Remember when Minnesota declared Independence? Of course not — it happened in 1858, not within living memory.
But it happened, even though most people now don’t even know that it ever happened, let alone remember it.
In 1857, the territory of Minnesota suffered a financial crash, what was at that time called “a panic.” Banks collapsed, businesses closed, and half the residents of St. Paul left to go to the states. Statehood was a clear solution, and the leaders of the territory began to work hard for admission.
Waiting on Congress
Minnesota requested statehood repeatedly, but Congress worried that the territory was too uncivilized and politically divided. Also, they had the idea that Minnesota could join along with Kansas, and Kansas was having serious troubles that got in the way of their statehood movement.
By April of 1858, many Minnesotans were fed up with the delay. One newspaper published a Declaration of Independence.
“The history of the present Congress of the United States is a history of repeated insults and injuries toward our people,” the declaration said, “indicating an intention to confuse and harass them as long as they will quietly submit.”
The Declaration went on to list the insults:
- Congress refused to respond to their requests for statehood, treating them “with contempt.”
- They refused to seat the representative sent to Washington as part of a Tennessee Plan attempt.
- They took care of Kansas but “neglected” Minnesota.
- They refused to respect the decisions of the leaders of Minnesota.
They concluded with this statement:
“We, therefore, the people of this commonwealth, en masse do declare that Minnesota is, and of right ought to be, a FREE and INDEPENDENT STATE; that she is absolved from all allegiance to the United States of America, and that all political connection between her and the Government of the American States is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that, as a free and Independent State, she has the power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which an independent State of right may do.”
A freedom suit
A few days later, Minnesota learned that Congress had admitted Minnesota as a state. One newspaper wrote that the new state had “donned our freedom suit!”
Statehood provided sovereignty and freedom for Minnesota in a way that political independence certainly would not have.
Minnesota was in serious economic trouble when the territory became a state. Things improved after statehood, but independence would have been hard. Fortunately, the Minnesota Declaration of Independence was not the result of a referendum or a serious request by the territorial government. Like Puerto Rico, Minnesota had only a small percentage of independence supporters. Congress probably never knew that the “Declaration of Independence” in Minnesota existed.
Minnesota never had a status referendum at all, but independence was never popular enough to have been chosen by a majority of voters. Minnesota now has an Independence Party, formed in 1992 by supporters of Ross Perot, but it still is the position of only a tiny fraction of the voters.
In Puerto Rico, 5% of the vote is the largest proportion that independence has achieved in any referendum. Like the Minnesota Independence Party, the Puerto Rico Independence Party does not reflect the majority position.
The majority of Puerto Rican voters chose statehood in 2012, 2017, and 2020. Congress continues to delay admission of Puerto Rico as a state in spite of these clear acts of self-determination.
Contact your legislators and make sure they know that statehood is the choice of Puerto Rico. As Americans, they should and must respect the democratically expressed will of the people.
Its great to see such an important piece of Minnesota history being talked about. I would have liked to see what Minnesota could do while on its own if this had gone through.