During his recent Tanner Lecture during the Mormon History Association's annual convention at Snowbird, Howard Lamar, Sterling professor of history emeritus, Yale University, talked about the "frustrating and traumatic history of Utah's struggle to gain statehood." Lamar, a prolific scholar, is one of the premier Western historians in the country and a former Yale University president.
Having closely studied Utah's struggle for statehood for many years, he called it "a near miracle of political and public relations." He asserted that the favorable national press surrounding statehood was mostly the result of two factors - Salt Lake City editors and reporters who were articulate and persuasive, and LDS Church leaders who carried on a wide-ranging and brilliant campaign for statehood.Lamar said, "I actually believe that with the exception of gold in Colorado in 1876 and fertile-forested Washington in 1889, no state coming into the union after the Civil War had as much in its favor as Utah."
Referring to comments in several national newspapers, Lamar focused on the extensive coverage given to Utah statehood by the Chicago Tribune, which included the "gracious prose" of Gov. Heber Wells, who not only said Utah's population exceeded that of Delaware, Nevada, Montana, Idaho and North Dakota, but added, "Our youth have been taught that patriotic love of country perpetuates liberty. Utah stretches forth its arms and beckons to the densely-peopled districts of the East to come out and share its glories."
The paper also printed some interesting comments from LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff, who said, "Utah's climate is so healthy, it is a natural sanitarium, and its diversified scenery will inspire children."
Lamar also recalled prescient comments about Congress from The Nation magazine: "It has never been a larger body than it is now, and it never stood lower in public esteem. Not only has it lost its old hold on the public, but it is regarded with growing contempt."
Remember, that was 100 years ago!
Lamar focused many of his remarks on the fascinating debate on the Utah statehood enabling bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. He recalled that Reps. Joseph Wheeler of Alabama and Constantine Kilgore of Texas, both ex-Confederate generals, moved consideration of the bill.
Rep. Elijah Morse of Massachusetts objected, saying an amendment was needed barring polygamy.
Kilgore responded by quoting Pres. Benjamin Harrison, who had said in an earlier speech in Salt Lake City, "I believe in one and only one uncrowned queen in every American home." Kilgore asserted that the Mormons had taken Harrison seriously.
When Morse dredged up uncomplimentary old stories about early Mormon leaders, Rep. Case Broderick of Kansas jumped up and said, "They're all dead - that crowd!"
Utah's delegate, Joseph Rawlins stood to say statehood was not a moral issue, but a political one. When he said the Mormon leaders who brought polygamy to Utah "had all been born and educated in New England," the House responded with extended applause.
It was obvious that momentum was headed in Utah's direction. When Morse admitted his information about the Mormons came largely from a book by one of Brigham Young's wives, Rawlins observed that Young was dead, then pointedly asked Morse, "Did you KNOW that?"
The Congressional Record reported "laughter and confusion in the hall." Following the explosive but amusing debate, the House adopted the bill that would open the way for Utah to reach its elusive goal of statehood.
As expressed eloquently by Lamar, the resulting transfer of power from federal officials to a new state government, complete with poignant speeches and powerful emotions, "brings one close to tears, even after a century's passage."