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Moving Toward Statehood

Residents of southern Dakota Territory, anxious for statehood so they could have their own capital, held a separate convention in September, 1883, drafted a state constitution and submitted it to the voters of the 42 counties then in existence. It was approved by the electors and submitted to Congress. A bill providing for statehood of the Dakota Territory south of the 46th parallel of latitude was passed by the Senate in December, 1884, but failed to pass the House. A second constitutional convention for South Dakota was held in September, 1885. It framed a new constitution and submitted it to the vote of the people, who ratified it with an overwhelming vote.

Conventions favoring division of Dakota into two states were also held in the northern section, one in 1887 at Fargo, and another in 1888, at Jamestown. Both adopted provisions memorializing Congress to divide the territory and admit both North and South Dakota as states.

Various bills were introduced in Congress on the matter; one in 1885 to admit South Dakota as a state, and organize the northern half as Lincoln Territory. Another bill introduced in 1886, proposed to admit the entire Territory as a single state.  Still another provided for all of the Territory east of the Missouri River to become a single state, the balance to be organized as Lincoln or North Dakota Territory. Other bills were introduced in 1887 and 1888, but failed to pass.

The Territorial Legislature of 1887 submitted the question of division to a popular vote at the general election of November, 1887. When full returns of this election finally came in on January 10, 1888, Territorial Governor Louis K. Church announced the vote: 37,784 favored division and 32,913 were opposed.