Looking back: Minnesota's rocky start to statehood


Minnesota quietly celebrated its 156th birthday on Sunday – the state became part of the United States as a territory in 1849, and on May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state in the union.

But here's an interesting bit of trivia: Not everyone supported the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Several prominent senators spoke out against the admission of Minnesota into the union, according to a post on the Washington County Historical Society's blog Sunday.

The historical society notes that in the year before Minnesota became a state, many southern senators feared admitting an anti-slave state because they wanted to "preserve the delicate balance between free and slave states" that existed in 1857. Northerners saw it as a chance to add two senators to the free-state side.

Senator John B. Thompson of Kentucky was very outspoken in denying Minnesota statehood. The blog includes excerpts from a speech he gave before Congress in 1857:

Thompson said, "I am not, as a southern man, going to vote to help them (Minnesota Territory) to bludgeon us." He said that when Minnesota is admitted, the state will ask for public lands for schools and roads, and defenses against Canada.

He added, "I do not want representatives here from Minnesota for their votes or their power, or what they will do after they get here."

Thompson suggested that instead of allowing new states, the United States should rule the territories like Great Britain does.

Thompson and 21 other senators voted against statehood, but the enabling act was still passed on Feb. 26, 1857.

The act permitted voters in Minnesota Territory to decide if they wanted to become a state and called for lawmakers to draft a state constitution. The constitutional convention was held in the summer of 1857, but it didn't go off without a hitch – Republicans and Democrats were deeply divided and refused to sign the same drafted constitution. Instead, the two different parties signed separate documents, which were supposed to be identical.

The Minnesota Historical Society notes that one version was 39 pages, the other was 37 pages, and the documents had over 300 punctuation, grammatical and wording differences, although the meaning and interpretation were the same.

After a few months of delays, the U.S. Congress voted to pass the Minnesota statehood bill. Now, 156 years later, Minnesota continues to celebrate its rocky start to statehood.

Every year, on or around Minnesota's Statehood Day, the Minnesota Capitol chandelier is lit in celebration.

The Minnesota School Boards Association Governmental Relations blog says the chandelier is traditionally lit only once per year for Statehood Day. The chandelier can also be lit for special occasions. In February, it was lit to mark the start of this year's Legislature, which is in its final week.

This year, the chandelier, which has 92 bulbs surrounded by 40,000 crystal beads strung together, was lit on May 9 and May 11. During "Statehood Week," over 1,000 children tour the Minnesota State Capitol a day, according to the capitol's Twitter account.

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