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Union Yes: Utah's Struggle For Statehood
It's Here, the Centennial Year
A State Is Born: Utah's Battle to Belong
Hal Schindler
Published: 01/01/1996 Category: Nation-World  Page: A

All the disappointments of more than 40 years' struggle--and six failed attempts--were pushed aside Jan. 4, 1896, when President Grover Cleveland put his signature to a proclamation declaring Utah a state.

Everyone in the territory had hoped the seventh try would be a charm--and it was.

Now, in 1996, we honor the statehood centennial because of what it meant to so many, who battled so hard for so long to achieve it.

Leaders in the Salt Lake Valley settlement were rebuffed in their statehood efforts in 1849, 1856, 1862, 1872, 1882 and 1887. Each time the proposed state constitution was amended, strengthened and rewritten. Each time Congress said, ``No.'' The 1872 proposal adopted women's suffrage, and also attempted to address the objections to polygamy. In the 1882 draft proposal, Utahns again provided for suffrage and guaranteed that their school system would be free of sectarian influence.

While each of these hard-fought, hard-argued drafts differed in detail, each drew on facets of constitutions from Illinois, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Iowa, New York, Colorado and Wyoming.

All to no avail.

Four decades of despair, anguish and fury in pleading for self-government only to be spurned again and again by Congress had Utahns believing that the dream of becoming a sovereign state was just that--a dream.

Then, when the moment finally arrived and the dream became reality, Utahns celebrated with unbridled exuberance. They had endured much and surrendered much to see that day. Those Utahns who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had for a time lost the right to vote, to hold public office or to serve on juries.

Others who practiced the church's doctrine of plural marriage went to prison for extended terms and lost their property through punishing fines that reduced them to paupers. Some chose to fight the system and fled to Mexico or Canada. Still others went into hiding, living the life of fugitives with their families ever on the watch for federal marshals.

It was the Manifesto--renouncing polygamy as a church doctrine--that set the course for statehood. When LDS President Wilford Woodruff took that seemingly impossible step, he denied anti-Mormons in Congress and on the national scene their most powerful weapon in the crusade to neutralize church influence in Utah's political affairs.

It allowed Gov. Caleb West in his annual report to the secretary of interior for 1893 to urge passage of an enabling act allowing Utahns to shape a state constitution. He also recommended repeal of the oppressive Edmunds-Tucker law, which confiscated property of the LDS Church.

``There is left, neither reason nor excuse, in my judgment for taking from the Mormon Church and people their property, and it ought to be restored to them,'' wrote West, a non-Mormon.

His arguments prevailed and on Jan. 4, 1896, he was in Washington with a Utah delegation to receive the freshly signed proclamation from President Cleveland and to notify his waiting constituents in Salt Lake City that statehood was a fact.

In Utah, Gov.-elect Heber M. Wells prepared for the inauguration ceremonies in the Salt Lake Tabernacle that would begin a new era in the history of the state of Utah.

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