temper your criticism with a look at some of the laws that appeared in the 1900 “Revised Code of North Dakota.”

Exemptions for jury duty included persons over the age of 60. That would eliminate one-third of the state’s population today and exclude most of those who have time to serve.

Preachers, physicians, government employees and firemen in “regularly organized” fire companies were also exempt. The law sure helped recruit for those volunteer fire brigades.

Non-citizens got to vote in 1900 by simply announcing that they intended to become citizens. Photo IDs were not required.

The 2015 Legislature just passed a measure requiring the teaching of civil government. In 1900, the law required teaching of not only “civil government” but also orthography, reading, spelling, writing, arithmetic, language lessons, English grammar, geography, United States history, physiology and hygiene.

Also, mentors were required to teach “thoroughly” the nature of “alcoholic drinks, stimulants and narcotics” and their effect on the human body. How did we end up as a state of binge drinking? Logic fails again.

“Any person in any city, village or township in this state that shall construct and maintain a watering trough beside the highway” was rewarded with a tax break – a deduction of five dollars from their highway tax.

Whoever drove across a bridge faster than a walk could be fined not less than five nor more than 10 dollars, according to Section 1162 of Article 14.

Members of the National Guard who needed to be mounted were required to provide for their own horses and horse equipment. Well, the minutemen at Lexington had to bring their own guns.

Section 1549 declared that it was lawful for “horses, cattle, mules, ponies and sheep to run at large from November 1 until the first day of April.” Texting was more dangerous in those old days.

And, furthermore, “the killing or damaging of any horses, cattle or other stock by the cars or locomotives along a railroad shall be prima facie evidence of carelessness or negligence.” By law, it was always the railroad’s fault.

The state encouraged economic development by providing bounties for the manufacture of twine and starch. Twine was needed for bundling grain; the starch bounty was intended to encourage potato production.

Hotels were required to provide as a fire escape “at least one good cotton rope not less than one inch in diameter, to be securely fastened inside the window.”

Five or more people could form a railroad company but the law required that a train had to run on the tracks at least once a week. Each locomotive was required to have a 30-pound bell to alert crossings 80 rods ahead.

So you don’t like government regulations. Be thankful you weren’t hauling coal in 1900. Section 3071 set the exact rates railroads could charge for hauling coal with the rate changing every 10 miles in 49 categories up to 485 miles to 495 miles where the statutory rate was $2.17 a ton.

Around 1900, we still had steamboats hauling passengers so Section 7252 made it a misdemeanor for a commercial steamboat “to receive so many passengers that the vessel sinks.” (The exact number could be known only after a sinking.)

In 1900, it was illegal for one county to send a pauper to another county to avoid having him a burden on local taxpayers.

Section 754 of the 1900 Revised Code declared that “the Bible shall not be deemed a sectarian book.” Even today some legislatures claim that religious is not religious.

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