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Utah at the end of the 19th century


Salt Lake City  in 19th century
Salt Lake City in 19th century

Since 1849 Utahns had repeatedly petitioned the U.S. Congress for statehood. Congress consistently refused. At the heart of this refusal to grant statehood was polygyny; in fact, above and beyond withholding statehood, Congress took direct action to abolish the practice of polygyny among the Mormons. In 1862 Congress passed a federal antibigamy law, and in the 1870s and 1880s more laws implemented the earlier act and made the prosecution of polygynists easier. Federal agents descended on Utah searching for “cohabs,” as polygynous Mormons were called. Many cohabs, a group that constituted between 20 and 30 percent of the families in Utah, were fined and sent to jail, especially during the years following the passage of the so-called Edmunds Bill of 1882, which was the most aggressive antipolygyny act. In addition, the church leadership was forced into hiding and about 12,000 Mormons were prohibited from voting under the terms of the Edmunds Bill because they refused to promise not to take more than one wife. Finally, in 1890, the church leadership issued a manifesto advising church members to abstain from polygyny.

Abandoning the polygyny doctrine removed the major obstacle to Utah’s statehood. Prospects for statehood brightened after the dissolution of the People’s Party in 1891. Thereafter, Mormons affiliated themselves with either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. The gentile-dominated Liberal Party was also dissolved two years later.

Following the passage of an enabling act by the U.S. Congress in 1894, a convention met in Salt Lake City in March 1895 to write a constitution for the new state. The enabling act required that the Utah constitution outlaw polygamy; it was the only state constitution to do so. The constitution gave the vote to women. Utah was the fourth state to do so. The constitution was approved by the voters in the fall of 1895, and on January 4, 1896, Utah was officially admitted to the Union as the 45th state.

Two days later, Heber M. Wells, who had been elected the previous year, was inaugurated as the state’s first governor.

Even after statehood the polygyny issue did not die immediately. A polygynist, Brigham Roberts, was prevented from taking his seat in the United States House of Representatives after his election in 1898. Reed Smoot, a Mormon leader elected U.S. senator in 1903, also had his right to a seat in the Senate challenged, but he retained his place after a three-year investigation. "Utah" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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