THE ADMISSION OF OKLAHOMA

 

The act of 1898 providing for the dissolution of the Five Civilized Tribes made necessary the speedy formation of one or more states from the area that had been the Indian Territory between 1854 and 1890. The formation of two separate commonwealths was never probable, if indeed it was ever possible; but many persons both in what is now Oklahoma and in other parts of the United States were committed to such an arrangement. The delay incident to the reorganization of the Five Civilized Tribes gave opportunity for a full discussion of the question, and the struggle between those who wanted one state and those who wanted two seemed at the time to overshadow everything else.

The agitation for statehood began soon after the establishment of the Territory of Oklahoma. It is possible to say that it began even earlier. The settlers had hardly crossed the border before they began to ask for the forms of government to which they had been accustomed, and a bill was introduced in Congress in December, 1889, for the admission of a part of the Indian Territory as the state of Columbia. This bill, however, did not receive consideration. In 1891 the people of Oklahoma began to ask seriously that it should be admitted. In December of that year there was held at Oklahoma City a convention which sent a memorial to Congress asking for statehood. In January, 1892, David A. Harvey, the first territorial delegate to Congress, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives for the same purpose. Abraham J. Seay, the second governor of the territory, in his report for 1892 asserted that Oklahoma would be entitled to admission into the Union in a very short time.

The plan for two states was already receiving attention. It will be remembered that two bills were introduced in Congress by members from Arkansas as early as the spring of 1892 which provided for the formation of a separate state from the country occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes.  Several bills of different sorts for the reorganization of the former Indian Territory were proposed between December, 1892, and the beginning of 1895. On December 20, 1893, the House Committee on Territories, whose leading members were Southern men, presented a report favorable to a bill introduced by its chairman, Joseph Wheeler of Alabama, for the admission of the Territory of Oklahoma. Facts were presented in this report to show that Oklahoma alone had sufficient resources for a state. It was apparent that many Southern congressmen preferred that two new states should be formed from this section of the Southwest to offset in part the new states that had been formed recently in the Northwest.

A division of sentiment at once became evident in the territories. William C. Renfrow, the third governor of Oklahoma, in his first annual report in October, 1893, took a stand for the admission of the two territories, as one state  joint statehood, or single statehood, as it soon became known.  In January, 1894, the members of the Democratic central committee of the Indian Territory protested against union with Oklahoma. They preferred separate statehood, or double statehood, as it was also called. Both plans had supporters in the two territories during the next ten or twelve years.

Between 1895 and 1901 little attention was given to the proposals for the admission of Oklahoma. As a result of the election of 1894, the Republicans secured control of both houses of Congress. They postponed the consideration of statehood for Oklahoma until affairs in the Indian Territory could be adjusted in preparation for a reunion of the two territories. The North and the East generally disapproved of more Western, or especially Southwestern, states than was necessary. Several bills dealing with Oklahoma were introduced in Congress during this period, but not one of them received serious consideration.

Meanwhile, the two territories were developing under different conditions.  Oklahoma was occupied by small landowners. The Indian Territory was a community of landlords and leaseholders, either of farms and ranches or of coal, gas, oil, and asphalt rights. The government at Washington was trying to introduce the usual system of land tenure in the Indian Territory, but with each year of delay the irregular and accidental boundary between it and Oklahoma became more important.

Moreover, Congress needlessly permitted the territories to develop as separate political units. Their administrative systems were entirely different, since one was an organized territory, and the other unorganized. Their codes of laws also were different, since the code of Arkansas was used in the Indian Territory instead of the code of Oklahoma. The union of the two could have been accomplished with less friction in 1898 than in 1906, and the authority of the United States would have been a powerful force in preparing the enlarged territory for statehood.

A bill was introduced in both houses  of Congress in 1898 for the union of the Indian Territory and Oklahoma prior to their admission as a state. This plan was not considered as it should have been. The differences between the two sections were numerous and important, but a territorial government could have been devised to meet the situation. Those who did not wish the union to take place at all, joined with those who did not wish to act until it should become absolutely necessary, were able to keep the territories separate for the time.

Most of the people of the Territory of Oklahoma preferred to wait for admission until the two territories could be formed into one state. Cassius M. Barnes, the fourth governor of Oklahoma, appointed in 1897, said in his report for 1899: "... I agree with the larger and more conservative part of our people that it is better to wait a reasonable time and eventually, by a union of the two territories, establish one grand state. ..." In 1900, however, a party division began to appear. The Democratic territorial convention declared for the union of the territories. The Republican convention declared for the admission of Oklahoma with such boundaries as Congress wished to give it.  Governor Barnes in his report for that year called for the immediate admission of the Territory of Oklahoma, but he did not say whether he wished it to be admitted separately or in conjunction with the Indian Territory.

The people of the Indian Territory gave separate statehood somewhat more favorable consideration, although they were interested chiefly in the work of the Dawes Commission. They knew that their territory would not be ready for admission for a few years, and the proposal that it should be annexed to Oklahoma, one reservation at a time, was particularly distasteful to them. Many thought that a union of the territories would be unfair to the Indian Territory, since the capital and' the leading public institutions probably would be located in the fully organized portion of the state. They believed, too, that the people of that portion would control the important offices at first, because of their political experience.

Public opinion in the country at large regarding the admission of new states was of more significance than the attitude of the people of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. The conventions of both the great parties in 1900 declared unequivocally for statehood for Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, but the form of statehood for Oklahoma was not specified. It was expected that the Congress elected in 1900 would take up the matter at once when it met in December, 1901.

Two of the seven bills introduced in the House of Representatives during this session for the better government of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory were reported by the committee. One for the organization of the Indian Territory under the name of Jefferson, introduced by John A. Moon of Tennessee, the leading member of the minority on this committee, was reported favorably by its author on March 14, 1902 ; the other for the admission of Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico, introduced by William S. Knox of Massachusetts, the chairman of the committee, was also reported favorably by its author on April I. The Knox bill provided that Oklahoma should be admitted alone, but that the new state must give its consent irrevocably to the annexation of the Indian Territory, wholly, or in part, if Congress should determine upon such a plan. The Moon bill provided for the government of the Indian Territory in the mean time.

These reports were clearly the result of a compromise that was intended to defer the settlement of the matter. Those who favored single statehood for the two territories believed that Congress finally would annex the Indian Territory to Oklahoma. Those who wanted each territory to form a separate state believed that the union of the two would be impossible if Oklahoma should be admitted alone. The Moon bill received no further consideration, but the bill for the admission of Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico passed the House on May 9, in spite of the opposition of members who thought that the people of the Indian Territory either should be allowed to participate in the organization of the new commonwealth or should be separated from it permanently.

The opponents of the statehood bill in the Senate at once adopted a policy of delay. While party lines had not been drawn in the House, the Democrats of the Senate seem to have united in support of the bill, and the Republicans seem to have opposed it.  Matthew S. Quay of Pennsylvania, a member of the Committee on Territories, was the most prominent Republican who was out of harmony with his party. The committee, controlled by the Republicans without the aid of Quay, refused to report the bill for consideration by the Senate at this session ; but Quay forced the chairman,  Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, to agree to make a report at the beginning of the next session in December, 1902. The committee was composed of eleven members. Quay and the four Democrats presented minority reports favorable to the House bill on December 10 and December 15, respectively, but the majority report made on December 10 was adverse to it.  A substitute bill for the admission of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory as one state was included in a preliminary report of the committee made on December 3, but it was withdrawn for revision when the final report was presented. Quay tried many times to bring the House bill to a vote, but on March 3, 1903, the session came to an end without action.

The contest over the statehood bill gave the people of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory an opportunity to present their views. Both factions in the Senate appealed to them for support. A subcommittee of the Committee on Territories in November and December, 1902, gave a series of public hearings.

Two important elements were found to be opposed to the immediate admission of the territories as one state. The governments of the Five Civilized Tribes declared in favor of the separate admission of the Indian Territory. On November 28, 1902, Indian officials held a meeting at Eufaula, where they adopted a statement regarding their position. The tribes also protested separately against union with Oklahoma. Many of the active Republicans of the Territory of Oklahoma were as much opposed to union with the Indian Territory. They made their appeal on purely partisan grounds. Oklahoma alone would he a close state politically, so ran their appeal, but in time they hoped that it would be safely Republican. If this should prove true, it ought to be kept separate from the Indian Territory, which would be overwhelmingly Democratic. If this should not prove true, Congress could join it to the Indian Territory so that only one new Democratic state might be admitted. Congress, however, ought to give the Republicans a chance to carry Oklahoma before doing this. Thus the wishes of the Indians and party expediency were the chief arguments against single statehood.

In the Territory of Oklahoma a sectional division became manifest. This appeared in the attitude of the four leading towns of the territory. It was evidently due in part to the local benefits expected to come from the particular form of statehood favored. Enid and Guthrie openly declared for the House bill and the immediate admission of Oklahoma. Shawnee and Oklahoma City were committed to a union of the territories.
 
The form in which the question of statehood was presented to the people of the Indian Territory did not allow them a free choice of answers. To many it seemed that union with Oklahoma would be inevitable in the end. Accordingly, they preferred to become a part of the new state at the beginning. The non-citizens apparently favored immediate single statehood rather uniformly. Those of the Chickasaw district in particular desired union at once. Those in the eastern and central parts were noncommittal. An opportunity to choose freely between the immediate admission of the territory with Oklahoma and the immediate admission of it as a separate state might have brought out somewhat different replies.

The people of the two territories on the whole clearly expected and probably favored joint statehood. In anticipation of this, religious, fraternal, and commercial organizations had already ignored the line between the territories in many cases. It was argued that one state government would be less expensive than two, and that Oklahoma and the Indian Territory together would make a state only approximately as large as Kansas, or Missouri, or Nebraska, or one of the Dakotas. Separately, they seemed very small in proximity to the state of Texas, eight times as large as either of them. To many persons it seemed most important that the joint state should contain within its limits agricultural and mineral resources to form a well-balanced industrial unit, in which commerce could be regulated by the state.

 
It soon became clear that the leaders in Congress had determined upon a union of the territories. In November, 1903, Congress met in a brief special session. A bill was introduced in each house for the immediate admission of Oklahoma alone, but this was the last serious effort to admit Oklahoma without the immediate inclusion of the Indian Territory.  In the regular session a number of new statehood bills were introduced, and in April, 1904, the House Committee on Territories by its chairman, Edward L. Hamilton of Michigan, prepared and reported favorably a bill for the admission of two new states: one made up of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory, and one of Arizona and New Mexico. This bill was hurriedly considered by the House and passed on April 19. In the Senate the bill was not taken up until the next session of Congress, which began in December, 1904. On February 7, 1905, the Senate rejected the sections of the House bill which provided for the union of Arizona and New Mexico. It accepted the provisions for the admission of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory as the state of Oklahoma. The House refused to concur in the Senate amendments, and a conference committee failed to agree. The fact that the fortunes of Oklahoma were bound up with those of Arizona and New Mexico kept it from becoming a state at this time.

A new agitation for the admission of the Indian Territory as a separate state was an important development in 1905. Hither to the immediate admission of the Territory of Oklahoma had been discussed seriously, but after the beginning of 1904 this plan was abandoned. The Republican territorial convention of that year declared for the immediate admission of the two territories as one state, as provided in the House bill. The Republicans were consistent, literally at least, for their platform in previous years had called for the immediate admission of Oklahoma with such boundaries as Congress wished to give it. During 1904 it became clear that Congress wished to join the territories, and the Republicans of Oklahoma acquiesced. After the supporters of the separate admission of Oklahoma had given up, the leading Indian citizens of the Indian Territory headed a movement for the formation of a state from the districts recently governed by the Five Civilized Tribes.

The Indian Territory was undoubtedly ready for a better organization. The Dawes Commission disbanded on June 30, 1905, and its work of allotment was nearly completed that the Department of the Interior could carry it to a successful conclusion. The town sites were surveyed and appraised, and the sale of them was nearing completion.  As early as February, 1903, Congress had been compelled to provide for rudimentary counties, known as recording districts.  Under the existing laws all tribal institutions, including their executive and legislative departments, their schools, and their public charities, must come to an end on March 4, 1906. The establishment of a state or a territorial government in the country of the Five Civilized Tribes was clearly imminent.

Good reasons were given for the separate admission of the Indian Territory. In area and in population it was on a par with the state of Maine. Its industrial development and its natural resources were in some respects greater than those of Oklahoma. It contained three hundred incorporated towns, and more than three thousand miles of railroad were in operation within its borders. The production of coal from its mines for the year ending June 30, 1905, amounted to three million tons.

The development of its great oil and gas fields was just beginning. Its deposits of asphalt, granite, marble, lead, zinc, iron, and building stone were hardly touched. Much of its land was in the hands of Indian allottees, and it would not be subject to taxation for many years; but the assessable wealth of the territory, aside from land, was more than two hundred million dollars, and was said to be sufficient to support a state government.


The union with Oklahoma would bring together two unlike divisions. Oklahoma had developed a system of roads and public schools. These were yet to be provided in the rural parts of the Indian Territory. The Indians of Oklahoma were few in number, and their holdings were comparatively unimportant. The affairs of the Five Civilized Tribes would require special state legislation, and their political strength would be relatively twice as great in a separate commonwealth as in the joint state of Oklahoma. The Indians were able to point to a section in the Atoka agreement of 1897 which supported their claim for separate statehood. It is not surprising that they made a vigorous though unsuccessful effort to convince Congress of the justice of their cause.

The executives of four of the five tribes in July, 1905, joined in a call for a constitutional convention to meet at Muskogee on August 21. All residents of the Indian Territory were invited to participate in the selection of delegates. The meeting of this convention was of ultimate importance chiefly because it brought about the first political co-operation on a large scale between the Indian citizens and the outlanders. No doubt some took part in the movement who were not in favor of separate statehood. They believed that the opportunity to join with the Indians in a request for better government should not be lost. The name adopted for the proposed state was Sequoyah, selected in honor of the "Cherokee Cadmus," and the Indians were given important parts in the deliberations of the convention. A constitution was adopted on September 8, and provisions were made for submitting it to a vote of the people on November 7.

The constitution was ratified at this election by a vote of fifty-six thousand to nine thousand. The conditions under which the vote was taken were such that it did not afford a test of the popular attitude toward separate statehood. Those who voted against the ratification of the constitution were not allowed to take part in the choice of the proposed officials or to help select county seats in the forty-eight counties delimited by the convention. Most persons opposed to separate statehood did not go to the polls, and not more than half of the qualified voters took part in the election. Some opposed to separate statehood may have voted for the ratification of the constitution in order that they might be permitted to cast their votes on the other questions.
 
The plan for a state of Sequoyah did not receive a hearing in Congress. A bill for the admission of it was introduced in each house in the House of Representatives on December 4, 1905, and in the Senate on January 25, 1906. Nothing further, however, was heard of the proposal. The union of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory had already been agreed upon at Washington.

The admission of the four territories as two states had received consideration at once in this Congress. President Roosevelt in his message of December 4, 1905, recommended joint statehood, and in the first four days of the session five bills were introduced for the admission of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory as one state. Two of these bills, one by Senator Beveridge and one by Representative Hamilton, the chairmen of the respective committees on territories, provided also for the admission of Arizona and New Mexico as one state. On January 23, 1906, the House committee reported favorably a modified joint-statehood bill that had been introduced the day before by Chairman Hamilton. This bill passed the House two days later. On January 29 it was reported by the Senate committee with minor amendments, and it was debated on several occasions. On March 9 the Senate by a decisive vote adopted a proviso that the admission of Arizona and New Mexico as one state should be effective only if it should be ratified by a majority of the voters of each territory. Later on the same day, the Senate agreed to strike out all reference to Arizona and New Mexico and passed the bill amended to apply only to Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. Both houses had voted a second time to admit the enlarged Oklahoma, but Arizona and New Mexico still blocked its admission.

The conference committee did not make a report until June 2. This report accepted the House bill practically unchanged. When it became apparent that the Senate would not agree to this, the report was withdrawn. On the same day, June 12, a new report was presented. It provided for the admission of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory as one state, and of Arizona and New Mexico as another ; but the union and admission of the two latter territories could take place only with their consent given separately, as the Senate bill had proposed for a short time on March 9. The Senate accepted this report on June 13, the House on June 14. The bill received the approval of the President on June 16. The formation and adoption of a constitution was all that remained between Oklahoma and statehood.

The enabling act as passed authorized a constitutional convention of one hundred and twelve members fifty-five for the Indian Territory, fifty-five for Oklahoma, and two for the Osage reservation, the only part of the Territory of Oklahoma in 1906 that had not been placed under county government. This act also prescribed that the constitution to be formed should prohibit the sale of intoxicants in the Indian Territory, as it then existed, and in the Osage reservation, which, it was specified, was to become a separate county in the new state.

The task before the constitutional convention was an extremely difficult one. The proposed state had four times as many inhabitants as any other state had at the time of admission. No other convention was under the necessity of forming a commonwealth out of two distinct political units. The difficulties were greater because of the unorganized conditions in the Indian Territory. Other similar conventions dealt only with an organized territory or with part of a former state, except the convention of California; and the unorganized portion of Oklahoma had eight times as many inhabitants as California had when it was admitted into the Union.

Under the conditions the convention adopted much legislation that was properly statutory and not constitutional. The demand for progressive laws, strong in all the Western states, had to be met. Moreover. Oklahoma has more Indian citizens than any other state, but it also has many Negroes, with the resulting Negro problem. The question of prohibition for the entire state was likewise a troublesome one, but it was submitted to a popular vote separately. One purely local matter caused much bitterness at the time. New counties were marked out in the hitherto unorganized portion of the state without reference to the boundaries of the existing recording districts, and in some cases new counties were established in the former Territory of Oklahoma.  It is too early to try to pass judgment on the work of the convention as a whole.
 
The members of the convention were elected on November 6, 1906, and the first meeting of the body was held on November 20. It adjourned on March 15, 1907, but it was in session again from April 16 to April 22 and from July 10 to July 16. On September 17 the constitution as submitted was ratified by a vote of one hundred and eighty thousand to seventy-three thousand.

On November 16, 1907, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring that Oklahoma was a state. Thus one hundred and four years after its acquisition by the United States as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, it was finally admitted into the Union. No distinctively Indian commonwealth has been established, but one-third of the Indians of the United States participated as citizens in the organization of Oklahoma, the home of the red man, which has become in a modified sense the Indian state.

Source: The Formation of the State of Oklahoma (1803-1906) By Roy Gittinger