September 28th, 2012
01:34 PM ET
Utah’s path to statehood was not an easy one. Because of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ early acceptance of polygamy (the practice of having multiple wives that was outlawed in the United States), there was much skepticism of Mormons in the 1800s.
As a way to assert control over the territory, President Millard Fillmore named Brigham Young, a leader in the Mormon’s migration west, as governor of the territory on this day in 1850 in the hopes that Young would be the federal government’s representative.
Young’s governorship was, in effect, a compromise for statehood. Initially, Young asked Congress to create the “State of Deseret” – a sweeping area that would have included nearly all of Nevada, as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado and California. As part of the Compromise of 1850 – a compilation of bills that hoped to diffuse tensions between slave- and non-slave states – the Utah territory was established.
While acting as governor, Young also was the president of the LDS church. In this role, Young instructed missionaries to build settlements in Nevada, Idaho, Colorado and even as far south as Mexico. As a nod to the man who gave him his position, Young named first capitol of the Utah territory Fillmore.
But within just eight short years after becoming governor, the relationship between the federal government and Utah began to sour.
By 1858, the fact that Young was directing both spiritual and economic matters in the new Utah territory began to worry James Buchanan. As pressure from politicians in Washington – both Democrats and Republicans – began to mount, Buchanan decided to send Alfred Cumming, a non-Mormon, to replace Young as governor of the Utah territory.
In addition to Cumming, Buchanan sent 2,500 federal troops to Utah.
Expectedly, this was not met with great thanks from Young and the Mormon settlers. In response, Mormon raiders destroyed army supplies as they marched across the United States. As the federal troops approached Salt Lake City, war seemed evident, causing nearly 30,000 Mormons in March of 1858 to leave the area and move south – to Provo, Utah. Their move was in vain, however, as the Utah War had no true battles.
With pressure mounting, Young ceded the governorship to Cummings in April of 1858. In return, Buchanan issued a presidential proclamation of amnesty to those Mormons who had revolted.
Although this marked a cooling of tensions between Mormons in Utah and the skeptical federal government, strains continued in the relationship. It took almost 50 years after Young’s appointment as governor for Utah to become a state.
In one of the final hurdles to Utah’s statehood, President Grover Cleveland in 1894 issued a presidential proclamation that pardoned Mormons who had been convicted of polygamy. This move came just four years after the church decided to no longer condone polygamous marriages.
A year after this proclamation, Utah’s constitution was approved. Several months later, on January 4, 1896, Utah became the 45th state.
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