The Framers’ Debates on Religion

The First Amendment and the Utah Constitution

Lesson III: The Utah State Constitution of 1895

Step 2. From Territory to State

1860 1897

Utah Timeline: From Federal Territory to U.S. State

1847-1849

Territory versus State

“In 1846, a group of pioneer members of the Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) traveled west from Illinois to escape the violent opposition of non-Mormons. They arrived in a desolate area past the Western border of the United States in 1847, calling the land they claimed “Deseret.” Deseret’s boundaries included the present-day state of Utah, most of present-day Nevada and Arizona, and parts of southern California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Idaho. Soon afterward, the U.S. claimed the land as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. In 1849 the Mormons, now living in Utah Territory, petitioned to enter the Union as the state of Deseret. Statehood would give the region more autonomy through its own elected state government and representatives.” Source: PBS

1847-1849
1857

The Mormon War

“As a territory, Utah came under the direct control of Congress. Mormon leader Brigham Young was appointed territorial governor, but he resented any infringement on his authority. Young’s leadership provoked the national government to declare the territory in “rebellion,” bringing U.S. troops to Utah in a conflict known as the Mormon War. Following the horror of a Mormon-led massacre of 120 people in a westward-bound wagon train at Mountain Meadow in fall 1857, public opinion regarding the church deteriorated. Deseret’s prospects for statehood seemed dim. During the Civil War, the U.S. government shifted its attention from the Mormons. President Abraham Lincoln told a Mormon representative to Washington, D.C., “You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.” In this period of Mormon isolation, Young, having given up his governorship, built the insularity of the Mormons against the territory’s encroaching non-Mormon population.” Source: PBS

1857
1870-1890

Testing the First Amendment

“In 1870, as the transcontinental railroad and the prospects of open land, mining and industry brought more non-Mormons into the Utah Territory, new political parties formed. The Mormons gathered into the People’s Party. Non-Mormons participated in territorial politics as the Liberal Party. Idaho Senator Frederick Dubois sought to limit Mormon influence by taking on the easy target of plural marriage: “[We] were not nearly so much opposed to polygamy as we were to the political domination of the Church… We made use of polygamy.” Polygamy became illegal in the United States in 1862 when President Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. The U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-polygamy ruling in Reynolds v. United States in 1879 was the first high court ruling to take up the question of Free Exercise of Religion. In this case, they upheld the ban on plural marriage, arguing that religious beliefs are free from government regulation but religious-based acts are not. Some viewed it as an assault on First Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Eight years later, the U.S. Government, in 1887, enacted Edmunds-Tucker Act that essentially legally dissolved the Church of the Latter-day Saints. “One of the provisions of the Edmunds–Tucker Act in 1887 was the repeal of women’s right to vote in Utah. The opposition of the majority of Utahans to this act was secured by a provision that required a test oath against polygamy. This was broad enough to include the majority of Latter-day Saints who were not directly involved in polygamy. All who would not swear this test oath were ineligible to vote, serve on juries, or hold most other government offices.”

1870-1890
1890-1896

Manifesto to Statehood

“In 1890, after the Supreme Court upheld the Edmund-Tucker Act securing the government’s right to seize the church’s property, Mormon president Wilford Woodruff announced in a document known as “The Manifesto” that the church would renounce the practice of polygamy. Utah was admitted to the United States on January 4, 1896, and that year sent its first two senators and one representative to Congress, all members of the Republican Party. “Statehood is an extraordinary achievement, but it’s born of the fact that the LDS people realized they had to change to conform with the mandates that were coming out of Washington D.C., of what the voice of the public was demanding from Utah.” Source: PBS

1890-1896
Lesson III. Step 2 of 7
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