Dakota Datebook

President Harrison delivers a happy birthday to North Dakota

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

 

Thank you President Benjamin Harrison for making today North Dakota’s birthday. And thanks also to your sense of fairness, and possibly a sly sense of future historical trivia.

November 1889 could be nicknamed “New State Month” for Republican President Harrison. It would certainly prove to be a boon to the expanding territories in the country’s West. The president had been in office just eight months when he was faced with decisions that would expand the nation’s states, adding stars to the American flag. No new state had been named in over a decade.

Dakota Territory was ripe for statehood and there was an established rivalry between the territory’s north and the south halves – extending even to the potential bragging rights that would certainly accompany being named as a state before the other.

The canny president was challenged with a problem worthy of ancient King Solomon: how to split the territory with a maximum of fairness and a minimum of disparity.

We may never know exactly what was on Harrison’s keen mind as he pondered the statehood proclamations. We recognize today that his decision was the essence of a fair-minded leader. Before the signing ceremony, the president had the proclamations for both South and North Dakota shuffled and covered so the only open space he could see was the area for his signature. No record we know of was made of the “cover-up.”

With a few strokes of his pen, on Nov. 2, 1889, Harrison signed each official document, not knowing which he signed first. The President revealed the new states at the exact same time – thus giving each state an equal inauguration into the nation’s official roster.

Bowing to the uniformity of the alphabet, North Dakota is recognized as the 39th state, while South Dakota took the honors for being the 40th.

Later that November, Benjamin Harrison welcomed the states of Montana and Washington into the nation, and in July the following year, 1890, Idaho and Wyoming.

In Harrison’s single term in the White House, he admitted more states to the union than any chief executive since George Washington.

Harrison also had a tie to another politician with Dakota connections. He appointed Theodore Roosevelt to the Civil Service. And as everyone knows, TR had his own unique relationship to both the old territory and the new State of North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark

Robinson, Elwyn B. North Dakota History

http://www.presidentbenjaminharrison.org

http://www.millercenter.org

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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