On this day in history January 4, 1896: Utah is admitted as the 45th State of the Union



On this day in history…. January 4, 1896: Utah is admitted as the 45th State of the Union

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

HNN, Tuesday, January 1, 2008

On this day in history…. January 4, 1893, US President Benjamin Harrison granted amnesty to those who committed Mormon polygamy, and on January 4, 1896, Utah was admitted as the 45th state.

First & Second Attempt

Utah’s long quest for statehood was finally officially granted in 1896. It was a long struggle for Utah’s Mormons to convince the U.S. federal government that their territory should be admitted to statehood. From the first attempt at statehood in 1849-50, the major point of contention was the Mormon’s embrace of polygamy. The Mormons’ second attempt at statehood, was simultaneous with the Republican Party’s first presidential campaign in 1856. Republican opposition to polygamy was akin to its opposition to slavery; both were condemned in the party platform as the “twin relics of barbarism.” According to recent historical scholarship, the number one reason that it took Utah nearly fifty years to be admitted to the Union was that of the practice of polygamy. As historian Joan Smith Iversen writes, “Whereas Mormon historians once held that polygamy was only a diversionary issue raised by anti-Mormons who actually opposed the power of the LDS church, recent interpretations by [Edward Leo] Lyman and historian Jan Shipps have found the polygamy issue to be critical to the anti-Mormon struggles.” (Iversen, 585)

In 1850, Congress refused the first request for statehood for a proposed state named Deseret based on the lack of the requisite number of eligible voters and the huge size of the state. Instead, President Millard Fillmore signed into law on September 9, 1850, the bill creating the Utah Territory with a new border, an initial step on the path to statehood. Damaging the prospects of the Mormons was the admission after repeated denials that one of the church’s religious principles was patriarchal (plural) marriage. It was disclosed that leading male members of the church were encouraged to marry more than one wife. The announcement elicited a negative response from the general American public and political opposition from the federal government to all Mormon requests for Utah statehood. The government made it known to the Mormons that as long polygamy was condoned and practiced in Utah, statehood would not be granted.

Third & Fourth Attempt

The Federal government also took steps to force the Mormons to abandon polygamy. In 1862 during the third failed attempt for statehood Congress was considering legislation to prohibit plural marriage. The Morrill Anti-bigamy Act banned polygamy and dissolved the Mormon Church. It was never actually enforced, but Congress refused to grant an 1867 request to repeal it.

In 1872 there was a fourth attempt at statehood that included a ratified constitution presented to Congress. The Mormon majority was still insisting on calling the new state Deseret, even after the area was named the Utah territory. Congress again said no.

The anti-polygamy crusade heated up. In 1874 Congress passed the Poland Act, which established district courts in Utah, making it easier to prosecute polygamists. In 1879 in the Supreme Court case Reynolds v. United States, Chief Justice Waite ruled that Mormon polygamy was “disruptive of peace and good order, threatening the foundations of the country,” therefore upholding the Morrill Act. Iversen, 588 However, the crusade did not stop there. The Anti-Polygamy Society of Salt Lake City was established a year later in April 1880, when the women members of the group sent a petition to first lady Lucy Hayes requesting help to save the wives of polygamist husbands. The group, which changed its name in August 1880 to the Woman’s National Anti-Polygamy Society, pressed Congress to unseat polygamist George Q. Cannon, Utah’s territorial representative to Congress.

Fifth Attempt

In 1882 a mixed Mormon and non-Mormon constitutional convention requested for the fifth time that Utah be admitted as a state. This time the proposed constitution established Utah as “a republican form of government” and adopted the use of the name “Utah.” Congress again refused. As Larson writes, “Utah would not be admitted without complete divorcement of church and state and abolition of plural marriage.” Poll, 258 In 1882 a law was passed criminalizing polygamy.

Sixth Attempt

When the Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected President, the Mormons hoped that statehood could finally be pushed through, since the Democrats had always been more supportive, while the Republicans pushed for the anti-polygamy legislation. But two years later the U.S. Senate passed the Edmunds-Tucker bill, which would force the LDS Church to forfeit property more than $50,000, and would abolish woman’s suffrage in the territory if polygamy continued. In February 1887, the bill passed both houses and Cleveland allowed it to take effect without his signature.

Still, Cleveland tried to ease tensions in the manner in which he filled Utah territorial positions. Church emissaries developed an understanding with the President and some of his closest advisors, including Solicitor General George A. Jenks.

In their sixth attempt at statehood in 1887, the Utahns included a constitutional clause prohibiting polygamy (Jenks wrote it). Mormon Church leaders thought it was better to control the polygamy situation themselves, and believed the constitutional wording was enough of a goodwill gesture. Still, the Church hierarchy would not give up polygamy as a tenet and practice. Congress doubted that the Utah constitutional amendment against polygamy would be enforced, and denied statehood.

The Woodruff Manifesto

The denial showed that the Church had to do something to something to show the Mormons would end polygamist marriages. The Church attempted several goodwill gestures in 1889, first withholding the authority to perform the polygamist marriages and then razing the Endowment House on Temple Square, where many polygamous unions had been performed. This was still not enough; the Church had to make a more formal declaration against the practice, especially after the introduction of the Cullom-Struble Bill, which would have denied the vote even to non-polygamous Mormons. Church representatives sought intervention from the Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who had Republican support from Utah. According to Larson and Poll, Blaine “promise[ed] to halt congressional action on Mormon disfranchisement if the church ‘got into line.’ ” Poll, 388 He held off the passage of the bill as long as the Church would ban polygamy.

The backlash from Washington forced the President of the Mormon Church, Wilford Woodruff, to finally relent. The official proclamation, known as the Woodruff Manifesto (September 24, 1890), declared that Endowment House had been razed and denied that polygamous marriages had been performed in 1889. The manifesto concluded, “and now, I publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from conducting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” (Poll, 372)

The Secretary of the Interior, John W. Noble, did not accept the manifesto as authoritative “without its acceptance by the [church] conference.” On October 6, 1890, the Mormons gathered and unanimously approved the manifesto. The historian Howard R. Lamar has called the move “the policy of superior virtue and patriotic conformity.” (Poll, 387) Washington remained cautious about the manifesto, and President Benjamin Harrison still did not believe Utah should be admitted as a state. But the church’s action finally persuaded the territorial governor, a zealous anti-polygamy crusader, that Utah deserved statehood.

The Home Stretch

There remained one issue that Washington wanted to be resolved before Utah’s petition could be accepted; the people had to establish branches of the two national political parties. Until that point the political parties were aligned with religious beliefs; the Peoples party was Mormon; the Liberal party was non-Mormon. The system blurred the division of state and church that characterized the American political system and was the last barrier to statehood. As the historians, Gustive O. Larson and Richard D. Poll write: “As long as the People’s Party functioned as the political arm of the Mormon Church, the church-state struggle was certain to continue, with the Liberal Party blocking every approach to membership in the Union. With the ‘twin relic’ out of the way, it became increasingly clear to moderates in both parties that the road out of territorial subordination must be by way of national political affiliations.” (Poll, 387)

In response, Utah’s population, which was still 90 percent Mormon, decided to adopt the national political parties. Although traditionally the Utah territory was more inclined to side with the Democratic Party, while Cleveland had been in power the party had not reached out enough to the Mormons. It seemed more beneficial to side with the Republicans, especially since they were in power. Still, many of the Mormon members supported the Democrats. Apostle Abraham H. Cannon wrote in his journal on June 9, 1891, that he feared the support for Democrats was a hindrance to statehood: “The danger of our people all becoming Democrats . . . is feared, and the results of such a course would doubtless prove disastrous to us.” He continued, “It is felt that efforts should be made to instruct our people in Republicanism and thus win them to that party.” (Poll, 389)

To secure statehood, the Church dissolved the People’s Party on June 10, 1891, and established a two party system by arbitrarily dividing the membership equally into two groups. The dissolution of the People’s Party caused President Cleveland to send a telegram of “Congratulations to the Democracy of this Territory on their organization.”

After the Mormon Church had abolished polygamy and the People’s Party, the leaders tried to protect those Mormons who had been prosecuted for polygamy by requesting amnesty from President Harrison. On December 21, 1891, the Church leaders submitted a formal petition for amnesty endorsed by Governor Arthur L. Thomas and Chief Justice Zane. President Harrison was reluctant to grant it since it was an election year and would alienate voters. But after he lost the election, he agreed to the grant of amnesty. Republican leaders thought it would vindicate the party since they promised to help the Mormons gain statehood, and Utah’s admission as a state had political significance. On January 4, 1893, Harrison granted amnesty and a pardon “to all persons liable . . . By reason of unlawful cohabitation . . . who since November 1, 1890, have abstained from unlawful cohabitation.” In July the Utah Commission proclaimed that “amnestied polygamists be allowed to vote.” (Poll, 392)

Utah was in the home stretch to finally become a state. On July 16, 1894, President Grover Cleveland, in his second term, granted a pardon to all, restoring civil rights to all former polygamists who had been disenfranchised. At the same time, he signed the Enabling Act which Congress passed delineating the final steps required to advance to statehood. As the New York Times reported at the time, “The signing of the Utah Bill for Statehood closes one of the most remarkable contests in the history of American politics. The Territory has been an applicant for statehood and really eligible in population and wealth for many years….The struggle over polygamy and the Mormon Church has deferred it admission until the present time.” (NYT, 7-18-1894)

All that remained was to hold a constitutional convention. On November 6, 1894, voters elected 107 delegates to the convention in Salt Lake City; 77 were Mormons, and 30 were polygamists. On March 4, 1895, the delegates met to frame the new state’s constitution, which included this clause: “polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.” (Utah Constitution) The constitution was completed on May 6, 1895, signed on May 8, and ratified at the general election on November 5, 1895.

Finally, on January 4, 1896, Utah was admitted as the 45th state in the Union. Its entry was based on the Mormon Church’s renunciation of polygamy. Most of those outside the church believed the issue of polygamy was put to rest, but some critics remained suspicious that many of the plural marriages that were performed before 1890, were not in fact aborted. Still B. Carmon Hardy writes, “To most outside the church, however, Mormonism appeared honestly and forever to have put its greatest evil away. The [Woodruff] Manifesto had succeeded in its intent and Utah had won its star in the flag.” (p. 153) Although Utah was admitted into the union over a hundred years ago, the polygamist past of the Mormons still haunts them, as Mitt Romney has discovered in his quest for the presidency.

Sources and further reading:

Constitution of the State of Utah

Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America, (UNC Press, 2002).

B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage, (University of Illinois Press, 1992).

Joan Smyth Iversen, “A Debate on the American Home: The Antipolygamy Controversy, 1880-1890,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, No. 4. (Apr., 1991), pp. 585-602.

Gustive O. Larsen, The Americanization of Utah for Statehood, (Huntington Library, 1971).

Edward Leo Lyman, Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood, (University of Illinois Press, 1986).

Richard D. Poll, et al. eds., Utah’s History, (Utah State University Press), 1989.

Jonathan D. Sarna, ed., Minority Faiths and the American Protestant Mainstream, (University of Illinois Press, 1997).


On this day in history December 17, 1862: Grant Issues General Order No. 11 Against the Jews



On this day in history…. December 17, 1862: Grant Issues General Order No. 11 Against the Jews

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

HNN, Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On this day in history… December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order Number 11, expelling Jews from areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

General Order Number 11 stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-Semitism on a large scale. The anti-Semitic order had deeper roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice. As Berthram Wallace Korn explains in his authoritative work, American Jewry and the Civil War (1951): “Some of the most prominent people in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews.” (Korn, 164) It was this anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Union army that led to General Grant’s General Order No. 11 that called for all Jews to be expelled in his district, which covered the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

Underlying the order was a negative image of the Jewish merchant and the belief that Jews were part of a black market in Southern cotton. Although at war, the North and South still relied on each other economically. The North especially needed the South’s surplus cotton for the production of military tents and uniforms. The Union army would have implemented a ban on trade with the South completely; President Abraham Lincoln preferred a limited trade in cotton. The Battle of Shiloh made this trade possible by opening up the Mississippi River down to Vicksburg. This soon became very profitable for both sides; army officers, treasury agents, and individual speculators became involved, although Jews were distinctly a minority.

Army officers especially took advantage of the moneymaking possibilities to such a great extent that Lincoln complained, “the army itself is diverted from fighting rebels to speculating in cotton.” Although neither side prohibited the trade, President Lincoln ordered that all of the cotton that was traded had to be licensed by the Treasury Department and the Army. Each army commander was responsible for the cotton trade in their respective areas. General Ulysses S. Grant was the commander of the Department of the Tennessee, and therefore responsible for the licenses in that area. The limited trade in cotton and the overwhelming need for cotton in the Northern army led to soaring prices. This prompted many traders to bribe officials to be able to sell cotton without a permit. Jesse Grant, Grant’s father, took a prominent role in trading cotton and obtaining permits.

By the fall of 1862, trading was getting out of hand. Grant was annoyed that requests for licenses were distracting him from planning the capture of Vicksburg. Grant was getting an abundance of requests for licenses, and when Grant’s father sought them for a group of Cincinnati merchants, among whom were some Jews, the general issued his order. Although some of the traders were Jewish, most were not. Among the high ranks of the Union Army, the words “Jew,” “profiteer,” “speculator” and “trader” all meant the same thing (Feldberg, 118), while the Union commanding General Henry W. Halleck lumped together “traitors and Jew peddlers.” Grant concurred, describing Jews as “the Israelites,” an “intolerable nuisance.” It was because of old European prejudices and anti-Semitism that Jews were singled out. As in Europe, Jews were made scapegoats. History was repeating itself, but it this time it was in America.

On November 9 and 10, Grant sent his commanders in Jackson, Tennessee, orders that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward [into the Department of the Tennessee] from any point.” Grant also noted his disdain for Jews to C.P. Wolcott, Assistant Secretary of the Army. He claimed Treasury regulations were being violated “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” (Feingold, 93) However, the illegal trading of cotton continued, and Grant continued to believe it was the fault of the Jewish merchants. On December 17, 1862, he issued Order 11:

“The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department [the “Department of the Tennessee,” an administrative district of the Union Army of occupation composed of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners unless furnished with permit from headquarters. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.”

The order implied that all Jews in the region were speculators and traders, which they were not. Despite this, Grant’s subordinates carried out the order around his headquarters in Holly Springs and also Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky where the Jews of these communities had to evacuate from their residences within a 24 hour period. In Holly Springs, the Jewish traders in the area had to walk 40 miles to evacuate the area. Thirty Jewish families who had been long time residents of the town also had to evacuate even though none of them engaged in the cotton speculation and two of them had been veterans of the Union Army.

The order caused an uproar and was criticized by both the Jewish community under Union command, and non-Jews in opposition to the Union’s Republicans. The anti-Semitic order was a shock for a Jewish community that had rarely been discriminated against. Democrats and others opposed to the administration believed the order represented another example of Lincoln’s willingness to trample on civil liberties. Peace Democrats complained that the Republicans were more concerned with the rights of blacks than of Jews, who were white. Jewish leaders organized protest rallies in St. Louis, Louisville and Cincinnati, while the leaders of the Jewish communities in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia sent telegrams to Lincoln protesting the order.

Residents of the expelled Jewish communities denounced the order. Cesar Kaskel, a merchant and president of the Paducah Union League, sent a telegram to Lincoln condemning Grant’s actions as an “enormous outrage on all laws and humanity, … the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it.” (Feldberg, 119) Kaskel also led a delegation to Washington to meet with Lincoln directly. He arrived in Washington just two days after the Emancipation Proclamation became law. Kaskel met with the prominent Jewish Republican, Adolphus Solomons, and was accompanied to the White House by Cincinnati Congressman John A. Gurley. They showed Lincoln documents proving that the Jews who had been expelled from their homes were upstanding citizens not involved in cotton speculation.

Lincoln ordered General Halleck, General in Chief of the Army, to revoke the order immediately. Halleck wrote to Grant on January 4, “A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells [sic] all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.” Grant complied three days later, but the mass evacuation of the Jewish communities in Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky had already been carried out.

The Jewish community was grateful to President Lincoln for his swift revocation. On January 7, Rabbis Isaac M. Wise and Max Lilienthal of Cincinnati, Martin Bijur of Louisville, and Moses Strauss of Baltimore led delegations to Washington to express their gratitude to the President. Lincoln tried to make amends to the Jewish community. He said he had been surprised by Grant’s order and said he did not discriminate between Jews or Gentiles and would not allow any American to be discriminated against based on their religion. Lincoln told them he believed that “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”

General Order No. 11 was a rare instance of officially ordered anti-Semitism in American history, but just the fact that an order was signed and implemented punishing a religious community, as historian Henry Feingold states, “without due process of law,” put a spot on America’s reputation for religious tolerance. (Feingold, 94) It was an act more reminiscent of the anti-Semitism Jews endured in Europe for centuries, where without reason Jewish communities were expelled from towns and countries at a moment’s notice. The order revealed a disdain for Jews by high-ranking officials in the Union army among them Grant, William T. Sherman, and H. W. Halleck. It demonstrated that Jews in both the North and South were not sheltered from official anti-Semitism even in the safe haven of America.

Sources and further reading:

Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Twayne Publishers, 1974).

Michael Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History, (KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2002).

Bertram Wallace Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951).

Meyer Weinberg, Because They Were Jews: A History of Anti-Semitism, (Greenwood Press, 1986).

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