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Omnibus Bill


An Omnibus Bill was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland on this date in 1889. The bill, surrounded in political controversy, divided Dakota Territory into North and South Dakota, and authorized the framing of state constitutions for Montana, Washington, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Once the people of Dakota voted to divide themselves, and drafted state constitutions, Congress would allow for admission of the states into the Union. This promise of statehood came amid a flurry of protests from both sides of the aisle, which were more concerned with the political leanings of each territory than any traditional requirements for statehood.

Dakota Territory was one of the most notoriously Republican-leaning regions of the U.S. in the 1880s. In 1888, the Democratic-controlled House killed a bill that would have divided the Dakota Territory into two separate states, fearing that the Republican-controlled Senate was simply trying to gain four Republican senators rather than two by admitting two states rather than one. This was despite the fact that residents of the Territory considered themselves to be either ‘northerners’ or ‘southerners’ within its boundaries, and that antagonisms between northern and southern Dakota had been growing since northerners had moved the territorial capital from Yankton to Bismarck in 1883. Southerners had even drafted their own constitution, planning for admission as an independent state.

Dakota had the highest population of any territory, over half a million by the late 1880s. But cries to split the territory were largely ignored until 1889, when Republicans gained a House majority. The Omnibus Bill of 1889 cleared the Republican-controlled Congress, guaranteeing statehood to Republican-leaning North and South Dakota and Washington. To pacify Congressional Democrats, admission to statehood was also promised to New Mexico and Montana, which were more Democratic territories.

On November 2nd, 1889, North and South Dakota were officially admitted as states. President Benjamin Harrison quickly signed the Acts of the Admission for both states, then shuffled the papers, hoping to avoid showing favoritism between the sometimes-antagonistic states. Without knowing which state was admitted first, the order of admissions was compiled alphabetically, with North Dakota becoming the 39th state and South Dakota the 40th.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job