Utahns began petitioning Congress for admission to the Union in 1849, but they did not achieve statehood until 1896.
During most of Utah's territorial years, federally appointed men, all non-Mormons except for Brigham Young, served as territorial governors. These governors repeatedly clashed with the Mormon-dominated legislature.
In general, the Mormons and non-Mormons competed for control within the territory.
Some of the issues that caused conflicts were polygamy, the separation of church and state, and free public schools.
Although Mormons felt that polygamy was a God-given principle, the people in the rest of the country despised the idea. Congress passed several laws to try to put an end to the practice. The government sent marshals to arrest polygamists. Politicians, reformers, and authors kept Americans focused on polygamy.
Finally, in 1887, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act. This act abolished the LDS church corporation and threatened the survival of all Mormon institutions. Additionally, it took away the right of women to vote.
Clearly something dramatic had to be done. In September 1890 LDS church president Wilford Woodruff issued what is known as the Manifesto. This document stated that Mormons no longer were teaching polygamy. It advised church members to “refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”
Statehood Day bunting on front of ZCMI, Salt Lake City, Utah, in January 1896.
In 1891, the Democratic and Republican political parties were organized in Utah—replacing the local Mormon and non-Mormon parties. With each of these steps, Utah moved closer to becoming a state.
Careful teamwork in Washington, D.C., by Mormons and non-Mormons, as well as positive statements by the Utah Commission, led to the passage of the Enabling Act. Signed by President Grover Cleveland, this bill allowed Utahns to hold a constitutional convention and apply for admission to the Union.
That convention was held in 1895. On January 4, 1896, Utah became the 45th state.
Utah women and many men had campaigned successfully for the return of women’s right to vote. They received a full equal rights provision in the new state constitution.