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1896: Statehood

interior of tabernacle

The Salt Lake Tabernacle decorated with a star and "Utah" to celebrate statehood in 1896.

In short:

After years of asking the U.S. government for statehood, Utah finally became a state on January 4, 1896.

More of the story:

There’s a big difference between being a state and being a territory.  A territory is kind of like a colony. As as you remember, the early American colonists didn’t like being a colony of Britain! Neither did Utahns like being a territory of the United States.

State: good. Territory: not so good.

Being a state means having the protections spelled out in the Constitution, which prevents the federal government from dictating too much of what happens in the state.  Territories were an entirely different matter.  As Brigham Young and the early Mormon settlers found out, the federal government had the power to appoint anyone it wanted to a territorial political position. Or the federal government could remove people from their political positions.

Try and try again.

A territory becomes a state by an Act of Congress.  Utah Territory tried several times to get admitted to the Union, starting in 1849.  The state the LDS first proposed was gigantic. It covered territory that now belongs to Colorado, Nevada and Utah. 

The second time, they tried for a smaller piece of land, but because U.S. citizens disliked the practice of polygamy among the Mormons, Congress did not want to give the Mormons statehood.  

No attempts after that got much of anywhere until late in the 1800s.  During the sixth attempt at statehood, a Democrat was back in the White House after years of Republicans blocking statehood. LDS church leaders began to work quietly behind the scenes.  President Cleveland appointed negotiators to territorial posts. LDS church agreed to include an anti-polygamy clause in the proposed state constitution. The church also told voters in the state to ratify the constitution that had been written.

But Congress didn't agree, because the new constitution didn't prohibit polygamy. The whole failed scheme damaged the relationship between the LDS church and the Democrats.

Progress.

The Manifesto advising Latter-day Saints not to enter illegal marriages was published in 1890. And the political landscape changed. The Mormons gave up their People’s Party—which had dominated state politics—and the non-Mormons gave up their Liberal Party. People joined either the national Democratic or Republican party.

Utah delegates wrote a new constitution that prohibited polygamy.

The roadblocks that had stopped Congress from admitting Utah into the Union were gone, and statehood soon followed.

And…success!

On January 4, 1896, Utah became the 45th star on the flag of the United States of America. See a timeline here.

pen

The pen used by Grover Cleveland to enable the statehood process. The plaque reads: "This pen & holder used 10 m. before midnight July 18th, 1894, by President Cleveland to sign bill to enable the people of Utah to form a Constitution & be admitted into the Union, on an equal fdooting with the other States."