Monday, July 23, 2012
A Divisionist Convention was held at Fargo on this date in 1887 to debate the merits of dividing Dakota Territory into two separate entities. An identical convention was held ten days earlier in Huron to the south. Both conventions hoped to garner support for the division of the territory, meriting the admittance of not one Dakota state into the United States, but two.
The issues of statehood and division had preoccupied politics in the territory during the 1880s. In 1885, Republicans in the southern part of the territory had even formed a provisional state government, elected state officers, and drafted a state constitution. Placing their ‘state’ capital at Huron, the southern Republicans sent their proposals to President Cleveland and U.S. Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. Although Harrison fought for the admittance of South Dakota to the Union, and no less than eight bills on the matter were introduced in Congress during the 1886 session, the incipient state failed to gain recognition. Democrats throughout the territory labeled the southern Republicans ‘revolutionaries’ and their actions an unconstitutional ‘farce.’ There was also a large outcry from Dakota’s northern residents, many of which believed the territory should be kept intact.
In March of 1887, the Territorial Legislature decided the question of division needed to be decided, prior to any applications of statehood. They decided to put it to a vote the following November, which launched a series of campaigns by both the divisionists, as they became known, and the anti-divisionists. Those in favor of division held two separate conventions in July, one in the north and one in the south. Despite the fact that strong resolutions favoring division were adopted at each, voters in November overwhelmingly opposed division. Out of fifty counties in the north, only two, Ramsey and Grand Forks, supported division.
Despite this early vote, however, the present division between North and South Dakota tells us the end of the story. The divisionists took their case to Washington the following January and continued to fight; and with the election of Benjamin Harrison to the White House, separate entry of North and South Dakota into the Union was all but guaranteed.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job
Goodspeed, Weston Arthur (ed.) 1904The Province and the States: Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota (Vol. VI). The Western Historical Association: Madison, WI.