North Dakota Was (Sort Of) Not a State Until 2012

North Dakota historian John Rolczynski made it his mission to get this fixed.
North Dakota Was (Sort Of) Not a State Until 2012

Apart from South Dakota loyalists who insist that they are the only TRUE Dakota, no one is going to claim that North Dakota isn’t a state. It’s been a state since President Benjamin Harrison approved its admission into the Union in 1889. Up until 2012, though, there was a small technicality that could kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really be used to argue that North Dakota wasn’t a state.

The technicality in question was a small omission found in the North Dakota state constitution. According to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions have to specify that each branch of state government takes oaths of loyalty to the U.S. In 1995, though, dedicated North Dakota historian John Rolczynski found that his state failed to meet this expectation. The North Dakota constitution did not specify that the governor or other executive officers needed to take an oath. By disobeying federal law, North Dakota may not have been a valid state.

Rolczynski made it his mission to get this taken care of, and in 2011, when he was 82 years old, progress was finally made. An amendment was proposed by state senator Tim Mathern to address the concern, and it made it through the North Dakota legislature. The North Dakota public then voted on the amendment, and it won with an overwhelming 88.74% approval.


Meanwhile, 11.26% of North Dakota voters wanted to crush an old man’s dreams.

If any of them argued that the amendment didn’t need to happen for North Dakota to be a state, though, they may have been right. Constitutional law experts addressed the case of North Dakota and concluded that the legality of the land’s statehood was not really in question. 

While the state constitution may have violated Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, North Dakota was still a state under Article IV. Under this section, Congress has the power to determine statehood, and Congress had already admitted North Dakota. Plus, the federal Enabling Act of 1889 also decided the statehood of North Dakota. The federal government had already made it clear that it recognized North Dakota as a state, and no small technicality detracted from that.

But hey, at least it made for a funny anecdote in the state’s history, and now if anyone ever wanted to, for some reason, use that loophole against North Dakota, they can’t. Thank you to John Rolczynski for possibly saving North Dakota ever so slightly.

Also, let this be a lesson that if you have way too much time on your hands, you too can find tiny errors in your state constitutions!

Top Image: US Air Force

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