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foreshadowed at the same time the disintegration of the hybrid group who favored it. Joseph Rolette, who but a year before had proposed an east and west line, had been won over by the other side.43 Nay more, he had become so attached to the cause of St. Paul as against St. Peter that he resorted to one of the most unscrupulous tricks in the history of politics in Minnesota to defeat the St. Peter capital removal plan. His defection from the east and west line forces was the first of importance. Another, yet more important, was soon to follow.
6. THE PASSAGE OF THE ENABLING ACT. In the meantime, Rice had overcome great and unforeseen obstacles and had carried all before him in Washington." The Winona-St. Peter lobby, while they played a lone hand to the end, were practically disarmed when Rice magnanimously and cleverly included their pet railroad project in his bill for a land grant.45 This gave the land-grant bill the united support of all Minnesotans in Washington.46. That the Winona-St. Peter group in Washington seriously proposed an east and west line for dividing the territory cannot be doubted.47 Some intimations reached Minnesota that Senator Douglas, chairman of the Senate committee on territories, would not accept Rice's boundary proposal, that he favored "dividing the eastern portion (of the territory) into a state and territory."48 In the end, however, but one slight change was made in the boundaries proposed by Rice. Thus amended the enabling act passed Congress and was
* Some remarks thrown out by Gorman in a speech in the Democratic wing of the constitutional convention later in the year afford, perhaps, a partial explanation of Rolette's change of front. Dem. Deb. pp. 298-99. Rice had apparently taken many Minnesotans by surprise when he included in the land grant bill the provision for a road to run from St. Anthony to St. Vincent in the Pembina country. There had been so little expectation of this grant that there was no railroad company organized and ready to take it over when the bill became law. Naturally the inclusion of this line greatly altered the views of the Pembina community. Formerly they had desired the political advantages of separate territorial existence, and they had, therefore, favored an east and west division of Minnesota territory in order to set up a separate territory in the north. If they could be given direct rail connections with St. Paul, however, through a north and south division of the territory, they would gain economic advantages immeasurably more valuable than separate political organization.
* Besides the difficulties of getting Congress to agree to a liberal railroad grant as well as a most munificent grant for the support of schools and state institutions, and of getting the numerous Minnesotans who were lobbying for their respective interests in Washington to agree upon the same bills, Rice had to face the charge that bribery was being resorted to to have the railroad land grant bill enacted. There followed an investigation which resulted in other findings, but it was not established that any Minnesotan was in any way directly implicated in trying to purchase support for the Minnesota railroad land grant. Welles, Autobiography, 2:55-64 passim.; House of Rep. Comm. Repts. 34 Cong., 3 sess., no. 243. (219 pp., appendices, and index.) Naturally the Minnesota bills were delayed pending the conclusion of the investigation. Later in the session another obstacle of a different nature had to be overcome. See pp. 61-62.
05 The line from La Crescent and Winona to St. Peter and thence westward to the Big Sioux river.
46 Welles, op. cit., 2:55 ff.
Ben. Perley Poore ("P"), in Pioneer and Democrat, Jan. 26, 1857.
signed by the president on February 26.49 Less than a week later, on March 3, the railroad land grant also became law.50
It will perhaps not be amiss to relate a little more fully the procedure in the passage of the enabling act under which Minnesota was destined to come into the Union.51 It was introduced into the national House of Representatives by Mr. Rice on December 24, 1856. His bill provided for a division of the territory by a north and south line from the Canadian boundary up the Red River of the North to and through Lake Traverse to the foot of that lake and thence by a straight line to the point of junction of the Big Sioux river with Lake Kampeskee and thence down the Big Sioux river to the Iowa boundary.52 He had omitted the provision as to the concurrent jurisdiction of the state upon boundary waters and the clause of the Northwest Ordinance which provides that such boundary waters and navigable waters leading into them shall be common highways and free to all the inhabitants of the United States.
His bill was immediately referred to the House committee on territories which in the course of its deliberations decided to change the western boundary of the state by having the line run from the foot of Lake Traverse to and through Big Stone lake to its foot and thence by a due south line to the Iowa boundary. It also inserted section 2 of the enabling act as passed, which contains the provisions as to boundary waters mentioned above. With these modifications the bill was reported favorably to the House on January 31, 1857. To the surprise of the opposition Mr. Grow of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the committee, immediately called for the previous question upon the measure. Mr. Phelps of Missouri got the floor long enough to taunt the northern representatives with having themselves violated the Northwest Ordinance, which they had always held sacred in the discussions of slavery, by the creation of six states instead of five from the Northwest territory.
The vote upon the passage of the bill, which was taken almost immediately, was ninety-seven in favor of passage to seventy-five opposed. It has been pointed out by a special student of this measure that eighty-five of the ninety-seven favorable votes came from the North and that forty-eight of the opposing seventy-five votes were from the South. The Democratic and Whig parties each gave the measure a small majority. The members of the American party gave a large majority against the bill but the Republicans balancer this by a still larger majority in favor of the bill.53 In explaining their votes upon the measure several members pointed out that they voted against it because it embodied the principle of alien suffrage and it is very evident that
10 Stat, at Large, 11:166-67.
the opposition to alien suffrage was at least the most important pretext if not the most important reason for opposition to the creation of the new state.
The bill as passed by the House of Representatives reached the Senate on February 2 and on the 18th was reported back without amendment by Senator Douglas as chairman of the Senate committee on territories. Three days later the measure came up for debate.
The Minnesota bill was accompanied by another for the empowering of the people of Oregon also to create a state government. The Senate committee had proposed an amendment to the Oregon bill to restrict the suffrage to citizens. They had left the Minnesota bill unchanged. The Minnesota situation with reference to this matter, as was partially explained by Senator Douglas, 54 was that the organic act of the territory had authorized the territorial legislature to establish suffrage qualifications subject to the provision that no alien should be allowed to vote until he had indicated his intention to become a citizen of the United States, and had sworn to support the federal constitution and the organic act of the territory.55 The legislative assembly had enacted that alien declarants who had resided two years in the United States and had taken the oath provided by the organic act, and also persons of mixed white and Indian blood who had adopted the customs and habits of civilization should be entitled to vote in the territory as fully as American citizens.56 The enabling act intended merely to continue the existing electorate for the purpose of adopting a state constitution.
Senator Biggs of North Carolina offered an amendment to the effect “That only citizens of the United States shall be entitled to vote at the election provided for by this act."57 Very strong support developed for this proposal. It seemed particularly wrong to many senators to permit aliens with little or no attachment to the country to participate in the creation of a new state. Senators Douglas, Seward, and others favored the bill as it stood, but the Biggs amendment was carried by a vote of twenty-seven to twenty-four. It was again a case of South versus North. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven votes for the Biggs amendment came from the South.58
The end of the session of Congress was less than two weeks away, and at this juncture the Senate and the House had not agreed upon the same bill for the admission of Minnesota. How hard Mr. Rice and other friends of Minnesota must have worked in the next few days to bring about the agreement of the two houses upon the bill can only be conjectured. On the day when the Senate passed the bill as amended Senator Hale of New Hampshire gave notice of his intention to move for a reconsideration. He carried out
o Cong. Globe, 34 Cong., 3 sess., p. 813.
Cong. Globe, 34 Cong., 3 sess., p. 808. & Moran, in Minn. Hist. Col., 8:158, note.
this plan on February 24.59 In making his motion he pointed out that the time left for the remaining work of the session was so short that, unless the bill passed the Senate in exactly the form approved by the House, the measure would be entirely lost at this session. It would be impossible to get the House to reconsider in time to have the bill passed and approved by the president before the close of the session. The motion to reconsider precipitated another long debate. All the rest of that day the battle over the question of alien suffrage in Minnesota was waged and at the end of the day the friends of the Biggs amendment forced an adjournment without a vote. The next day the debate was renewed and the motion for reconsideration was finally carried by a vote of thirty-five to twenty-one. The Biggs amendment was then rejected and the bill was passed in the form previously approved by the House by a vote of thirty-one to twenty-two.61 On the next day the bill became a law through the signature of the president.
The debate over the question of alien suffrage on the 24th and 25th clearly demonstrated the fact that much of the opposition to the admission of Minnesota had other motives. The opposition based itself upon the question of alien suffrage for the simple reason that the true grounds for opposition were not such as could well be stated. Senator Thompson of Kentucky in an irresponsible and sarcastic speech, full of confused learning, made it clear that he was opposed to the creation of the state of Minnesota under any circumstances because it would mean that there would be a new northern state to make the balance against the southern states still greater than it had been before. This was undoubtedly the feeling of other senators though they did not indulge in such intemperate language as came from the lips of Senator Thompson.
Various writers have intimated that there was a great national significance in the passage of the Minnesota enabling act.63 It has appeared to some as one of the more important of the battles between the North and the South for supremacy in Congress. The leading historians who have written of this period do not, however, attach so much weight to the Minnesota measure.64 Northern supremacy had already been established before Minnesota applied for the authority to enter the Union. It is nevertheless true that the Republican party was largely responsible for the passage of the enabling act and that some of their leading organs felt this to be a great victory for the antislavery cause.
&D Cong. Globe, 34 Cong., 3 sess., pp. 814, 849.
Moran, in Minn. Hist. Col., 8:148-49; Folwell, Minnesota, p. 134; Minn, in Three Cen., 3:29.
64 Reference is here made to the works of McMaster, Rhodes, Schouler, T. C. Smith, and Von Holst.
85 Daily Minnesotian, April 4, 1857, which reprints a five-column article from the National Era in which the Minnesota enabling act is spoken of as "the most important measure of this Congress."
It is interesting to observe that in the progress of the proceedings of the Senate upon the bill Senator Jones of Iowa proposed to reject the north and south division of the territory embodied in Rice's bill and to substitute an east and west division at the line of 46° north latitude. This amendment was rejected almost without debate.66
Throughout the proceedings in both houses nothing was said by either the friends or the opponents of the enabling act to indicate that the people of Minnesota were being given any power which was in the least unusual. It was later asserted in Minnesota that the enabling act permitted the state to come into the Union without the subsequent passage of an act of admission. In the language of the act itself the people within certain designated boundaries were "authorized to form for themselves a constitution and state government, by the name of the state of Minnesota, and to come into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, according to the federal constitution.” This was construed in Minnesota as being ample authority for the election of congressmen and senators and for the setting up of a state government without any further action on the part of Congress.87 The only passage in the congressional debates which throws any light upon this question is the statement made by Mr. Grow when he reported the bill to the House on January 31. When asked as to the contents of the bill he said "the bill is in the usual form; and indeed, in drawing it up, it was like taking a form-book, and drafting this bill from it, with the exception of the boundaries.”68 This the members of the House accepted as sufficient assurance that nothing unusual was contemplated.
7. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE ENABLING ACT. The enabling act was entitled "An act to authorize the people of the Territory of Minnesota to form a constitution and state government, preparatory to their admission into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.” It possessed the surpassing merit of brevity.
The boundaries proposed for the state were identical with those which the state now has. Upon all boundary waters the state was to have jurisdiction concurrent with that of the other state or states concerned. Such boundary waters and the navigable waters leading into the same were to be common highways and forever free to all citizens of the United States, without tax or toll.69
In its first section the law authorized “the inhabitants of that portion of the Territory of Minnesota" embraced within the boundaries described “to form for themselves a constitution and state government by the name of the
as Cong. Globe, 34 Cong., 3 sess., p. 814.