BY DAVID PERRYMAN
On July 4, 1906, a number of states conducted 46-gun salutes celebrating Oklahoma’s admission to the Union as the 46th state. To their surprise, it would be nearly a year and a half before President Theodore Roosevelt would sign the proclamation making Oklahoma the 46th state on Nov. 16, 1907.
It is likely that the public misunderstood the legal effect of the Oklahoma Enabling Act that Roosevelt had signed on June 16. That act simply signaled the end of a longstanding controversy regarding the Twin Territories of O.T. and I.T.
Set aside as Indian Territory in 1834, it was known by that name until May 2, 1890, when it was formally divided into Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. On that date the laws of the state of Nebraska became the effective law in Oklahoma Territory. In the new, smaller Indian Territory, the laws of the state of Arkansas continued as they had previously existed.
As usual, party politics played a role in the origins of the state of Oklahoma. Even by 1902, virtually all of Indian Territory was still the home of the members of the Five Civilized Tribes and they voted almost exclusively Democratic. Even though many white settlers in Oklahoma Territory had come from Republican states, quite a number of the new farmers and cattlemen came from Texas and the Republicans found themselves outnumbered by Democrats in both territories.
While the Oklahoma Territory settlers had actively sought statehood, most citizens of Indian Territory were very content with their organized governments and sovereign autonomy. Although the Native Americans living in Indian Territory met in Eufaula in 1902 and again in 1903 to discuss a constitutional convention, many historians believe that these meetings and the 1905 Constitutional Convention in Muskogee for the proposed State of Sequoyah was more to quash talk about a combined single state than to seek statehood itself.
The fact of the matter was that the White House and both the Senate and House of Representatives were controlled by Republicans and there was little desire in Washington to do anything that might alter the balance of power. One new state with two Democratic senators was much better than two new states with four Democratic senators.
For this reason, the 1906 act that caused erroneous 46-gun salutes but assured single state statehood was signed into law. Shortly thereafter, proud populist Oklahomans met in Guthrie to draft a state Constitution that made Oklahoma the birthplace of constitutional Initiative and Referendum and contained strict controls on the influence of corporations, banks, railroads and mining companies.
Two 1906 documents – “Suggestions for a Platform” by the state Democratic Party and “The Shawnee Demands” by a coalition of farmers and mining and railroad workers – strongly influenced the Oklahoma Constitution.
Perhaps it is time to dust those documents off, get back to the basics and get serious about campaign finance reform.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives