State Constitutions: Utah

The Beehive State

One hundred and seventeen years ago today, a 45th star was added to the United States flag when President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation that admitted Utah to the Union as the 45th state.1

It wasn’t the State that had been originally proposed. That would have been the State of Deseret, in 1849, with a land mass that would have included just about all of Utah and Nevada, large portions of California and Arizona, and parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon.2 Yet with all the trouble Utah had with the federal government, its citizens were happy to be admitted at all.

The land that became Utah had originally been claimed by Spain and was part of Mexico through the end of the Mexican War. It was ceded to the United States as part of the Mexican Cession under the treaty that ended that war in 1848.3

While it had still been under Mexican rule, the area had been settled by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) seeking refuge from religious discrimination in the east. The Mormon settlers, in the words of an eminent Utah historian, “established a complete unified society of their own design” marked by unity of church and state:

For elections church officers named the slate to be voted upon. There was only voting for the slate. There were no political parties until 1870. Self-government meant the employment of church leaders and organizations. For example, the church’s High Council performed all civic functions in 1847. The state of Deseret followed American forms and functions, but its officers were top churchmen. Brigham Young was president of the church, governor of the territory, superintendent of Indian affairs, and governor of the state of Deseret.4

And that was exactly the problem with the early efforts to achieve statehood: “The most distinguishing and publicized feature of Mormon society was the practice of polygamy.”5 And polygamy was not acceptable to the American government.

But the first attempt to establish the State of Deseret failed — at least on paper — for different reasons. Ostensibly, the reasons why Congress didn’t accept that first effort to create the new state were too few eligible voters and the enormous size of the proposed new state.6 So instead of a huge religiously-directed state, the settlers got a much smaller secularly-controlled territory, the Utah Territory, in 1850.7

And a whole lot of headaches to follow, as church and state clashed and clashed and clashed again over polygamy:

The major prohibiting issue was the Mormon practice of polygamy. The political future of Utah became tied to the polygamy issue when the Republicans inserted in their 1856 platform the promise to eliminate in the territories the “twin relics of barbarism”—slavery and polygamy. There would be no statehood for Utah as long as polygamy was practiced. When the Republicans were in power, in 1862, they passed the Anti-Bigamy Act, which was followed by the 1874 Poland Act, the 1882 Edmunds Act, and the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act. In test cases, the United States Supreme Court declared the acts constitutional.

The Edmunds-Tucker Act touched all the issues at dispute between Congress and the Mormons. The act prohibited the practice of polygamy and punished it with a fine of from $500 to $800 and imprisonment of up to five years. It dissolved the corporation of the church and directed the confiscation by the federal government of all church properties valued over a limit of $50,000. The act also dealt with the separation of church and state and with courts, militia, education, elections, immigration, and woman suffrage. Utah women had been granted the franchise in 1870, but lost it now. The act was enforced by the U. S. marshall and a host of deputies.8

And because of those clashes, statehood requests were denied and denied and denied again… in 1856, 1862, 1872, 1882, and 1887.9 Land was lost to the Nevada Territory in 1862, and Nevada was admitted in 1864.10 More land was lost to Wyoming Territory in 1868.11

Finally, in 1890, the Church issued a Manifesto renouncing polygamy as a religious tenet and directing its members to obey the law of the land.12 Church members transitioned from the LDS-run People’s Party in politics to the Republican and Democratic parties. And yet another quest for statehood was launched.

This time, the outcome was different. On 16 July 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the act that allowed Utah to officially begin the process of writing its one and only Constitution — a prerequisite for admission as a state. But because of the history, the enabling act required that the would-be state formally and forever accept the concept of separation of church and state.13

Delegates were elected to a constitutional convention, which met in Salt Lake City from March to May 189514; the constitution was approved by the voters at the November 1895 election; and on the morning of Saturday, 4 January 1896, President Cleveland signed the proclamation admitting Utah as the 45th State.15 The constitution became effective at that time.

In keeping with the demands of the enabling act, the 1896 constitution had one section — Article III — the provisions of which were to be “irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of this State.” And among the provisions of Article III were these:

First:–Perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed. No inhabitant of this State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; but polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited. …

Fourth:–The Legislature shall make laws for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of the State and be free from sectarian control.16

The Constitution also provided for votes for women: “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”17 And it contained a number of other noteworthy provisions:

     •  A ban on a wide variety of private laws.18
     •  A ban on lotteries.19
     •  Power to the Governor to convene a special session of the Legislature20 and to adjourn a special session “[i]n case of a disagreement between the two houses of the Legislature at any special session, with respect to the time of adjournment.”21
     •  Disqualification of judges from sitting on cases involving first cousins or closer relatives22 and a bar on judicial appointments favoring their close kin.23
     •  Automatic forfeiture of office by any judge who was out of the state or district for more than 90 days without an official leave of absence from the Governor in case of “extreme necessity.”24
     •  Labor protections for workers from political and commercial control and forbidding women and children from being employed in underground mines.25
     •  Recognition of the eight-hour work-day.26

And although the provision has been repealed, the original 1896 Constitution even required that the metric system be taught in Utah schools.27

It’s been amended numerous times since its effective date, 117 years ago today, but it remains the one and only Constitution Utah has ever had. You can read the original version online at the Utah State Archives website, and today’s version at the Utah State Legislature website.


 
SOURCES

Image: http://pioneer.utah.gov/

  1. January 4, 1896: Utah is admitted as the 45th State of the Union,” History News Network, George Mason University (http://hnn.us/ : accessed 3 Jan 2012).
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “State of Deseret,” rev. 31 Dec 2012.
  3. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; February 2, 1848;” html version, Yale Law School, Avalon Project (http://avalon.law.yale.edu : accessed 3 Jan 2013).
  4. S. George Ellsworth, “Utah’s Road to Statehood: An Introduction,” Utah State Archives (http://archives.utah.gov : accessed 3 Jan 2013).
  5. Ibid.
  6. January 4, 1896: Utah is admitted as the 45th State of the Union,” History News Network.
  7. An Act … to establish a Territorial Government for Utah,” 9 Stat. 453 (1850); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 3 Jan 2013).
  8. Ellsworth, “Utah’s Road to Statehood: An Introduction.”
  9. Ibid. See also “January 4, 1896: Utah is admitted as the 45th State of the Union,” History News Network.
  10. An Act to organize the Territory of Nevada,” 12 Stat. 209 (1861); “An act to enable the people of Nevada to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the Admission of such State into the Union on an equal Footing with the original States,” 13 Stat. 30 (1864.)
  11. An Act to provide a temporary Government for the Territory of Wyoming,” 15 Stat. 178 (1868).
  12. Official Declaration—1, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Doctrines and Covenants (https://www.lds.org : accessed 3 Jan 2013).
  13. “An act to enable the people of Utah to form a constitution and State government, and to be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States,” 28 Stat. 107 (1894).
  14. The Official report of the proceedings of the debates of the Constitutional Convention (le.utah.gov) is a transcript of the proceedings of the constitutional convention held in 1895, and worth reading for genealogists, constitutional historians and curious law geeks alike.
  15. Ellsworth, “Utah’s Road to Statehood: An Introduction.”
  16. Article III, Ordinance, Utah Constitution of 1896, at “Utah’s Road to Statehood,” Utah State Archives (http://archives.utah.gov : accessed 3 Jan 2013).
  17. Ibid., Article IV, § 1.
  18. Ibid., Article VI, § 26.
  19. Ibid., Article VI, § 28.
  20. Ibid., Article VII, § 6.
  21. Ibid., Article VII, § 7.
  22. Ibid., Article VIII, § 13.
  23. Ibid., Article VIII, § 15.
  24. Ibid., Article VIII, § 27.
  25. Ibid., Article XVI, § 3.
  26. Ibid., Article XVI, § 6.
  27. Ibid., Article X, § 11.
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6 Responses to State Constitutions: Utah

  1. Jeff says:

    In addition to being a “fair” genealogist, you’re a pretty fair historian too! We learn something new almost anytime we read your blog posts!

  2. Keith Bouldin says:

    I looked at Article VI, § 26 – which prohibits the legislature from enacting a laundry list of private and/or special laws. I’m not entirely clear. Do I understand it correctly that this means the legislature cannot pass laws on these issues when they pertain to specific individuals, but retains the power to legislate on these issues when they pertain to the state as a whole?

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