Minnesota Gained Statehood at a Troubled Time

It was a proud moment for residents of the eastern half of Minnesota Territory when Minnesota was admitted into the Union as the 32nd state on 11 May 1858. However, the country they entered was in the midst of being torn apart by political turmoil and public discord, primarily over the issue of slavery, and the debate over Minnesota’s statehood reflected those tensions.

Illustration: Minnesota state flag
Illustration: Minnesota state flag. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The last state admitted into the Union prior to Minnesota was California, a free state, which gained statehood as part of the highly controversial Compromise of 1850. In the subsequent eight years such events as the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Decision widened the gulf between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces, erupting into the violence that came to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Two other states were vying for statehood at the same time as Minnesota, Kansas and Oregon, and slavery clouded the debate over their admission as well.

Map: Minnesota
Map: Minnesota. Credit: National Atlas of the United States; Library of Congress.

Although slavery was the main issue regarding Minnesota’s statehood (it wanted to come into the Union as a free state), there were two other issues underlying the controversy over its admission. First, the proposed Minnesota state constitution permitted state officials to naturalize aliens, in order to give them citizenship and the right to vote – a power reserved exclusively for Congress. Second, the Republican Party (vilified as the “Black Republicans” in the Southern press for its opposition to slavery) wanted to hold up Minnesota’s statehood until Republican senators and representatives could be elected.

However, Minnesota wanted to come into the Union immediately – with its already-elected Democratic senators and representatives.

All this controversy and vitriol over Minnesota’s admission into the Union is reflected in the following three articles.

This article, although printed by a New York paper, is sympathetic to Southern interests and is especially critical of the “Black Republicans.”

An article about Minnesota statehood, New York Herald newspaper article 11 May 1858
New York Herald (New York, New York), 11 May 1858, page 6

Here is the full article:

MINNESOTA AND OREGON AND THE BLACK REPUBLICANS.

The opposition of the nigger worshippers in Congress to the admission into the Union of those two new free States, Minnesota and Oregon, affords another striking illustration of their utter disregard of principles or consistency, when consistency or principle does not suit their party purposes. Some of them are opposed to the Minnesota constitution because it allows to aliens the right of suffrage; some are opposed to it on account of its restrictions against free niggers; and, in addition to these objections in the case of Oregon, at least one Black Republican Senator opposes her constitution because it puts John Chinaman in the same category with negroes and Indians – an arrangement which is, in fact, a very wise one. The experience of California with the Chinese has abundantly shown that they are no more fit to be assimilated with, or admitted on a footing of equality into a white community than negroes or Indians.

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But all these objections of our Northern nigger worshippers to the State constitutions of Minnesota and Oregon are mere pretexts and subterfuges. Their real objection is the ascendancy of the Democratic Party in both these embryo States. This objection is particularly applicable to Minnesota, where, under a postponement of the act of admission, the Republicans might possibly oust the two Democratic Unites States Senators already elected to represent that State, and substitute a pair of a more satisfactory stripe of goods. But all this trifling and artful dodging will amount to nothing. The two new States must come in, and as Democratic States; and our nigger worshippers may as well consent to it at once, because there is no help for it.

On the other hand we perceive that, in reference to Kansas, some of our Southern fire-eating philosophers are endeavoring to accomplish the work of extracting sunbeams from the cucumber; but if they can make a slave State of Kansas, under the English bill, they are quite welcome. We fear, though, that they will find out, before a year is over, that Mr. English has fooled them with the shadow of the beef in the water, while the solid article itself was passing over the bridge to appease the hungry stomachs of the Kansas anti-slavery party; but it will not be long before our fire-eating Southern champions of Southern rights and Southern equality will discover the important fact that the great field of agricultural labor of these United States covers two climates – the white man’s climate and the black man’s climate – the zone of free white labor and the zone of African slave labor; and that wherever black slave labor occupies or attempts to occupy the zone of free white labor, the experiment must fail, and vice versa. That is the “higher law” of slavery – a good deal higher than the “higher law” of Mr. Seward or the “higher law” of the fire-eaters.

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Another Northern paper, this one from Ohio, also condemned the Republican Party for opposing the entry of the free state of Minnesota.

An article about Minnesota statehood, Daily Ohio Statesman newspaper article 13 May 1858
Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio), 13 May 1858, page 2

Here is the full article:

Minnesota Admitted as a State.

The House of Representatives [the] day before yesterday voted through the Senate bill admitting Minnesota, and she is now a State in the Union. The reckless and corrupt Republican scheme for keeping out this free State, because she is represented by Democrats, has ignominiously broken down. The same party are now trying their ingenuity for the same factious purpose, to keep out Oregon, though an enabling bill was passed for that State two years ago. Oregon is a free State, fully organized, and ready for admission. But she has the misfortune to be a National Democratic State, and the pretexts for excluding her by Republican votes are already legion. The Republican platform instead of reading “No more slave States,” should be amended, and read, “No more States, either free or slave, unless they agree to elect Republicans to office.” That is the practice of the party, and it is dishonest not to avow the rule by their professions.

This newspaper article points out that the admission of Minnesota shows the greatness of the United States, the “well ordered and harmonious… working of our political system.”

An article about Minnesota statehood, Patriot newspaper article 20 May 1858
Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 20 May 1858, page 2

Here is the full article:

The Admission of Minnesota.

Another new State has been admitted into the Union. Minnesota is now a member of this great confederacy, which commencing with thirteen States has now expanded into thirty-two by this last accession, each in itself a province larger than many of the most important European kingdoms. So well ordered and harmonious is the working of our political system, that a new State enters the Union and takes rank with the old ones, sharing their power and responsibility, without the slightest commotion. Our government expands quietly and in accordance with settled principles, without the necessity of new powers to control and hold in subordination its multiplying parts; a fact showing how deep and permanent its foundations were laid.

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Minnesota comes into the Union as a Democratic State, like all her western sisters. The Senators and Representatives in Congress are all members of the great Democratic party. As in the case of Kansas, the Republicans were adverse to her admission, ostensibly, because her Constitution did not meet their approval, but really because her entrance at this time would add to the Democratic majority of the Senate. But finding resistance useless, they were obliged reluctantly to submit to one more free State being admitted into the Union. There are now thirty-two free, equal, sovereign States in this great confederacy, and before long, we hope to hail the thirty-third, in the admission of Kansas.

Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

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