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     Oklahoma Passage: A Telecourse in Oklahoma History Unit III- Lesson 1-
    Making a State
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Welcome to Unit 3, Lesson 1 of Oklahoma Passage, a telecourse on Oklahoma history. In the previous lesson, John and Rose Benton suffered through the first winter on their homestead. As time passed and baby patients grew into a young woman, the community flourished. Jake Henry returned for a visit and during a Fourth of July dance met Henry Star. When Star attempted to rob the bank, Jake intervened only to be shot and killed. He got famous for that, belt tricks, more than that, for Rogers as a humorist. It's a humorist. He can make people laugh.
More than that. Oh, he was an original. He was a cowboy, but more than a cowboy. He was a philosopher. He was a very wise man. He was loved and admired as few men before since. Yeah, I'd like to say that again. Miss Anna, did you really know Wil Rogers?
Yes, my daddy, Nat and Wil were close friends and I was very close to my daddy when I was a little girl after my mother died. This is my favorite. That was taken here in this house. 1906. How old are you Miss Anna? Oh, that picture was taken the year before I was born and that was the greatest year in Oklahoma history. Because Wil Rogers came here? No, because Oklahoma was about to become a state. People were deciding what kind of a society they were going to have. Oh, my daddy used to tell me about that summer. 1906. What a wonderful time to be alive. There were still two Oklahoma's then. One was Oklahoma territory and one was Indian territory. Our people were from Indian territory and they weren't too happy to become part of Oklahoma.
They wanted their own state. They wanted to call it Sequoia. Yeah, I remember Sequoia. 1906. I remember that from school. Isn't that when the two territories became one? It was called the Naibling Act. The Naibling Act? Yeah, it was called the Naibling Act because it enabled Oklahoma to become a state. And at that time, there were several men who were going to form a convention and they held their meeting right here in this house. My father, Nat Benton, was there and a close friend of the family, Clem Rogers. Like our family, the Rogers were of Indian blood. Clem had been a senator in the Cherokee Nation. And there was a wonderful man named Colonel Joe Miller. He owned the 101 Ranch up north of here and will Rogers.
He had already begun his career on the Valleville stage and was home on a visit. And lastly, a man named William Murray. They called him Alfalfa Bill. He, my father and Clem Rogers had just been elected delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Well, there's the pictures over there. Let's get inside. You know, delegates in other states set themselves up like all might in monarchs. They charge high prices for farm machinery. They charge outrageous freight rates.
They charge interest rates that doubled himself, wouldn't charge. Now, who's going to look out for the common man? In Guthrie. The Constitution we write should be like a clean sheet of paper, fresh start. We'll make sure that the abuses we see happening around the country can never happen here. We'll take care, folks. Well, it's difficult to solve constitutional problems when you're afflicted in that rope. Sorry, Dad, but you know, I don't see much difference between politics and show business.
Shoot, we get some of our best laughs from them two places. If you want to know about show business, just ask Alfalfa Bill. The laughter is more powerful than the vote. Well, a man can't call you names when he's laughing. Now, will you never have told us whether you was a Democrat or a Republican? I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat. I keep saying that I'm a Democrat, but I ain't. I just pretend to be a Democrat because they're funnier. Well, I think the issues we face here deserve more serious consideration than whether we're Democrat or Republican. What about liquor?
Should the Constitution bend to the prohibitionists? Well, I don't drink and I don't care for saloons. But I still think people should decide for themselves. How far should the Constitution go? What should be explicit? What should be implied? Well, I tell you, we don't find the right balance. We'll be cursed for generations. Well, the people of Oklahoma are generous. They'll forgive about anything except stupidity.
They met in Guthrie to write a Constitution for their new state. 112 delegates were elected throughout the state, 55 from Indian Territory, 55 from Oklahoma Territory, and two from the Osage Nation. The convention will now come to order. delegates will take the seats. All loafers and lobbyists will get out.
We will now begin by singing that grand old hymn nearer my God to thee. Nearer my God to thee. The whole future of Oklahoma and its people was riding on what those men did at the convention. A group of lawyers, plus just regular people, worked out a Constitution that William Jennings Brian called one of the great documents of modern times. Of course, when Teddy Roosevelt was asked his thoughts on it, he said they were not fit to print. Matt Benton and the others created a very special kind of state.
The new Constitution made government closer to the people. The people had more to say in electing their leaders. There were reforms in the area of child labor. And for a time, they considered writing women's suffrage into the Constitution. That would have been some 15 years before the United States Constitution was amended to give women the vote. Nearer to thee. Where did the man Michael Homo come from? It means Land of the Red Man. Alan Wright, a chapter Indian chief, came up with a name in 1866. A huge crowd gathered around the courthouse and the Carnegie Library in Guthrie.
There were bands playing in people cheered and made speeches. The presidential proclamation declaring Oklahoma statehood reads in part. Now therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States of America, do in accordance with the provision of the set act of Congress of June 16, 1906, declare an announce that the result of the set election, wherein the Constitution formed, as a foreset, was submitted to the people of the proposed state of Oklahoma for ratification or rejection, was that the set Constitution was ratified together with a provision for statewide prohibition, separately submitted at the set election, and the state of Oklahoma is deemed admitted by Congress into the union,
under and by virtue of the set act on an equal footing with the original states. In testimony whereout, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed, signed Theodore Roosevelt. Statehood was more than a simple declaration of fact. It was a right of passage, a transformation shaped by strong-willed individuals, party politics and public opinion, and the consequences of the decisions made in 1906 and 1907. The foundations laid during that critical time have influenced Oklahoma history ever since. To understand the backdrop for the state-making process, we have to look first into the political development of Oklahoma territory. In the territorial period, the Republicans governed Oklahoma territory for many reasons, partly because they were the beneficiary of federal patronage.
The president was a Republican, and he appointed Republicans to be the territorial governor in the like. But also because the Republicans were able to, in the territorial period, draw upon what was, in fact, a majority voting compilation. In those days, late 18 early 1900s, most people continued to vote, as in saying is, as their fathers had shot in the Civil War, put simply that meant that if you or your father had worn union blue during the Civil War, you voted Republican, the Party of the Union, for a generation thereafter. While if you or your ancestors had worn Confederate gray, you voted for the Party of the Confederacy, which was the Democratic Party for a generation later. In fact, was that probably majority of Oklahoma's early settlers, especially Western Oklahoma, Oklahoma territory, had come from Union of States, places like Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, where the Union cause had been strong, the Republican Party was strongly brought Republican preferences with them. Part of the population also brought a very special form of Republican preference, and that was the Black Population.
The time of state had around 10 to 12% of Oklahoma's population was Black, and they were voting, and had been voting through the territorial period. And through the territorial period had voted almost unanimously for the Party of Emancipation, for the Party of Freedom, for the Party of Lincoln, and that was the Republican Party. Well, some of it is that if you add those Oklahoma's who had come with Union loyalties out of the Midwest, to that vital element of blacks who brought their pro-Republican sentiments with them, you've got a majority, and the Republicans had a majority right up until the time of statehood. At the time of statehood, when Oklahoma elected a Constitutional Convention in 1906, the Democrats presented a majority more apparent than real. And the fact was that 112 delegates elected the Constitutional Convention, 99 of them were Democrats, and the Democrats, by and large, wrote the state Constitution, and of course the Democrats carried their entire ticket through the victory in 1977,
and it looked like Oklahoma was simply a one-party, typical Southern Democratic State. But the fact was that the Democrats had won in no small part smashing victories because of what had happened to the Republicans. And the single biggest thing that happened to the Republicans was that at the time of the Constitutional Convention, the Constitutional Convention election, and the initial statehood election in 1917, the Republican leaders of Oklahoma made an ill-fated, miscalculated decision. The situation was that in Oklahoma, as in most of the country, racist sentiment was rising, taking specific demand that blacks be excluded from public accommodations, that they'd be segregated, perhaps even disenfranchised. And when those demands began to be voiced by Oklahoma's, just Democrats, not just Republicans, but by white Oklahoma's in general, the Republican Party made a calculated decision that if they were to endorse segregation, if they were to endorse the cause of white racism,
they would pick up white votes and greater numbers than the black votes they would lose. Well, they were half right and half wrong. They were half right. They lost black votes. Almost all of the blacks, and we refused to vote Republican in 1966, and again in 1977. They were half wrong. They didn't make up with it with white votes. Those went to the Democrats anyway. So the result was, as I said, the Democrats looked like they're the dominant party. They looked like there's not even really a Republican opposition, but that's deceptive. The fact was that the Republican loss was by large because of what black voters had done. They had stayed home. The new state to be born would have an Indian name, but it would not be Sequoia. The last, the movers and shakers of the Sequoia Convention were to be disappointed, because statehood would not be twin. There would not be a state named Sequoia, and a state named something else. There would be a single state to be named Oklahoma, and the delegates for the single statehood convention met here in historic Guthrie.
Now, they didn't meet at this building. The Carnegie Library built in 192 with a $25,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. The original building where the Constitutional Convention met was destroyed. But this building symbolizes the contributions of historic Guthrie. It was here that the last territorial governor, Republican nominated Frank France, took his oath of office. And it was to be here that the first elected governor of the state of Oklahoma, Charles in Haskell, a Democrat, would also take his oath of office. Delegates will take their seats. Loafers and lobbyists will get out. We will begin by singing a stanza that grandled him nearer my God to thee. Thus, convention president William Henry Alfalfa Bill Murray called the Constitutional Convention in Guthrie to order. The convention began and almost ended quickly because three critical issues conspired to promote dissension and disunity
like had never been seen before in Oklahoma. The three issues were prohibition, suffrage, and county seats and county boundaries. Now, Demon Ram, alcohol, had flowed freely in Oklahoma territory and not so freely in Indian territory. It was illegal in Indian territory, but bootleggers and smugglers smuggled it in constantly. This issue threatened to completely destroy the work of the convention. The Women's Christian Temperance Union was strongly for prohibition in the entire state, and yet there were those who loved their booze and wanted to drink it at every opportunity. So early on, our constitutional fathers had a big question. How do they resolve this issue that Oklahoma's had never agreed on then and still don't agree on today? Fortunately, wisdom prevailed.
They decided to submit, along with the Constitution, a separate referendum, allowing Oklahoma's to vote on whether they wanted the entire state of Oklahoma to be dry or just Indian territory to be dry. Interestingly enough, and getting a bit ahead of myself, the vote turned out a bone dry. Prohibition was affected throughout the entire state. Confusing some people, indeed Will Rogers noting the propensity of a lot of Oklahoma's to drink their booze, said Oklahoma's will always go to the polls and vote dry as long as they can stagger to them. The issue of suffrage for women was another difficult and tractable issue. The early advocates were organized labor, Peter Hanratty, the mine workers official, lobbied incessantly for the vote for women. But unfortunately, women were not to prevail. Charles in Haskell, very important and popular and powerful, led the forces against the vote for women, saying that the hand that rocked the cradle was not capable to check the ballot box.
Indeed, the vote was close, but women were denied suffrage. And thus, they were placed by inference, with felons, lunatics, idiots, and poppers, unable to vote in state of Oklahoma. The final issue is indicated by our map here. Murray knew at the outset that county seats and county boundaries would be the major issue of the day. Unfortunately, our founding fathers were interested in immortality. 300 cities wanted to be county seats, and all sorts of delegates wanted to name counties for their favorite heroes. When the fracus was ended, 75 counties were named. Some quite appropriately for the great Indian tribes, Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Potawatomi. Some also appropriately for great Indian leaders, Sequoia, Pushmataha, Macintosh.
Some for leaders of the Constitutional Convention. Rogers County was not named for the favorite son of Oklahoma today, Will Rogers, but for his father, a noted Cherokee delegate to the convention. But interestingly enough, the dynamic duo, Haskell and Murray, fared pretty well themselves. Haskell, who was seated on the influential committee that made those county boundaries, got his own county in eastern Oklahoma that proudly bears the name Haskell County. Alfalfa Bill Murray did him one better. The president of the Constitutional Convention got two counties named for his favorite hero himself. Murray County, obviously his last name, and Alfalfa County, named for his nickname, Alfalfa, as he constantly advocated the benefits of that lagoon. The Constitution was finished, and a great battle ensued.
The Republicans in Washington still opposed, sent their big gun, William Howard Taft, all 300 pounds of him, to come down and lead the opposition to this radical socialist document. Teddy Roosevelt, the earlier and lesser Roosevelt, had said that the Constitutional Convention was a zoological garden of cranks. He didn't like their product much better than he liked the convention. But the Democrats answered with the great commoner, William Jennings Bryan, the silver-tongued orator from the neighboring state of Nebraska. Bryan, the hero of the common man, came to Oklahoma in a whistle-stop tour, exhorting the virtues of this new populist document. And when the vote was finally tallied, the Democrats' radical constitution won a massive victory. Oklahoma was a new state, a new progressive state, with the longest constitution yet seen and yet written by the hand of man.
The Constitution was written, the people approved it, and Oklahoma became the 46th state. As the First Legislature said about molding the new government, an emotional issue came to a climax in 1910, the location of the state capital, an issue with roots in the territorial legislature. The First Legislature that met in territorial Oklahoma under federal law could meet for 90 days. They spent the first 89 of those 90 days trying to decide where the territorial capital would be. Only after 89 days of fruitless debate and discussion, with one day left, they realized they had not passed a single law. So on the 90th day, they finally got around a creating a territorial code of law by just ripping pages out of statute books of other states and adopting it unanimously. It was by that method that Oklahoma documented 1990 law providing for the licensing of sea pilots, if we ever had any ocean-going vessels coming through a gethary by God, we knew how to license the people.
What that speaks to is the intense interest that Oklahoma's had in where their capital would be, an interest that was partly political, but far more importantly was economic, aware of the potential for turmoil reflected in his territorial experience. When Congress opened the door of Oklahoma, statehood, Congress put in the Oklahoma Enabling Act, a unique provision that the capital would be located in Guthrie for a specified period of time, thinking that that took care of the issue. Well, Guthrie had several problems, as far as some people saw it. One problem was that it was, according to Democrats, a nest of Republicans. Guthrie was a Republican town situated in Logan County, which was a Republican county and always had been. One reason that both the city and the county were Republican was that it also had a size of black population, which did not go down very well with Oklahoma's white Democratic politicians either.
Considerable pressure is mounted to bend if not break federal law and move Oklahoma's capital as early as possible. The governor of the state Charles Haskell was very much interested in this as, of course, Oklahoma City promoters, boosters in the daily Oklahoma. The consequence was that a question was put on the state ballot. In fact, two questions. One was, should the capital be relocated, not saying when, and the other was where? Well, on the first one, the answer was yes, presumably most voters not thinking they meant today, and the second one because of its larger population was Oklahoma City. Well, no sooner had the election recurrence come in only unofficially than the governor of the state instructed W.B. Anthony, one of the state officials to load up the state's seal, put it in a wagon and move it to Oklahoma City. And people discovered the next morning that their capital was in Oklahoma City, specifically in the lobby of the Huckins Hotel.
And their Oklahoma City, though not the Huckins Hotel, it has remained ever since. The state-making process, one of the most remarkable periods in Oklahoma's political history, it's a drama with a cast of colorful characters, a storyline that sometimes sounds like fantasy that carries an undertone of tragedy. But for our passage through time, the constitutional convention and the formulation of the new state represents a true turning point, ushering in a new chapter that is reflective of, but built on the events of the past. Until next time, I'm your host, Dean Lewis, with the Oklahoma Passage Telecourse.
Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State
Oklahoma Passage: A Telecourse in Oklahoma History Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State
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Episode Description
The telecourse, hosted by Dean Lewis, begins with clips from Oklahoma Passage docudrama - Enabling Act, the act that allowed the two territories (Indian and Oklahoma) to become one. Constitutional convention - overwhelmingly represented by democrats. Talk of separate states, state of Sequoyah for Indian Territory, state of Oklahoma for Oklahoma Territory. Ended up with just one state, Oklahoma. Prohibition, suffrage, and county boundaries were the significant issues at the OK constitutional convention. Two counties named after the president of the Constitutional Convention, "Alfalfa Bill" Murray: Alfalfa County and Murray County. OK had the longest constitution ever seen; it was ratified by the state and OK achieved statehood in 1907. Move of the state capital from Guthrie to OKC, moved the state seal from Guthrie to OKC under the cover of night. Summary
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Identifier: AR-1143/1 (OETA (Oklahoma Educational Television Authority))
Duration: 00:28:46
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Chicago: “Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State; Oklahoma Passage: A Telecourse in Oklahoma History Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State ,” 2002-01-04, OETA, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State; Oklahoma Passage: A Telecourse in Oklahoma History Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State .” 2002-01-04. OETA, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State; Oklahoma Passage: A Telecourse in Oklahoma History Unit III- Lesson 1- Making a State . Boston, MA: OETA, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from