Two governments in one country

Even though the election for the Constitutional Assembly on Jeju was deemed invalid due to low voter turnout, the first Constitution was proclaimed on July 17, 1948, as the election was successfully held in other parts of the country. Against this backdrop, the Republic of Korea was formed on Aug. 15, 1948, and Rhee Syngman became its first president. The North then rapidly declared its own government with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea being established on Sept. 9, 1948.

Although this was a momentous chapter in Korean history, it would become a horror for the Jeju people. After establishing the government, President Rhee wanted to remove any obstacles to his legitimacy. In this light, the Jeju Islanders, who strongly resisted the South-only general elections, were a threat.

At the same time, President Rhee was impatient because the United Nations process for approving the new government was scheduled for December 1948. To be approved at the international level, domestic issues had to be resolved beforehand. The USAMGIK, which was supposed to leave South Korea by the end of 1948, was also running out of patience and wanted to clear up any remaining issues before its own withdrawal. Unfortunately, instead of peace, the path that all parties eventually went down led to pain and suffering.

Poster of the first cabinet of South Korea. Photo courtesy National Museum of Korean Contemporary History
National Congratulatory Ceremony for the establishment of the South Korean government.