The Hatchet is Buried, The Constitutional Convention is Called

Stanford J. Layton
History Blazer, August 1995

The summer and fall of 1894 was a busy and eventful time for political developments in the march to Utah statehood. The Enabling Act, which in effect invited Utah to become a state by drafting an appropriate constitution, was passed by Congress on July 10 and signed by President Cleveland on July 16. To celebrate that long-awaited and grand event, prominent Mormon and Gentile citizens joined together in a party at Saltair Resort. Old religious animosities were fading quickly, being replaced by a sectarian optimism for the future of the soon-to-be proclaimed state.

Further serving to soothe tender religious feelings was Cleveland’s pardon and enfranchisement, in September 1894, of all Utahns who had earlier been disqualified to vote because of their practice of polygamy. This was an extension of the initial amnesty and pardon offered by President Harrison the previous year. It was also an affirmation of an important ruling by the congressionally appointed Utah Commission in 1893 that “amnestied polygamists be allowed to vote.” Everyone, it seemed, was in a forgiving and accommodating mood.

In November 1894 Utahns elected delegates to the forthcoming constitutional convention. (Men only went to the polls that fall; women had lost their right to vote under provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 and would not regain it until ratification of the new state constitution in the fall of 1895.) They selected 107 delegates from around the territory to meet the following March in Salt Lake City and frame the new constitution. In the nearly half-century since initial Mormon settlement of the Salt Lake Valley, this would be the seventh and final constitutional convention.

The 107 men elected as delegates represented a reasonably accurate cross-section of Utah society, except in matters of race and gender (again, no women). The nascent popularity of Republicans in the territory was evident in their 59–48 numerical advantage over the Democrats. Non-Mormons were represented in numbers approximating their percentage of the total population, with 28 of them being elected, including 1 Methodist Episcopal minister.

Utah’s various occupations were also represented among the delegates in predictable numbers: there were 28 farmers and ranchers, 15 lawyers, 13 merchants, 8 mining businessmen, 6 educators, 5 churchmen, 4 newspapermen, 3 bankers, 3 builders, a couple of photographers and clerks, and 1 or 2 representatives from such diverse occupations as blacksmith, mason, brewer, and druggist.

As 1894 moved into late autumn, no one knew how the newly elected delegates would treat such issues as female suffrage, separation of church and state, plural marriage, right to work, eminent domain, or any other constitutional question. Yet, happiness was in the air as everyone realized statehood was within reach. John Henry Smith, one of four LDS General Authorities elected to the constitutional convention, and who was to preside over it, reflected Utah’s general satisfaction with the politics of statehood when he confided to his diary on November 6, 1894, “The flag again floats for the American people.”

See Stanley S. Ivins, “A Constitution for Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 25 (1957).