STATEHOOD FOR UTAH
ZCMI Building at statehood, 1896
From the time the Mormon pioneers first arrived in Utah, a fervent goal
of the vast majority of the region's residents was overcoming inferior territorial
status by gaining statehood. Statehood was considered tantamount to independence
in local affairs, with state officers chosen and answerable to the electorate,
rather than where officials were outsiders appointed by outsiders, as was
the case with territorial government. The first attempt at statehood in
1849-50 aimed to persuade Congress to admit the so-called state of Deseret,
stretching from the Colorado Rockies to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The
nation's lawmakers, however, were not inclined to grant the Mormons control
over such a vast domain, especially without the 60,000 eligible voters required
for an area to be admitted as a state.
Undaunted, Mormon leaders sponsored a second attempt at statehood in 1856,
sending Congress a draft of a constitution for a state much more limited
in size. This occurred during the Republican party's first presidential
campaign featuring a platform plank denouncing the "twin relics of
barbarism," slavery and polygamy, the latter of which the Latter-day
Saint leaders had recently acknowledged to be part of church doctrine and
practice. Although some in the rival Democratic party initially encouraged
the statehood effort, such cordiality was short-lived because reports of
Mormon defiance of appointed officials in particular and the government
in general soon prompted newly elected President James Buchanan to send
United States Army troops to quell the presumed "Mormon Rebellion."
Any hopes of statehood at the time were casualties of these developments.
Similarly, a third effort in 1862 was not given serious consideration by
a Congress then in the process of prohibiting plural marriage by federal
When another movement for Utah's admission into the union was mounted in
1876 its sponsors essentially disregarded recent warnings from visiting
federal executive and legislative leaders that statehood was not possible
so long as plural marriage continued to be condoned and practiced in Utah.
Similarly, most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
placed their highest value on "following counsel," in virtually
all matters relating to their church-centered lives. Thus they appeared
to be in direct opposition to the long-standing American principle of the
separation of church and state. Particularly after the anti-Mormon Liberal
party was organized in 1870, there was much emphasis on church interference
in politics as a major argument against granting Utah the measure of independence
that statehood would bring. However, there is considerable evidence that
this was something of a pretext for allowing the non-Mormon minority in
the territory to continue to dominate political affairs through the Gentile-appointed
officials who would rule until statehood arrived.
Amidst increasing hostility and bitterness between the Mormons and their
opponents, the territorial legislature adopted a new tactic for an 1882
statehood attempt, demanding "a republican form of government"
so that citizens in Utah could enjoy the blessings of liberty the founding
fathers of the nation had sought to assure for all citizens. Although appropriate
legislation was introduced in Congress on several occasions over the next
year, all such bills were promptly pigeonholed. During the ensuing years,
a so-called anti-polygamy "raid" escalated, with increasing prosecutions
but no real submission from the Mormons.
Throughout the four-decade struggle, most of the legislation and law-enforcement
activity inimical to Mormon interests had come from the Republican party.
But in the mid-1880s, with the coming of the Democratic Grover Cleveland
administration, church leaders hoped at least for a more humane administration
of the laws. And, in fact, Cleveland began to fill the Utah territorial
positions with men committed to ease the long-prevailing tensions. More
importantly, church emissaries succeeded in establishing an understanding
with President Cleveland and some of his closest advisors, including Solicitor
General George A. Jenks. In consultation with these party leaders, a sixth
attempt at statehood was launched in 1887, which featured a constitutional
clause prohibiting polygamy. The specific wording was drafted by Jenks,
who also visited Utah in early July to oversee work behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, Mormon Church leaders also approved of the strategy. They essentially
agreed that it was better to have anti-polygamy laws enforced by their own
elected officials than to have continued enforcement by unsympathetic outside
appointees. Thereafter, church leaders quietly assembled key Mormon delegates
to the constitutional convention and urged them to go along with the prohibitions
against polygamy. George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency of the church
emphasized that they were engaged on "the most important political
move since the church was organized." High church officials were equally
emphatic that local Mormon leaders encourage voters to ratify the constitution
when it was submitted for approval; and this ratification was accomplished
by a large majority. If church interference in politics had been as much
a concern to high Democratic leaders as some asserted, they certainly would
not have continued cooperating and, in fact, encouraging such activity.
However, the statehood attempt ran into a Congress far less willing to cooperate
with the Utah admission scheme unless Mormon leaders were willing to commit
themselves more specifically against polygamy. Since church authorities
refused such concessions at the time, this elaborate attempt at statehood
met the same fate as its predecessors. Another casualty, in the long run,
was the generally cordial relationship that had existed for many years between
the church and the Democrats.
Because of the widespread opposition to Mormonism and polygamy, church leaders
recognized the need for public-relations work with the nation's press--the
most important opinion-molding institution of the day. Through an elaborate
network of lobbyists, also engaged in protecting other interests, Mormon
authorities authorized the expenditure of a least $144,000 in 1887 to help
persuade key newspapers not to print negative items and, if possible, to
publish positive ones. A substantial number of papers across the nation
altered their editorial treatment of the church from what it had been at
the beginning of the year.
Isaac Trumbo, a Californian with Latter-day Saint relatives, became the
most important agent in the church lobbying effort, which gradually became
closely connected with the Republican party, then coming to power with the
Benjamin Harrison administration. Trumbo was successful in enlisting some
of the most influential of all Republicans in the cause of Utah statehood.
James G. Blaine and James S. Clarkson represented a faction of the party
which had recently become convinced that some of their more intolerant fellows
had alienated the majority of voters in large areas through their stands
against such practices as the use of alcoholic beverages, conducting school
in non-English languages, and polygamy. These party leaders became committed
to increased tolerance and cultural pluralism.
One of the developments pivotal in winning much Mormon gratitude and support,
even though the Republican party had formerly been a major opponent, was
Blaine's intervention to block passage of the Cullom-Struble Bill, which
would have denied the vote even to non-polygamous Mormons, simply because
of their beliefs. Part of the negotiations that led to that measure being
tabled was an understanding that some change would soon be forthcoming on
the church's stand regarding plural marriage. The so-called Woodruff Manifesto
was announced some months later. Among other things, this announcement placed
responsibility for the continued practice of polygamy on the individuals
involved and maintained that the church would not advocate new plural marriages
in defiance of the laws of the land. The church could no longer be regarded
as standing in the way of Utah statehood.
After the issue of polygamy was addressed, the other major obstacle to Utah's
admission was the bloc-voting tendencies of the Mormons. Friendly political
advisors from both major parties advised that Utah would not be given statehood
until normalization of political allegiances was achieved. Such normalization
took place with amazing rapidity in 1891. The Mormon People's party was
quietly disbanded, and church members were encouraged to join the recently
organized Democrat and Republican parties in Utah. There was real effort
expended to try to keep them about equal numerically, but the Republicans
gained a slight advantage. This gave partisan advocate Clarkson his most
persuasive argument to fellow party members in Congress, whose support was
needed for Utah statehood. His overstated estimate was that the Mormon vote
held the balance of power in perhaps eight or ten states. Promises of this
potential, along with apparent promises to key individuals that Utah statehood
would enhance railroad and other economic developments in the area, in which
they were sure to be included, helped to garner the needed congressional
support for Utah's admission into the Union as a state.
In the final struggles in Congress, it was the Democrats in the Senate Committee
on Territories who appeared hesitant to grant the long-sought goal. Recent
Utah territorial elections had gone against them, and with the national
legislature so closely balanced, they were reluctant to grant two new Senate
seats to the rival party. In the final compromise allowing the Utah enabling
act, passed in July 1894, it was stipulated that Utah not be admitted until
after the current congressional term. Thus statehood did not arrive until
4 January 1896, after a half-century of struggle.
See: Edward Leo Lyman, Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah
Statehood (1986); Henry J. Wolfinger, "A Reexamination of the Woodruff
Manifesto in Light of Utah Constitutional History," Utah Historical
Quarterly 39 (Fall 1971); and Gustive Q. Larson, The Americanization
of Utah for Statehood (1971).
Edward Leo Lyman