Utah Becomes 45th State despite Mormons’ Troubled History
After a tangled history of religious persecution, polygamy and violence, the Mormons in Utah got their wish when admitted into the Union as the 45th state on Jan. 4, 1896. The Mormons, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), established their own community in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1839 after being persecuted in Ohio and Missouri for their religious beliefs. (In fact, the conflict in Missouri got so bad that on Oct. 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an official order to the state militia declaring: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.”) The Mormons were again subjected to intolerance and persecution by their new neighbors in Illinois, and in 1844 their leader, Joseph Smith, Jr., was assassinated by an angry mob after being imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois.
The Church’s president, Brigham Young, led a group of Mormon pioneers to Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, to found a new community too remote for persecution to follow. The Mormons persevered despite the harsh conditions, and over the next 22 years more than 70,000 pioneers joined them.
The area was still part of Mexico when the Mormons first arrived, but became U.S. territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that ended the Mexican-American War. Utah Territory was created by the Compromise of 1850. The Mormons hoped to be admitted into the Union as the new state of Deseret, but the U.S. opposed them, primarily because of their practice of polygamy, or plural marriage.
Tensions between the Mormons and the U.S. increased and federal troops were sent into Utah. They were opposed by the Mormon militia in a confrontation known as the Utah War, from May 1857 until July 1858. There were no actual battles fought, just some skirmishes and destruction of property, and the conflict was settled by negotiation—but the antagonism remained. It was during this time of confrontation and anxiety that the Mountain Meadows massacre occurred when, on Sept. 11, 1857, Mormon militia in southwestern Utah murdered more than 120 pioneers from Arkansas and Missouri who were heading to California. Responsibility for the massacre remains unclear to this day, but the incident only deepened the distrust between the Mormons and the U.S.
In 1890 the LDS Church banned polygamy, paving the way for the territory’s application for admission into the Union. The federal government insisted that one of the conditions for admission was a state constitution specifically outlawing polygamy, and the Mormons complied. Finally, on Jan. 4, 1896, Utah was admitted as the 45th state in a proclamation signed by President Grover Cleveland.
Sarcasm and mistrust, especially over the issue of polygamy, colored some of the newspaper coverage of Utah’s admission into the Union. This article was published by the Biloxi Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi) on Jan. 4, 1896:
Richard W. Hart, bishop of the Mormon church at Salt Lake City, member of the Territorial Legislature and a practicing lawyer of some note in his region, recently expressed some opinions to a reporter which will be received with astonishment by people who had supposed the Mormon church had permanently abandoned polygamy. According to Mr. Hart’s view of the situation, the church will at once take up the practice when Utah has been admitted as a state.
A similar article was published by the Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota) on Jan. 4, 1896:
A recently published interview of a bishop of the Mormon church at Salt Lake City represents the reverend gentleman as saying that after Utah is a state and federal interference is no longer to be feared, polygamy will be resumed there and will flourish as of yore. He says there are five of his people to each Gentile in the state, and in thirteen of the twenty-one counties there is not a single man of any other faith, hence be they Republicans or Democrats the Mormons will rule. The polygamous ordinance was of God, and as one of his commandments must be obeyed. Notwithstanding the bishop’s rosy predictions for the future of the plural wife business of Utah, it is just possible that serious trouble might follow an attempt to return to that barbarous practice.
This snide comment was published by the Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) on Jan. 5, 1896:
Utah will be brought to taw very promptly if she tries to make her Statehood a cloak for debasing American womanhood.
Sarcasm is apparent in this article as well, published by the Birmingham State Herald (Birmingham, Alabama) on Jan. 4, 1896:
It is stated that the ceremonies attending the assumption of statehood by Utah will take place in the new Mormon temple at Salt Lake City and the opening prayer will be by a Mormon bishop.
And the new state elects two Republican senators and ties itself to the party which for forty years had denounced Mormonism as one of the twin relics of barbarism. This is a great country. Utah and Kentucky vote the Republican ticket. It was not long ago, however, that Massachusetts voted the Democratic ticket.
Some of the Western states welcomed Utah’s admission, hoping to gain an ally in the effort to regain a silver standard for federal currency. The Coinage Act of 1873 put U.S. coins on the gold standard, much to the dismay of Western silver mining interests. This article was published by the Idaho Daily Statesman (Boise, Idaho) on Jan. 4, 1896:
Today the president will issue his proclamation admitting Utah to statehood. On Monday the new order of things will go into effect. The entire West is much interested, not only because it has a neighborly interest in the new state, but also because it is anxious to have two more silver senators in Washington, and, further, because there is a probability that one of the foremost silver advocates in the country will be named as one of those senators. Western people generally will be seriously disappointed if Judge Goodwin be not elected and it will be felt that Utah did not make the best of her opportunity.
Some papers reported the news of Utah’s statehood in a straightforward fashion, as in this article published by the Albuquerque Morning Democrat (Albuquerque, New Mexico) on the front page of its Jan. 4, 1896, issue:
The State of Utah
The President Today Will Issue His Proclamation Declaring Utah a State
Washington, Jan. 3.—The president tomorrow, about noon, will issue his proclamation, in conformity with the act of Congress, stating that the people of Utah have complied with all the requirements of the law providing for the admission of Utah to the Union and declaring that the territory has passed out of existence and that Utah is admitted to the family of states. The new state officers will begin the discharge of their functions next Monday. The people of Utah are naturally showing an intense interest in every step being made at Washington and Private Secretary Thurber has been importuned to telegraph immediately to Salt Lake the first news of the signing of the proclamation as to preserve as a valuable historical record the pen with which President Cleveland affixes his signature to the document.
The official proclamation for Utah’s statehood was published by the Minneapolis Journal (Minneapolis, Minnesota) on the front page of its Jan. 4, 1896, issue:
Utah Is One of Us
Grover Lets the Mormon State into the Union
He Also Tells How It Is Done
The State Constitution Prohibits Polygamous or Plural Marriages
Washington, Jan. 4.—The president at 10 o’clock this morning signed the proclamation admitting Utah to statehood. The proclamation recites the act of Congress and says:
Whereas, delegates were accordingly elected, who met, organized and declared in behalf of the people of said proposed state their adoption of the Constitution of the United States all as provided in said act;
And, whereas, said convention so organized, did, by ordinance irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of said state, as required by said act, provide that perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured and that no inhabitant of said state shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship, but that polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited and did also by said ordinance make the other various stipulations recited in section 3 of said act;
And, whereas, said convention thereupon formed a constitution and state government for said proposed state, which constitution, including said ordinance, was duly submitted to the people thereof at an election held on the Tuesday next after the first Monday of November, 1895, as directed by said act;
And, whereas, the return of said election has been made and canvassed and the result thereof certified to me, together with a statement of the votes cast and a copy of said constitution and ordinance, all as provided in said act, showing that a majority of the votes lawfully cast at such election was for the ratification and adoption of said constitution and ordinance;
And, whereas, the constitution and government of said proposed state are republican in form, said constitution is not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence; and all the provisions of said act have been complied with in the formation of said constitution and government;
Now, therefore, I, Grover Cleveland, president of the United States of America, in accordance of the act of Congress aforesaid, and by authority thereof, announce the result of said election to be as certified and do hereby declare and proclaim that the terms and conditions prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to entitle the state of Utah to admission into the Union, have been duly complied with and that the creation of said state and its admission into the Union on an equal footing with the original states is now accomplished.
The residents of Utah Territory reacted with joy at finally achieving statehood, as reported by the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico) on the front page of its Jan. 4, 1896, issue:
Joy at Salt Lake
News of Signing of Statehood Proclamation Greeted with Booming Cannon—City Aflame with Bunting
Salt Lake, Utah, Jan. 4.—When the news reached here at 9:13 a.m. that the president had signed the statehood proclamation, Manager Brown, of the Western Union Telegraph company, fired two signal guns.
At noon a salute of twenty-one guns was fired by the artillery on Capitol Hill. Many flags were displayed on public buildings, but no unusual demonstrations were noticed on the streets.
The enthusiasm is being held in check until Monday, when the inaugural ceremonies will take place.
For more information, visit the official Utah website.
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