Montana Statehood. Montana was the 41st state to be admitted into the Union on November 8, 1889. For sixty years prior to establishment of the Territory of Montana in 1864, seven different territories of the western United States governed the area that was to become Montana.
From the earliest days of the territory, many Montanans wanted to join the union as a full-fledged state. In fact, some Montana politicians were so anxious for statehood that they called the state’s first constitutional convention in 1866, only two years after the territory was created. They did so knowing that Montana did not yet meet the minimum requirement for statehood: a population of at least 60,000. Never one to let rules stand in his way, Acting Territorial Governor Thomas Francis Meagher, with full support of the state’s Democrats, charged ahead despite an estimated population of approximately 20,000. They (naively) assumed that, given the territory’s status as a major mining area, Congress would waive the requirement.
Despite the Democrat’s enthusiasm, however, such a rule change would have faced an uphill fight since the Republicans who controlled Congress would have recognized the danger of admitting a state with a Democratic majority. The question was moot, however, since the 1866 draft constitution never arrived in Washington D.C. Likely, it was lost en route.
National power politics continued to haunt Montana’s bid for statehood over the next quarter of a century. However, in Montana, the issue was simpler. R-E-S-P-E-C-T was what the residents of Montana Territory sought as the body politic debated, grumbled, pouted and pleaded for admission to the Union.
By 1884, Montana had matured from a rambunctious territory with an itinerant population into a stable community with business interests in railroads, mining, agriculture and lumbering. Montana Democrats and Republicans both felt that the territorial system relegated them to second-class status. As a territory, Montana residents had to suffer through a series of federal appointments, typically party hacks who received the appointments based not on merit but the spoils system.
While Montana had grown up considerably in the 1870s and 1880s, national politics remained fractured with both parties blocking admission of a state that would likely vote for the other party. This prompted the following observation in the Helena Herald, “…once upon a time territories had to wait to be admitted one slave and one free but now it seemed that they were to admitted one Democratic and one Republican to maintain another kind of balance.” The 1884 constitution was doomed for failure before the ink even dried.
Five years passed before an opportunity once again presented itself. The issue came to the forefront of national politics when Montana’s congressional delegate, Joseph K. Toole, rose on the House floor to address its continued territorial status.
“Tradition informs us that the wise men all came from the East; and so our Republican friends, unwilling to depart from the teachings of the past, determined that history should repeat itself, and proceeded to treat us in their own good time to a fine assortment of imported political dudes. Some of these hot-house specimens who were too frail to stand transplanting in a northern clime soon gave up their commissions and returned to the genial influences of their own civilization. Others, holding religiously to the doctrine that a Federal officer should neither die nor resign, stayed with us, became acclimated, and promised in the years to come to develop into tolerable good and useful citizens.
“Under these wrongs we have smarted and chafed, but never have we been wanting in loyalty to the Union. We have been patient and long-suffering, hiding our humiliation behind our pride; but as we advance in years we find our modesty departing and our independence asserting itself. We realize that to aspire to be on an equal footing with the States of this Union is a worthy ambition, and without which our political life is incomplete.”
The message was clear: Montana was tired of second-class status and ready for statehood. The election of 1888 finally settled the question of control in Washington, with Republicans winning the White House, Senate and House. As such, the lame duck Congress responded, crafting a compromise, and outgoing Democratic President Grover Cleveland signed the Omnibus Bill on Feb. 22, 1889, providing North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington and Montana statehood if they drafted an acceptable state constitution.
Montana convened its third constitutional convention on July 4, 1889, and in six weeks hammered out a third constitution. The constitution reflected the political climate of the times, limiting the authority of the governor and executive branch and opting to side-step the issue of women’s suffrage as too controversial. Montanans ratified the constitution on Oct. 1, 1889, and Montana became the 41st state of the Union on Nov. 8, 1889.
Contains 19 articles, section 20 providing a schedule and a list of participants in the convention, an ordinance regarding federal relations, an ordinance regarding elections, and an address to the people. Page 68 contains an official statement submitted 25 August 1889 by Louis A. Walker, Secretary of the Territory of Montana, witnessing the authenticity of the constitutional document. Lists William Andrews Clark as president of the convention.