Minnesota Gains 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 May 11, 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.
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.
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. The first, from a Southern slave state, not surprisingly opposes the entry of Minnesota. It was published by the Columbus Enquirer, Tri-Weekly (Columbus, Georgia) on May 11, 1858, the very day Minnesota gained statehood:
The Minnesota Bill
Advices from Washington inform us that the House of Representatives was about to come to a vote on the bill for the admission of Minnesota as a State without condition or qualification—perhaps the vote was taken yesterday. The Senate having—unwisely, as we think—passed and sent this bill to the House before the decision of the Kansas question by the latter, the vote of the House of Representatives decides its fate. Most sincerely do we hope that it may be rejected, and we care not particularly by whose agency, though we trust that every American vote at least will be recorded against it—its sanction of alien voting ought to be sufficient to condemn it in their eyes, for such a provision is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and laws of the United States.
We have already alluded to some of the irregularities attending the pretended adoption of this [Minnesota’s state] constitution, and some of its objectionable features, and we will not repeat them here. But, casting all these aside, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that Minnesota comes before the House as a free State, after Kansas has just been refused immediate admission as a slave State. The duty of Southern men, in this emergency, appears to us to be written in letters of fire. They neglected or forbore to make their stand upon the distinct and unqualified admission of Kansas, but huckstered and compromised with the North in such a manner as to maintain a show only of a decent avoidance of the issue. By making the rights of their section a matter of negotiation and bargain, instead of standing up manfully for the South and the Constitution, they have elected to go into a sectional Congressional scramble with the North, and we trust that in this game at least they will secure all the advantages that may be won. We admit it to be a disgraceful contest, and regret that our Southern Congressmen have so lowered the dignity and compromised the rights of their section; but they have chosen their own course, and should at least carry on with spirit the checkmating game of the sections. Some of the Black Republicans will undoubtedly oppose the admission of Minnesota at this session, because she has elected one Democratic Senator and three Democratic Representatives, and the Blacks have advices that if the election is sent back their party can now easily carry everything. The Southern Representatives, therefore, can defeat the admission of Minnesota, by unanimity and concert, and we trust that they will do so. So long as the North says that slave States shall not come in, let the South at least keep out free States, if in her power.
This article, although printed by a New York paper, is sympathetic to Southern interests and is especially critical of the “Black Republicans.” It was published by the New York Herald (New York, New York) on May 11, 1858:
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.
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.
Another Northern paper, this one from Ohio, also condemned the Republican Party for opposing the entry of the free state of Minnesota. It was published by the Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio) on May 13, 1858:
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.
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