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Election Eve

9/30/2014:

The last week of the campaign had passed quickly, and tomorrow, the 1st of October, 1889, would hopefully change the political face of Dakota Territory forever. For the first time in almost three decades, the people would be free of the political yoke of territorialism, free of carpetbaggers, and free to chart their own destiny. Yet the fate of the Constitution was now in the hands of the voters, and the outcome was uncertain. A large group still opposed the constitutional mandates on the placement of public institutions. In Grand Forks, where they had vigorously campaigned to become the capital of the new state, the local newspaper told their readers to vote for the candidates as they saw fit, but vote against the constitution. However, if the Constitution failed, there would be no offices to fill, and territorial status would remain, possibly without a governor, since South Dakota assuredly would chose statehood, and Territorial Governor Arthur Mellette in all probability would be elected its first governor. A Dakota Territory, encompassing only the northern portion, would need a new governor.

Equally uncertain was the issue of prohibition. The Scandinavian Temperance Society had considerable power in the Red River Valley, and Protestant ministers condemned the evils of alcohol from pulpits every Sunday. Even the Republican platform supported temperance. With leaders like Linda Slaughter, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union worked diligently to crush John Barleycorn. When claims that high license fees were needed for civic improvements and lower taxes, opponents continued to state that they would rather walk knee-high in muck than pave the streets with the souls of their children. It was an effective campaign, and the prohibition cause was snowballing.

Newspapermen, a group not known as teetotalers, had remained relatively neutral, but were now beginning to see the handwriting on the wall. Suddenly their newspapers were filled with a wave of articles on how prohibition had been a failure in other states and that temperance, not mandatory prohibition was the answer. Even Bishop John Ireland of the Catholic Church stated that the time was not right for prohibition. However, most anti-prohibitionists, confident in their past successes to thwart it, failed to see the strength of the upwelling – this would turn out to be a fatal flaw.

For the politicians, it had been a bitter, intense, hard-fought five weeks of campaigning. The last week was summed up by the Bismarck Tribune when it stated: “The candidates are reaching the fever point, when sleep is a stranger and dreams of victory and phantoms of defeat chase each other before their misty vision and keep them awake nights.” They would soon know their fate.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune September 27, 1889

Grand Forks Weekly Herald September 27, 1889

North Dakota Capital September 27, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert September 26, 1889