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The Centennial State

It was part of Spain, France — no, Spain — no, France — both Spain and France, the United States and Mexico and Texas, and then just the United States. At least some part of its land at one time or another had been in the Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico territories, was organized into a provisional Territory of Jefferson, and was even claimed by the “State” of Deseret.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, it had a rocky road to statehood: it took 18 years, four proposed constitutions, five popular votes, a whole bunch of Congressional actions, two Presidential vetos, and finally a Presidential proclamation, before that day — 136 years ago yesterday — when The Legal Genealogist‘s native Colorado became the 38th state under the one and only official constitution Colorado has ever had.

Colorado’s history has to be pretty close to the most complex of any American state. It was first within the vast territory claimed by Spain as part of Nueva España, New Spain.1 But Spain’s claim to some eastern parts of its territory was challenged by France’s claim to its territory of Louisiane, which included parts of eastern Colorado.2

In 1762, the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau made the Mississippi River the border between French Louisiana and Spanish New Mexico.3 That left eastern Colorado as part of French territory but the western lands under Spanish control. Part of the eastern territory was ceded back to France by the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 18004 and sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in a deal ratified by the Senate in 1803.5

Throughout the early years of the 19th century, then, what would become Colorado was divided between the United States in the east and Spanish New Mexico in the west.6 The Republic of Texas laid claim to a large swath of southern and western Colorado, raising border issues not resolved until years after Texas joined the Union in 1845.7 Mexico, in turn, ceded its claims over what became Colorado in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 which ended the Mexican War.8

Colorado carved from territories

Colorado as a separate United States territory didn’t exist until 1861.9 Before then, at least some part of its land area had been part of the Louisiana District,10 then Louisiana Territory,11 then Missouri Territory,12 unorganized territory until the Compromise of 1850 created the Utah and New Mexico Territories with portions of Colorado in each,13 then portions were carved out into the Kansas and Nebraska Territories in 1854.14 Not to mention a big chunk of western Colorado being claimed by the never-to-be-recognized Mormon State of Deseret from 1849 to 1851.15

Even before the creation of the Colorado Territory, residents of what became Colorado started working towards statehood but boy… talks about fits and starts. Here’s the chronology:

     • 1858: Residents of the Denver area formed an independent government of Arapahoe County and call for a constitutional convention.

     • 1859: A constitutional convention met, wrote a constitution, presented it to the voters — and it went down in flames by a vote of 2,007 to 649. But a provisional government for a proposed Territory of Jefferson was formed. That territory wasn’t accepted by Congress.

     • 1864: Another constitutional convention met, wrote a constitution, presented it to the voters — and it too went down to defeat, 4,672 to 1,520.

     • 1865-66: A new constitution was written and approved and Congress passed an act admitting Colorado as a State — and the statute was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson.

     • 1867: Congress passed another act admitting Colorado as a state — and President Johnson vetoed that bill as well.

     • March 1875: Congress passed and President Grant signed a statehood bill for Colorado.

     • October 1875: Delegates were elected to a constitutional convention.

     • December 1875 – March 1876: The Constitutional Convention met in Denver, finally approving a proposed constitution on 14 March 1876.

     • 1 July 1876: The proposed Constitution was ratified at a popular vote, 15,443 to 4,062.

     • 1 August 1876: President Grant signed the proclamation declaring Colorado a state.16

The 1876 constitution was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, and — after setting the state boundaries — began with a Bill of Rights.17 Among its more unusual provisions, arising in large measure from the Mexican heritage of many of its residents, was an express guarantee that “Aliens, who are or who may hereafter become bona fide residents of this State, may acquire, inherit, possess, enjoy and dispose of property, real and personal, as native born citizens.”18

Among its legislative provisions were a bar on legislators receiving any pay raises under any law passed in a specific legislative term,19 a bar on any appropriation for charitable, industrial, educational or benevolent purposes unless non-denominational and non-sectarian,20 and a requirement that any legislator with a personal or private interest in any matter proposed or pending was required to disclose it and barred from voting on that matter.21

The Constitution limited the right to vote to males over age 21 who were citizens or who had declared an intention to become a citizen not less than four months before an election. Women were permitted to vote in school elections only.22 It provided for public schools,23 for limits on corporations,24 for militia service by all able-bodied men aged 18-45,25 for “liberal homestead and exemption laws,”26 for the publication of state laws in Spanish and German until the year 1900,27 and — of particular interest to genealogists — for a state census in 1885.28

The original of the 1876 Colorado State Constitution is held in the Colorado State Archives, and a printed copy in PDF format is available on the State Archives’ website.

Through 2005, the Constitution had been amended 111 times, with another 143 amendments defeated.29 As amended to today, a complete copy of the Colorado Constitution is online under the Colorado Revised Statutes and Constitution link from the Colorado Legislature’s website, and at


Image adapted from Wikimedia user Golbez via Creative Commons

  1. Wilbur Fisk Stone, editor, History of Colorado, vol. I (Chicago : S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1918), 20; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  2. Ibid., 20-22.
  3. Ibid., 22. See also “Louisiana as a Spanish Colony,” Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase, Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  4. Preliminary and Secret Treaty between the French Republic and His Catholic Majesty the King of Spain, Concerning the Aggrandizement of His Royal Highness the Infant Duke of Parma in Italy and the Retrocession of Louisiana,” Treaty of San Ildefonso : October 1, 1800; html version, Yale Law School, Avalon Project ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  5. See Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C. : Duff Green, 1828), 450 ; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  6. Stone, editor, History of Colorado, 168.
  7. See Wikipedia (, “State Cessions,” rev. 3 Jul 2012.
  8. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; February 2, 1848;” html version, Yale Law School, Avalon Project ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  9. An Act to provide a temporary Government for the Territory of Colorado,” 12 Stat. 172 (1861); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  10. An Act erecting Louisiana into two territories, and providing for the temporary government thereof,” 2 Stat. 283 (1804).
  11. An Act further providing for the government of the district of Louisiana,” 2 Stat. 331 (1805).
  12. “An act providing for the government of the territory of Missouri,” 2 Stat. 743 (1812).
  13. As to New Mexico, “An Act … to establish a territorial Government for New Mexico,” 9 Stat. 446 (1850). As to Utah, “An Act … to establish a Territorial Government for Utah,” 9 Stat. 453 (1850).
  14. An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas,” 10 Stat. 277 (1854).
  15. Wikipedia (, “Colorado,” rev. 1 Aug 2012.
  16. Colorado Government,” Colorado State Archives ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  17. Article II, The Constitution of the State of Colorado, adopted in Convention, March 14, 1876 (Denver : Tribune Book & Job Printing House, 1876), 3-6; digital images, PDF file, Colorado State Archives ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
  18. Ibid., Article II, § 27.
  19. Ibid., Article V, § 9.
  20. Ibid., § 34.
  21. Ibid., § 43.
  22. Ibid., Article VII, § 1
  23. Ibid., Article IX.
  24. Ibid., Article XV.
  25. Ibid., Article XVII.
  26. Ibid., Article XVIII, § 1.
  27. Ibid., § 8
  28. Ibid., Article V, § 45.
  29. Dennis Polhill, “Some Facts about the Colorado Constitution Compiled for the Colorado Constitution Panel,” 4 Mar 2008, (http:// : accessed 1 Aug 2012).
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