After more than 40 years of appeals to the U.S. Congress for statehood recognition, the time had come. From throughout Utah territory, 107 delegates had been elected to frame the document that would forever establish the foundation laws for the state-to-be.

Heber M. Wells of Salt Lake City, chairman of the committee that created the preamble and Declaration of Rights, succinctly crystallized the philosophy of the delegates when he wrote that "a Constitution should not be a code of laws, but rather the magna charta of our liberties, upon which the laws may be afterwards founded. If there are rights dear to the people of Utah which we have not enumerated, we hope that you (the body of delegates) will discover and insert them."The delegates met in the recently opened Salt Lake City-County Building on March 4, 1895, to begin the process. Some brought with them prejudices and preconceptions, but most came with a sincere desire to craft a document that would protect the freedom of Utah's citizens and provide a firm footing for the laws to come.

The delegates, all men, represented the best that could be found in their respective areas. For some, the convention meant a long time away from home, family and business matters.

Some of the delegates brought personal sorrows to the meetings. Parley Christiansen of Mayfield, Sanpete County, had left home March 1 to attend, but on March 6, two days into the sessions, he received a telegram saying his brother Joseph had died. He asked permission to attend the funeral and was back in Salt Lake City March 10. Almost immediately after the close of the sessions in May, his wife had a stillborn daughter.

Jasper Robertson of Orange-ville, Emery County, was in Salt Lake City preparing for the convention when he received a telegram dated March 3 telling him of the death of his son. He hurried back to attend to family matters and was not sworn in until March 7.

Moses Thatcher of the Cache delegation had not wanted to participate in the convention because of bad health, but he responded to the call of electors. He was excused from duty for a short period, and another delegate suggested he was guilty of "buncombe." Fellow Cache delegates assured the body that Thatcher was, in fact, ill. He returned to the convention and fought to keep the Agricultural College in Logan as an independent institution.

Ogden businessman Charles N. Strevell was one of the non-Mormon delegates who represented Utah's "other" citizens. The Ogden election had been hard-fought, and a "Committee of Non-Partisan Taxpayers of Weber County" (mostly LDS Church members) tried to dissuade voters against Strevell and fellow candidate A.J. Cropsey.

"There are some who are not so good," the committee said in a widely circulated letter. "We need only instance that C.N. Stevell is a comparative stranger with us, and that A.J. Cropsey does not own a foot of land in this County or Territory . . . There are others whose well-known dissolute habits ought to prevent their election." Despite the opposition, Strevell was elected and served effectively on several of the convention's most important committees.

At the City-County Building, a large courtroom was filled with tables to accommodate the delegates. James N. Kimball served as president pro tem until the official election of John Henry Smith.

Frederick J. Kiesel, another Ogden delegate, proposed that his city be the new state's capital for a period of five years, at which time citizens could vote on a permanent capital. He could not get enough support to pass his proposal.

With dozens of issues on their slates, the delegates divided into 26 committees and went to work. Although the process took only two months, the delegates had the constitutions of the United States and 44 other states on which to draw. Although similar to those documents in many respects, Utah's foundation document also had several provisions peculiar to the new state, based on its origins and history.

Accepting the work of the convention on May 8, 1895, Gov. Caleb W. West congratulated the delegates on their ultimate unanimity. "As opposition and difference disappear, as the frost does by the bright glance of the sun in your mind, so it will throughout the territory with the people, and they will rally to your support, they will endorse your work as well and faith-fully done."

Among issues that generated the most debate and greatest division were:

Women's suffrage: Females had voted under territorial government but were deprived of the privilege by the federal Edmunds Tucker Act in 1887. Suffragists fought hard for a restoration of their rights but found unexpectedly heavy opposition. One of those who argued against it was Mormon scholar B.H. Roberts. He spoke for two days against including women's suffrage in the constitution. On the other side, Franklin S. Richards stated that he would "rather remain in territorial vassalage" than deny women equal political standing. Overnight, women on both sides of the issue gathered petition signatures, with 24,801 favoring a constitutional guarantee of women's votes and 15,366 supporting a separate election on the issue. In the end, those delegates present for the April 18, 1895, vote were unanimous for suffrage.

Freedom of religion: Utah's background as a state originally settled by people of one religion made delegates sensitive to the need for tolerance of all faiths. The final wording of Article 1, Section 4 says: "There shall be no union of church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or in-struc-tion, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment." Earlier, the Enabling Act passed by Congress had proclaimed that "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 under the act, polygamy was forever prohibited.

Arms: Utah's constitution differs from the federal provisions on arms. The state's reference acknowledges the right of people to bear arms for security and defensee, "but the Legislature may regulate the exercise of this right by law." In 1984, detail was added, more specifically defining the right to bear arms but preserving the right of the Legislature to "define the lawful use of arms." Utahns supported the change in the 1984 general election.

Juries: Long custom of having 12 jurors sit in judgment on peers was challenged as Utah's convention delgates considered the proposals of David Evans, a Weber County delegate. He argued that 12 jurors could often be too many. He also argued against the need for total unanimity in verdicts. The cost of having a dozen jurors for every case also was thrown into the argument. In its final amended form, Section 10 allows for eight jurors except in cases of capital offenses. Four jurors can sit in judgment of cases in "courts of inferior jurisdiction." Unanimous verdicts are called for in criminal cases, but in civil cases, three-fourths of the panel can advance a verdict. In civil cases, juries can be waived unless demanded.

Accepted by Congress, the Utah constitution opened the doors to full acceptance of the state into the Union on Jan. 4, 1896.



Suffrage for women

The three-day visit of noted national suffragist Susan B. Anthony in 1895 was heralded as a red-letter event for Utah suffragists. The question of votes for women was one of the most hard-fought issues of the convention. Utah women, who had been able to vote under territorial status until the Edmunds-Tucker Act deprived them of their franchise, were determined to regain the privilege. In the end, they prevailed.