Historian Leo Lyman’s Deep Dive into the “Sausage Making” of Utah’s Statehood

A SPECIAL FOUR PART PODCAST SERIES to kick-off Utah’s 125th statehood anniversary celebration coming up on January 04, 2021. Recording Dates: 06.18.2020 and 06.22.2020 (Speak Your Piece podcast, Season 2, Episode 3, parts 1 to 4)

Above Photograph Caption: Matilda “Tillie” Houtz, posing as a Utah’s Statehood Queen with her shield stating “Union For Ever [sic],” 1896; George E. Anderson Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University

Podcast Content: Concerning Utah’s statehood story, the oft heard quote comes to mind, attributed to German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who said: “laws and sausage, if they are to be enjoyed, should never be watched made.” Lyman’s book argues for the opposite: knowing the stories behind political actions are essential to a vibrant and strong democracy. Lyman’s “sausage making” history reveals many significant historical insights useful to contemporary life in Utah. It is also a complex, elusive story, that has been largely untold until now.

If you want to know the complete story of Utah’s statehood, start with this podcast series, then order a copy from your local library or buy a copy of Dr. E. Leo Lyman’s book Statehood Finally! – see link below.

Perhaps no other historian knows as much, or can tell the story as well as Edward Leo Lyman. It has taken Lyman almost fifty years to fully understand the extent of this story. Regarding the political wrestling, intrigue, betrayal and compromise, Kurt Bench of Benchmark Books, said this about Lyman’s book Finally Statehood!

“Utah’s quest for statehood lasted longer, involved more political intrigue, and garnered more national attention than any other US territory. While Utahns—especially the Mormon population—hoped statehood would grant them increased political autonomy, the several decades of refusal by church leadership to denounce polygamy stalled even the most carefully executed political schemes. Even without the albatross of polygamy, the territory presented a unique set of challenges. Lingering distrust toward the federal government blurred the lines separating church and state. LDS leaders considered themselves anointed by God to lead the government. Officials sent from Washington to dilute Mormon control found themselves in hostile, dangerous terrain.”

Enough years have passed (for many Utahns the history of the 1847 pioneers has always trumped Utah’s statehood story), and enough new scholarship has been completed, to finally tell a complete “sausage making” story about Utah’s elusive statehood quest.

Part One of Four:

Part Two of Four:

Part Three of Four:

Part Four of Four:

Guest Bio: Dr. Edward Leo Lyman is professor emeritus of history at Victor Valley College in Victorville. Lyman has also taught at California Polytechnic University, the California State University at San Bernardino, and most recently at Utah’s Dixie College (St. George, Utah). He is the author of eight books, including Amasa Mason Lyman: Mormon Apostle and Apostate, A Study in Dedication. He has published numerous peer reviewed articles in professional journals, such as BYU Studies, California History, Idaho Yesterdays, Journal of Mormon History, Southern California Quarterly, and Utah Historical Quarterly. Dr. Lyman was made a fellow of the Utah State Historical Society in 2019. Image courtesy of Kurt Bench, Benchmark Books (SLC, UT).

Do you have a question or comment, or a proposed guest for “Speak Your Piece?” Write us at “ask a historian” – askahistorian@utah.gov 

To purchase a copy of Dr. Lyman’s book go to Signature Book’s website or order a copy from your local bookstore.

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Podcast #1 of 4 — Topics Discussed: 

  • Mormon pioneers settle on the Wasatch Front, establish a non-democratic, almost fully theocratic government, and they are anticipating the soon return of Jesus Christ. 
  • The first failed attempt at statehood. Federal officials along with California representatives in Washington, D.C., consider placing Utah (or the proposed state of Deseret) into a very large state of California. Utah would help California with a population requirement and California would aid Utah, eventually, in becoming a separate state. 
  • Brigham Young’s and the Mormon’s world view drives them to seek total political independence from the United States. Church leaders expect to enter the Union on their own terms. They propose a couple of times “the State of Deseret” during Brigham Young’s life.  
  • There are all together seven attempts at statehood (1849 to 1896).
  • What the birth of the Republican Party (1854) meant to the LDS Church, with the party’s platform to eradicate the “Twin Relics of Barbarism: Slavery and Polygamy.” 
  • A failed attempt in 1872, Thomas Fitch, a Republican lobbyist working for the Mormon Church, proposed statehood with an anti-polygamist clause. Brigham Young agrees to it, hoping to see “how far they can go” with this disingenuous gambit.  
  • In the 1870s George Q. Cannon goes to Washington, D.C., serves as Utah’s non-voting delegate to congress; spends over ten years there; he successfully fights off nearly two dozen anti-Utah/polygamy pieces of legislation. Cannon is so good at what he does that congress passes a law requiring that all territorial delegates must be law abiding (specifically not practicing polygamists) citizens. 
  • A failed attempt in 1887, President Grover Cleveland sent a trusted cabinet member to the Utah Territory, seeking LDS Church leaders’ approval, with an anti-polygamist plank his administration would support, to allow statehood for Utah.  
  • US Congress establishes the Utah Commission, to oversee fair democratic elections in the Utah Territory; how federal marshals work in Utah; the Utah Commission applies an anti-polygamy oath to Utah voters; Utah polygamist are jailed and are politically disenfranchised.
  • The deeply polarized worlds of Mormon and non-Mormons living in Utah is explained; the effects of ongoing millennial expectations by Mormons, and the call and want for some kind of heavenly intervention is discussed.   

Podcast #2 of 4 — Topics Discussed  

  • Utah’s Christian churches are closely connected with national Christian missionary and anti-Mormon efforts and organizations.
  • Salt Lake Tribune feeds news reports to a broader national syndicated press; the nation’s press is largely unified in its anti-polygamy coverage. 
  • George Q. Cannon’s mastery of federal legislative and executive branch lobbying is described.  
  • Church leaders and territorial leaders support the LDS Church’s First Presidency creating a “Committee for Statehood,” essentially a closed group made-up of the LDS Church First Presidency, tasked with quietly strategizing and negotiating, behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., for Utah statehood.
  • Committee for Statehood work with and paid America’s railroad lobbyists (including Leland Stanford of California); the lobby represented the largest more powerful industry in American society during the second half of the 19th century.
  • Railroad lobbyists execute a nationwide public relations campaign, working with newspaper syndicates, powerful publishers and editors, paying them for a “more balanced” treatment in America’s larger regional newspapers; it focuses on Utah’s people, its industries and the territory’s good faith efforts at becoming “Americans,” and thus qualifying for statehood. 
  • LDS Church leaders call for a complete public ban of speaking about polygamy; over the pulpit and especially in the church’s General Conference (this is not entirely successful). 
  • Railroad, national mining and industry leaders, Wall Street, want Utah’s statehood issue resolved, to aid in foreign and national investments and business expansion across the Intermountain West.  
  • Former Washington lobbyist and son of Brigham Young John W. Young, developed close ties with the national Democratic Party, and business and corporate leaders; however the Committee for Statehood see Young’s expenses growing high, and his “returns” too few; instead, the Committee for Statehood turns to the national Republican Party, based on advice from the railroad lobby.
  • Utah native son, Isaac Trumbo, who was a California lobbyist and involved in the Eureka, Utah Bullen Beck Mine, and various other Utah industries begins working—along with others including Alex Bodlem—in lobbying and persuading key national Republican leaders, concerning Utah’s interests, as not so far from those held by national Republican Party.
  • In the 4th quarter of the 19th century the Republican Party became less ideologically inclined, focusing instead on industry and business interests, pushing for protectionist tariffs in support of American commodities and industry. The Party turn incrementally away from being “America’s moral police,” thus surrendering efforts at post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South, offering less Anti-Roman Catholic rhetoric, and fighting less for the eradication of Mormon polygamy. 
  • Utah 1880s and 1890s political landscape is described with the People’s Party (largely the Mormon Church party) and the Liberal Party (largely non-Mormons and former Mormons’ party).

Podcast #3 of 4 – Topics Discussed

  • The work of the US Congress created Utah Commission is described.
  • There is a gradual erosion of public support across Utah for the principle of polygamy.
  • Lawyer and founder of Utah’s Democratic Party (1872) Hadley D. Johnson, who has lived among the Mormons since 1869, offers a noteworthy prediction regarding Utah society and its gradual movement away from polygamy. 
  • General John A. McClernand (Democrat and Utah Commission member) offers a series of astute observations that essentially become true about Utah. 
  • The diametrically apposing public decisions regarding the continued practice of polygamy by two well-known Mormons: Bishop John Sharp (leader of the People Party and Union Pacific Railroad board member) and Rudger Clawson (whose Supreme Court case Clawson v. United States, resolved the claim that polygamy was protected for the First Amendment). 
  • US Congressional acts, and US Supreme Court uphold an anti-polygamy voting oath in Idaho, thus making it clear that such laws when applied in the Utah Territory, will disenfranchise all practicing Mormons, wherever they reside, or if they practice polypamy or not.   
  •  Salt Lake Tribune and a handful of Utah mining magnates fight to disenfranchise all Mormons, arguing that only law abiding, non-Mormon citizens, should control Utah’s political life. 

Podcast #4 of 4- Topics Discussed

  • George Q. Cannon, his son Frank Cannon and Isaac Trumbo (successful Utah Washington lobbyists) all vie to be one of Utah’s first two United States senators. 
  • Assessment of Frank Cannon, as one of Utah’s first senators (not all that good).
  • After successfully petitioned for statehood in the mid-1890s, the church’s declarations and actions concerning the continuation of polygamy, at the 11th hour, threated the statehood bid.
  • After statehood is granted, Utah’s first state governor Heber Wells, takes actions to resist, along with other key legislators, efforts to quietly “water down” the state’s laws concerning polygamy. 
  • Made up mostly of younger people, Utah experiences a grassroots movement where Mormons exercise their personal rights and freedoms, and resisted the LDS Church’s efforts to re engage in Utah’s governance. 
  • Federal advisors urge Utah’s Peoples Party and Liberal Party to change, and are at times artificially managed, and eventually transform into Democrats (generally Peoples Party members) and Republicans (mostly business minded Mormons and non-Mormons).
  • Between 1892 and 1895, Utah’s Republican Party swept most elections; Republicans, previously an anathema to Utahns, became a force in early state politics, while the Democrats, who supported Utah (tepidly and off and on) for forty years, faltered for twenty years in Utah.
  • The story of Utah State Constitutional Convention. LDS Church and Republican Party leader John Henry Smith serves as chairperson.  
  • Outgoing national Democrats delay Utah’s statehood 1 ½ years to the end of current congressional term, so no additional Republicans can for this period be seated in the US Congress.
  • Utah celebrates statehood somewhat on January 4, 1896, then holds a large public celebration (largely controlled by the outgoing Democrats) in the summer.
  • Leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been more influential in Utah politics since the 1970s; more so than the first four decades after statehood.