By 1847, experience had clearly taught the Latter-day Saints the importance
of obtaining more political autonomy and protection than was offered by a territorial
government, whose federally appointed officials would have little sympathy for
the LDS way of life (see Politics: Political History). Therefore, from the time
the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Great Basin, they fervently sought statehood
and self-government. In 1850, 1856, 1862, 1867, 1872, and 1882, LDS representatives
made appeals for statehood to the U.S. Congress, all to no avail. In fact, statehood
seemed to become more elusive as time went on, because those opposed to Utah
statehood could generate emotional opposition through the issue of plural marriage.
In 1865, Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited
Utah and pointedly warned Brigham Young that his territory could never become
a state so long as the Church upheld polygamy. Latter-day Saints persisted in
the practice, which for another generation blocked Utah´s admission as a state.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decisively against plural marriage in 1879
(see Reynolds v. United States), federal officials began to enforce laws more
firmly during what became known as the antipolygamy raid (see Antipolygamy Legislation).
The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, intended to bar polygamists from voting, was
still pending in Congress when LDS agents secured approval from President Grover
Cleveland´s administration and from President of the Church John Taylor for
a strategy of seeking statehood by accepting a Utah Constitution prohibiting
plural marriage. President Taylor´s belief in plural marriage remained unaltered,
but he recognized that elected state officials would likely enforce marriage
laws more leniently than appointed federal officials had done. In mid-1887 such
a Constitution was framed and ratified in Utah. Despite these efforts, congressional
Democrats balked at delivering statehood until the Church gave up polygamy.
Soon thereafter, the First Presidency of the Church, acting as a committee
on statehood, began working with members of the Republican party. Some Republicans
had been hostile to the Church and its marriage practices; others recognized
the value of the Mormon vote throughout the West. With the assistance of friendly
Republican party leaders, George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency,
and others thwarted a proposed law that would have disfranchised all LDS voters,
not just the polygamists. Yet, the threat of such legislation persisted, along
with the even more ominous peril that the four Utah temples stood in danger
of being confiscated under provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act.
Church leaders early faced the irony that the statehood and home rule desired
as an additional protection for the Church and its institutions could seemingly
be obtained only by yielding a part of the religious life they wished to protect.
With ever harsher legislation, they now faced the necessity of bending on less
central matters in order to protect the core mission and essential ordinances
of the Church. In these circumstances, Church President Wilford Woodruff fervently
sought and received divine direction. Accordingly, he publicly announced in
his 1890 Manifesto that he would no longer permit plural marriages in opposition
to the laws of the United States, thus removing the main obstacle to Utah statehood
and protecting the temples and other matters central to the faith.
Perhaps the most important remaining problem to be resolved before Utah could
gain statehood was normalizing political affairs within the territory. Up to
that time, non-LDS voters had mainly backed the so-called Liberal party, while
Church members belonged to the People´s party, primarily associated in national
affairs with the Democrats. LDS leaders recognized the necessity of convincing
party members in Congress that Utah voters were not irretrievably aligned with
the Democrats. It was time for Utah politics to mirror the federal, with the
Democratic and Republican parties both being strong. This took place with impressive
dispatch through determined efforts by John Henry Smith, an apostle, and others.
At their urging, local LDS leadersand in some cases entire congregationswere
divided along national party lines.
However, as Republican party members became more convinced that admission of
Utah as a state might give them two more U.S. senators in the closely balanced
upper house, Democratic lawmakers became less committed to the cause of statehood,
necessitating complex and intense behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts. The chief
agents in these negotiations were Bishop Hiram B. Clawson and his relative Colonel
Isaac Trumbo, a close friend of President Wilford Woodruff, whose effective
lobbying with Republican lawmakers was of critical importance. Through a series
of discussions and agreements, Trumbo and Clawson finally regained the cooperation
of key Democratic leaders, partly by agreeing that actual admission of the state
would not take place until 1896, after Democrats had an opportunity to complete
their congressional agenda without the possible opposition of Republican senators
The enabling act for admission was passed in July 1894, allowing a state constitutional
convention to meet in early 1895. Once the Constitution was approved by the
U.S. Congress, it was submitted to Utah citizens for ratification at the same
time that they elected their first state officers. Finally, on January 4, 1896,
President Grover Cleveland proclaimed Utah a state, the forty-fifth, and the
new government went into effect two days later.