This Day In Founding Fathers History – 14 February 2013
On this day in 1859, the Oregon Territory became the State of Oregon, the 33rd state to join the Union. “In 1846, the United States and Great Britain signed the Oregon Treaty, which designated the 49th parallel as the international border, making it possible for Congress to create Oregon Territory in 1848. Congress often lagged behind Oregon’s settlers who by June 1857 had already selected constitutional delegates. They began meeting in Salem to determine the framework for an American state in August. The majority of the constitutional delegates were Democrats who idealized an agrarian society comprised of free, white farmers. They were suspicious of corporations that could gain a monopoly in necessary economic sectors such as the nineteenth century railroad companies that controlled the transportation of the goods that farmers bought and sold. They also opposed slavery and sought to exclude free African Americans from settling in Oregon, as the provisional government had in 1844. Oregon’s American settlers were influenced by the sectional conflicts of the states to which they had been previously connected such as Missouri and Kentucky and hoped that they could create a new home free from racial violence. The delegates used their knowledge of previous Midwestern conventions and constitutions to craft what later commentators viewed as a narrow-minded and generally unoriginal founding document. Oregon voters (restricted to white, male citizens) adopted the constitution by a margin of more than two to one in November 1857. Seventy five percent of the electorate rejected slavery and eight-nine percent voted to exclude free blacks from the state, a provision that was generally not enforced but nonetheless influenced the state’s demographics.”
“Slavery and the growing national conflict over it shaped the state’s constitution as well as the congressional debates raging back East regarding Oregon statehood. Both congressional Democrats and Republicans on the other side of the continent had reason to object to creating a western state that had rejected slavery and free blacks at a time when the nation had turned its attention to Bleeding Kansas, the violent clashes between abolitionists and pro-slavery factions in Missouri and Kansas Territory that presaged the Civil War. After a delay of more than two years, Congress finally granted Oregon statehood on February 14, 1859.” 1
In 1912 on this day, the Arizona Territory became the State of Arizona, the 48th state to join the Union. “Back in 1891, territorial residents had been so certain statehood was imminent, they’d actually written a constitution and took it on the train to Washington, where congressmen snubbed their noses at these upstarts from that arid wasteland out West known more for Geronimo and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral than for the kind of folks you’d want in your union.
“Arizona had gained some respectability, some friends in Washington, and this time, Arizona wasn’t jumping the gun. Congress had actually passed and President William Howard Taft had signed the Enabling Act that directed the Arizona Territory to write a state constitution – even allocating a princely $100,000 for that end.
“Congress directed that the delegates meet in Phoenix – and that Phoenix be the capital of the new state at least until 1925. And so, on Oct. 10, 1910, 52 men from 13 counties came together for the first time.
“A vast majority, 41 to be exact, were Democrats who looked toward ‘progressive’ legislation – a word more ‘sane conservatives’ saw as ‘reckless.’ They debated, but rejected, women suffrage; debated, but rejected, segregated schools; debated, but passed, three citizen-empowerment measures that were seen as radical: the right of people to petition their government, called an initiative; the right of the government to refer an item directly to voters, called a referendum, and the most startling of all – what opponents called ‘ultra-radicalism’ – the right of voters to recall judges they saw as unfit.
“‘All for naught,’ Yuma’s Arizona Sentinel complained when the recall passed, because Arizona had been forewarned that President Taft – one day to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court – had promised to veto any constitution that exposed the judiciary to a public vote. That didn’t stop the delegates, who seemed immune from public criticism and were adamant that the state of Arizona would provide for the recall of judges.
“On Dec. 10, 1910, the final document was read and the delegates adopted a new state…Then came time for delegates to sign the new constitution that would be sent to voters for a February election. That’s when the sparks really flew. All but one Republican refused to sign it; all but one Democrat did sign it. Territorial Gov. Richard E. Sloan, a tireless advocate for statehood who fought to exclude the judge-recall measure, was so distraught that he told the press, ‘We must rewrite our constitution or remain a territory.’…Territorial voters agreed with supporters. On Feb. 9, 1911, they gave the new constitution overwhelming approval, with 12,534 votes for and only 3,920 against.
“But Taft wasn’t kidding. He had no intention of signing a constitution that included recall of judges and vetoed Arizona’s constitution – the one vote that trumped both the convention and citizens of the territory and stopped statehood in its tracks. Arizona responded like obedient children, going back and removing the recall provision and sending that amended constitution to territorial voters in December of 1911. Voters now passed the sanitized constitution even more overwhelmingly than they they’d passed the original. With the constitution now meeting Taft’s approval, he signed Arizona’s statehood bill the morning of Feb. 14, 1912.
“And, oh yes, at its first election after statehood in the fall of 1912, Arizona voters reinstated the recall of judges into the state Constitution. They also, by a healthy margin, gave Arizona women the right to vote – eight years before national suffrage.” 2
1 “Oregon Story of Statehood,” ohs.org/visit-ohs/upload/statehood-story.pdf
2 “Arizona’s statehood story,” The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com