Wednesday, November 25, 2015

June 16, 1906 – Sequoyah Enabling Act

In a surprising turn, the delegation from the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention to Washington was greeted by sudden support by President Theodore Roosevelt and won their chance to be named the 46th US state.

The land between Texas and what would become Kansas had been designated as “Indian Territory” since the days of removal under President Andrew Jackson. Following the Civil War, Reconstruction of the tribes who had made agreements with the rebelling Confederate States resulted in an eastward compression of land designated for Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw. The western lands of “Oklahoma Territory” served as reservations for other tribes such as the Kiowa, Cheyenne-Arapaho, and Pawnee. The remaining Unassigned Lands were empty for years until opened up for general settlement in the Land Run of 1889. More land runs and lotteries quickly populated the west with burgeoning cities and farms where there had once been rolling prairie.

The Twin Territories soon turned to the idea of statehood, with Indian Territory hosting conventions in 1902, 1903, and 1905. They outlined a proposed state called “Sequoyah” after the famous Cherokee linguist. When the proposal came to Washington, however, politicians there were skeptical, especially since Oklahoma Territory was preparing its own convention to be held in the capital, Guthrie, the next year. Western states had proven to be something of a wildcard, such as the 22 electoral votes going to James Weaver of the short-lived Populist Party, potentially costing Benjamin Harrison the win over Grover Cleveland. The more formal Eastern political leaders determined unifying the two territories into one more predictable state would be the solution.

However, as men in the Republican Party’s back room attempted to predict how this state would actually act, they came upon curious numbers from the US Census Bureau. Indian Territory was overwhelmingly Democratic, including the delegation’s own representatives like Charles Haskell from the Creek and William Murray from the Chickasaw. Oklahoma Territory, which had been populated largely from the Midwest, was much more Republican. The territories had nearly identical populations near 400,000, but the overall Democratic population could form a majority in the state. They recommended separate states to maximize Republican seats in the House of Representatives, where the Republicans were losing ground.

The political gamble paid off. In 1908, after welcoming in Sequoyah and Oklahoma the year before, the Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate while stymieing losses in the House. The Oklahomans proved to continue their loyalty in 1912, granting a handful more electoral votes to Taft, although it was hardly enough to overcome Wilson’s majority. Throughout the years, the former Twin Territories could be counted upon for predictable votes.

Yet ultimately the “investment” proved a bad one for the GOP when, in 2000, Democrat former vice-president Al Gore was elected by a single vote despite Republican George W. Bush’s secure hold on Florida.


In reality, the Enabling Act mandated that the territories would be entered into the Union as a single state. Although widely Democratic for its first years, Oklahoma is now solidly a red state.

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