Oklahoma faced some of the same arguments against statehood faced by the other 31 territories which have already become states. Some in Congress wanted to keep Oklahoma from becoming a state for fear of upsetting the balance in Congress. While this question included concerns about party balance, Oklahoma was also resisted by Eastern states’ representatives fearful that adding another Western state would give the West too much power. There was also uncertainty about whether Oklahoma was big enough to be a state.
But the biggest controversy for Oklahoma was not whether to become a state — the U.S. citizens moving to Oklahoma in droves knew that they needed statehood to allow them to have a voice in American democracy — but how to become a state.
Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory
The current state of Oklahoma used to be divided into Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. When Oklahoma began working toward statehood in the 1890s, it was not certain that the people of the Indian Territory wanted statehood at all. Tribal governments could have continued as they were without becoming a state, and Oklahoma could have become a state without Indian Territory.
Roley McIntosh, a prominent member of the Creek tribe, said in testimony before a congressional committee in 1892,”I believe that the United States has recognized that we are nations. The evidence of that, so far as I am concerned, is the fact that you have made treaties with us; and you seem disposed to and from time to time comply with those treaties.”
There were other possibilities, too. Some suggested that Oklahoma Territory become a state, and the various tribal governments could join in later, when they were ready. Others proposed another state in addition to Oklahoma specifically for native Americans, with names such as Sequoyah and Neosho suggested. State Auditor E.P. McCabe and supporters tried to establish Oklahoma as a state set aside for African Americans.
The “Five Civilized Tribes” held a constitutional convention for the state of Sequoyah, but the Republican Congress of the time feared that Sequoyah would be a Democratic state, and they refused to consider admitting it. A bill to admit the two territories as one state was already being considered in Congress when the bill for Sequoyah was introduced in the House and Senate. Seven different statehood admission bills had been introduced the previous year, all of which were defeated.
It seemed that the question of whether to admit Oklahoma as one state or two overshadowed the question of whether to admit Oklahoma as a state. In 1906, President Roosevelt signed an Enabling Act for Oklahoma which included both Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. Admission followed in 1907.
Like all the other territories which have become states, Oklahoma faced obstacles on the way to statehood, but was eventually admitted.