This column ran in the Feb. 16, 2010 edition of the Prairie Post
The debate on statehood for the Dakota Territory seemed to have drug on for decades. Politics had divided the move from territory to statehood. It was assumed at the time that the area would elect Republicans when given a chance to vote for Senators and Congressmen.
The Republicans in Washington wanted to bring the Dakota Territory in as two states and double the number of Senators the region would send east. The Democrats in Washington wanted, at most, a single state sending two Senators to the Capital.
That all changed with the election of Republican Benjamin Harrison as President in 1888. To add to the change in the power base the GOP gained control of the House of Representatives in that same election.
There was even concern the President may call a special early session of Congress to pass the statehood legislation. While this didn’t materialize it did start a scramble in the Dakotas to be prepared when the Federal Government changed the status of the region from one territory to two states.
It seems South Dakota was better prepared and had a constitution ready to be adopted as soon as it officially could. North Dakota wasn’t that prepared.
On Dec. 5, 1888 a public convention was called in Jamestown “for the purpose of considering questions of vital importance, particularly the calling of a constitutional convention and securing an early admission into the Union.”
The meeting was open to any public spirited man; women need not apply, and was called to order by E.P. Wells as the chairman of the Jamestown citizens committee.
The group ultimately elected former territorial governor Gilbert A. Pierce as chairman. And while they had no legal authority they did resolve, by unanimous vote, a few things.
They asked the northern part of the Dakota Territory be admitted as a state as soon as possible and it be called North Dakota. They also resolved a Constitutional Convention be authorized by the Territorial Legislature sometime after it convenes in January of 1889.
And they invited South Dakota, Montana and Washington to also seek statehood along with North Dakota.
I bring this up because Jamestown seems to have a history of being the first to use the name “North Dakota” to reference this region. In fact, it was used as a geographical reference when used as the title of the “North Dakota Hospital for the Insane” in 1885.
The convention in 1888 in Jamestown indicates the public wanted statehood and wanted that state named North Dakota.
Which has got to make you wonder a little bit about the creativity of this state’s early leaders.
After more than 25 years as the Dakota Territory the best we could come up with was the north part of the territory. I’m not one to rewrite history and I believe, after nearly 125 years, changing the state’s name would be ridicules.
But would we have warmer winters if they had called the state Fiji?