Skip to main content

Enabling Act for the State of Minnesota


Minnesota progressed under the territorial government, but many groups felt that progress would be accelerated if Minnesota were a state.

Henry M. Rice, delegate to Congress from the territory of Minnesota, at the opening of Congress in December 1856 introduced a bill for an act to authorize a state government for Minnesota.

The Rice bill proposed that the north, south, and east boundaries of Minnesota be continued, and that the west boundary be established as a line beginning at a point in the center of the main channel of the Red River of the North at the Canadian border and running south through Lake Traverse, through Big Stone Lake, to the Big Sioux River, and to the northwest corner of Iowa. In place of the Big Sioux River, Congress substituted a line from the outlet of Big Stone Lake due south to the Iowa border. Considerable controversy had arisen in the territory over proposed boundaries for the state of Minnesota. There were two general groups, the east and west group and the north and south group. The east and west group proposed the Missouri River as the west boundary, and a point just north of St. Paul as the north boundary. The Rice bill followed the proposal of the north and south group.

The bill for an enabling act was not without opposition in Congress. However, Minnesota again found a friend in Senator Stephen A. Douglas who was still chairman of the senate committee on territories. The enabling act passed Congress and was approved on February 27, 1857.

In addition to establishing state boundaries, the enabling act provided for a constitutional convention and an election of delegates to that convention. It further provided that the following proposals be submitted for the consideration of the constitutional convention: that 72 sections of land be reserved and set aside for a state university; that 10 sections be granted to the state to complete and erect public buildings at the capitol; that all salt springs be granted to the state for its use; and that 5 percent of proceeds from the sale by Congress of public lands lying within the state be used to build roads.

The enabling act also authorized the state of Minnesota to have one representative in Congress and such additional representatives as the population of the state would entitle it to at the current ratio of representation. For the purpose of determining the population, the act authorized a census to be taken by the United States marshal. The census was completed in October of 1857; population of the territory was 150,037.