From Ukrainian heritage to state-owned mills, the land of North Dakota is rich with culture, pride and a unique political history.
Without a doubt the backbone of this great state are its agrarians, who, through resilience and pure strength of will, led what was simply a territory into full statehood on Nov. 2, 1889.
While the reasons for the statehood movement in North Dakota were many, most agree that it was the Dakota territory’s farmers that, indeed led the charge. In circumstances that mirror the founding of our nation as a whole, taxation without representation was a main point of grievance.
“Many people probably thought of themselves as a bit of a colony of existing states and they hoped statehood would give them equal status and representation,” Dr. Steven Doherty of Dickinson State University’s department of Social Sciences told the Press.
Just as it is today, wheat was a major commodity for farmers trying to carve their place in on the plains. Unfortunately, however, many farmers in what would become North Dakota experienced immense financial abuse from the (1) railroads who shipped their grain at overblown prices, (2) Minneapolis grain elevators which often stole grain outright and (3) Minneapolis mills who heavily underpaid and undervalued the crop.
According to Elywn B. Robynson’s History of North Dakota “Many farmers felt that unless they could control the railroads, the market for wheat, and the terms of credit, their dream of a better life on the Dakota prairies would vanish.”
According to Dr. Doherty, the thought process of the state movement, spearheaded by farmers, was as such -- “Once you are a state, you have representation in Congress; you have two senators, House members and this is much better at representing the interests of agriculture or any particular constituency.”
Indeed, engaging in the attempt for statehood was simply a way for better representation in a world where they believed they had very few options.
“Farmers wanted more control than they had as a territory, because as a territory we had a lot less ability to shape the outcomes for important policies for a rural state.”
The professor of political science feels that the push to statehood was linked to a desire to have more ability to counterbalance the great economic and social institutions that they felt were marginalizing them.
Much like the battle for American independence, the road to statehood was motivated by the grievances caused by improper representation and gross over taxation. Indeed, it was the farmers, helpless before the combination of railroads and large wheat buyers, that often were the victims of financial irregularity and intentional fraud.
If weren’t for groups like The Dakota Farmers Alliance, which fought for that representation through the Constitutional Conventions, agrarians might not have ever seen financial successes we hold so dearly today.
“(The fight for North Dakota’s statehood) was to enhance their representation in Washington so they could actively level the field between the established interests that were taxing grain too much,” Dr. Doherty concluded.