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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Hey hey Guthrie

I've spent a lot of the past year thinking about the outer limits of the scope of the Necessary and Proper Clause (or as I now call them, the "great powers" that cannot be implied and must be expressly granted to the federal government).  Examples are always a little tricky to come by, in part because the easiest cases don't arise.  So one frequently-used example comes from the Supreme Court's opinion in Coyle v. Smith-- Congress can't tell a state where to locate its state capital.

The case also involves a bunch of complicated equal-footing stuff, but the central story is that Congress tried to tell the newly-created state of Oklahoma that it had to keep its capital in its old location, Guthrie, for seven years or so, but a bunch of voters in the state decided to move it to Oklahoma City before the time was up.  What I've recently become puzzled by (after a friend raised at a conference this week) is: Why did Congress care where the capital of Oklahoma was?

I've spent longer than I'd care to admit poking into this, and I'm just perplexed.  I found this old first-hand account of the decision to move the capital, but it contains nothing intelligible about why Congress had included the Guthrie condition.  Do any readers have any guesses or leads?

Posted by Will Baude on June 6, 2013 at 03:22 PM in Constitutional thoughts | Permalink


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My speculative guess, from having done about an hour of digging, is that Guthrie was given provisional capital status to make up for having lost the single state-dual state fight against the Oklahoma City interests. That is, it's apparently well known (though I didn't know it) that there was a long debate about whether the Oklahoma territory should be admitted to the union immediately as its own state, followed later by the Indian territory as a separate state(the dual state solution), whether it should be admitted as its own state and joined later by the Indian territory, or whether it should come in together with the Indian territory as a single Oklahoma all at once. Luther Hill's "A History of the State of Oklahoma" (on Google Books) says that "At first, while the movement was under way to admit Oklahoma with the later addition of Indian Territory, the Republican party was committed to this form of single statehood, since they reasoned, Oklahoma alone would be a republican state. Guthrie, of course, being the center of the dominant party at the time, gave its support to this. On the other hand, Oklahoma City, as the business center, with its interests closely related to Indian Territory, favored the single state idea without any conditions. At the same time, the Democratic party in Congress, forseeing in double statehood the addition of two democratic statutes, naturally contended for the separate admission of the two territories".

So my guess is that granting Guthrie the capital was a way of balancing these interests. How I could show that more definitively, though, I don't know.

Posted by: Raffi | Jun 7, 2013 9:52:22 AM

I'm doing some research on Coyle. Apparently Guthrie was favored by business-minded Congressional Republicans who liked that it was a transportation (railroad) hub, which Oklahoma City was not. See Peter Onuf, "The New State Equality," 18 Publius 53 (1988).

Posted by: Cynthia | Jun 6, 2013 7:05:16 PM

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