Statehood: 1896

After years of asking the United States 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 a little like a colony. 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.

The pen used by Grover Cleveland to enable the statehood process. The plaque reads: “This pen & holder used 10 m. before midnight July 16th, 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 footing with the other States”

State or territory? 

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 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. The people of Utah Territory tried several times to get admitted to the Union, starting in 1849. The first state they proposed was gigantic. It covered areas that now belong to Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. 

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

No attempts went very well 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. The 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.

The ZCMI building, decorated to celebrate Utah’s statehood, 1896. Notice the star labeled “45” at the top of the building’

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.


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.

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