Statehood at Last
The road to statehood had been a long, difficult journey encompassing thirty-two years. Officially it began on March 2, 1861, when the Organic Act creating the Territory of Dakota was issued; however, attempts at statehood had an earlier beginning. In 1857, the Dakota Land Company promoted the states of Minnesota and Dakota. The company, comprised mostly of Democrats, envisioned twin states sitting side by side, carved out of an area south of the 46thparallel, which is a bit north of the current border with South Dakota. The land north of that line would remain unorganized territory. Republicans in control of the United States Senate stymied this attempt.
The advent of the Civil War and the Minnesota Uprising of 1862 suspended settlement for almost a decade, but when the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the Red River in 1872, westward expansion exploded onto the fertile plains of Dakota Territory.
A split of the territory was inevitable. As early as January of 1871, pro-statehood advocates from the southern half petitioned to create a State of South Dakota, but it died in Congress. They would make at least ten more attempts to be rid of their more primitive, northern neighbor. This was especially true after the Territorial Capitol was wrestled from Yankton and placed in Bismarck in 1883. It was not until the Jamestown Convention in 1888 that northern Dakota Territory began an earnest effort to develop a constitution similar to the one completed in Huron for South Dakota in 1885.
Homesteaders and businessmen yearned to toss off the yoke of Territorial rule. A Democratic controlled Senate, aided by the owners of the huge bonanza farms and the railroad corporations, both seeking to avoid increased taxes, fought to retain territorial status. But by 1889, they were forced to capitulate. After three decades, the time had finally arrived.
It is fitting that President Benjamin Harrison signed the Proclamation of Admission since, as a senator from Indiana, he had personally submitted bills seeking statehood for Dakota in 1884 and 1886. On Saturday, November 2, 1889, the two documents admitting the states of North and South Dakota were laid face-down on a sheet of paper on the President’s desk. They were shuffled, and turned face-up but the text was concealed by the paper on which they had been laid. The paper was slowly moved so that only the signature lines were exposed. At 3:40 PM Eastern Time the documents were signed. Once the ink was dry, they were again placed face down and shuffled so that no one, not even President Harrison knew which was signed first. At that moment, in the Centennial year of our Nation’s history, the Twin States of North Dakota and South Dakota were born. Happy 125thBirthday!
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Bismarck Tribune November 8, 1889 page 5