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Public Statements

John Sutherland and the Capital Election Fights, by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

An historical marker was recently dedicated in Pierre to honor John T. Sutherland, the leader of all three successful election campaigns in which the South Dakotans selected Pierre to be the State Capital.

Sutherland was almost forgotten in our history, but in the excellent book published last year, "The South Dakota State Capitol: the First Century," author Marshall Damgaard described the hard work of this special South Dakotan.

Judged by modern standards, the 1889, 1890 and 1904 capital election campaigns were bareknuckled brawls fought on the edge of legality.

At the recent dedication, Damgaard said con-artists visited competing towns offering blocks of votes for sale. Sutherland believed one of them might really have the votes. But instead of yielding to the vote-buying temptation, Pierre boosters tied the man up until the election was over.

Competing railroads offered free train trips to Pierre and Mitchell for "important men" to influence their voting. South Dakota women quickly convinced the railroad bosses of their influence over their men's votes and were immediately offered free train trips as well. As many as 5,000 people visited Pierre and Mitchell some days.

Sutherland had 40 people working throughout the state promoting Pierre and making sure no one operated outside agreed-upon behavior boundaries.

He told competitors, "We are not going to stuff any ballot boxes … unless you do." Just in case, he created Precinct 17 in Pierre and populated it with names copied from the St. Paul social register. His agents reported no ballot stuffing, so Precinct 17's phantom votes were not cast.

Sutherland was so well-attuned to opinions of fellow South Dakotans that, when the last votes were counted in the final 1904 election, he predicted Pierre's margin of victory within 38 votes.

He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1904 to make sure funds were approved to build the State Capitol. That achieved, he didn't seek re-election. Like most South Dakotans in the 122-year-history of our citizen Legislature, when his goals were accomplished, he returned
to career and family life. He lived another 35 years until 1941.

Robert Karolevitz once wrote that South Dakotans have a "fierce, but quiet pride" in solving problems, achieving beyond anyone's expectations, and prevailing against every challenge.

That truth has been repeated many times in our history, most recently in our battle to reduce Missouri River flood damages. We also see it in the life of John Sutherland.

He demonstrated the self-reliance and persistence that I believe are two of South Dakota's most important values.

In those olden times, everyone had to be "self-reliant" or they didn't survive. To win the capital for Pierre, John Sutherland determined why Pierre was better, communicated that message persistently, and won … not just once or twice, but three times!

The important thing today is that we haven't abandoned those values of self-reliance and persistence. We need to make sure that coming generations don't abandon them either.


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