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100 Years Ago Today / With Utah on Deck for Statehood, Rumor Throws GOP a Curve

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Hal Schindler
Published: 01/02/1996 Category: Nation-World Page: A1

Editor’s Note: Tribune history writer Harold Schindler takes you back to the scenes of statehood a century ago today.

The turmoil in the Utah Republican Party is not only perplexing, but also at times ludicrous. It is almost the eve of Utah’s admission to the Union and the Republicans are in a tizzy about a rumor that George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wants to run for senator once statehood is a fact. The report that Cannon has his eye on the office began circulating December 31, when James Sharp told some friends that he had it straight from “a source close to Cannon.”

It causes a stir, because Territorial Congressional Delegate Frank J. Cannon, George Q.’s son, has made it clear that he is in the race for the same job. And Frank J. knows full well his father will trounce him in any election because of his connection to the church. Compounding the situation is Sharp’s reluctance to deny the rumor. It’s common knowledge that he is no friend to Frank J., whose behavior and rowdy lifestyle wears thin with the Mormons despite his father’s lofty position. George Q. is out of the city, but George F. Gibbs, secretary to the First Presidency, told a Tribune reporter January 1 that there is no substance to the street talk and that the elder Cannon would “in no way be a candidate.” He says he doesn’t speak for the apostle, but that he knows his mind so well on the subject that he can say he will not run.

There the matter rests, except for a nagging clutch of delighted Democrats who look upon this as a “rising Republican crisis.” (They hope). At the same time there are canny heads in both parties who suspect George Q. is playing a clever game and actually testing the political waters. Nevertheless, it is supposed he will withdraw.

Meanwhile, Frank J. is in Washington with Governor Caleb W. West, angling for an invitation from President Grover Cleveland to attend the Statehood Proclamation signing, which is supposed to take place sometime the morning of January 4. But Cleveland still stubbornly refused to be pinned down to a specific hour; at least that’s the impression Henry T. Thurber, his private secretary, conveys. West hasn’t been able to get through to Cleveland, even though the governor showed up at the White House this morning. Thurber will have none of it, saying the president is too busy to be interrupted.

He passes the signing off as “routine,” even though West shows obvious agitation with the seeming lack of urgency in the matter. He makes an impassioned argument that Utahns deserve a measure of pomp and circumstance in connection with the signing, but it gets him nowhere and he cannot understand why. Cleveland has been downright evasive about setting a time for the ceremony, as if he did not want to make a show of it. Which, of course, is precisely what West and Cannon and others from Utah do want.

They have in mind a small but formal ceremony, with the flourishes. They deserve it, they say, because the road to statehood has been so long and difficult. A bit of ceremony is important to Utah. The longer Cleveland avoids West, a fellow Democrat, the more convinced politicians in Utah become that the president is holding against them the poor showing the party made in the last Utah election. Some even believe Cleveland might back out of the signing entirely. But that seems pretty drastic, and not very likely.

Members of the State Inaugural Ceremonies Committee met today to determine who will swear in the new state officials, but they couldn’t come to an agreement. They also discussed whether the proclamation should be part of the program, and if it is, who will read it? That, too, was tabled for the time being. Secretary of the Territory Charles C. Richards, who is acting governor while West is in Washington, set aside Inauguration Day as a public holiday in Utah. On January 3, there ought to be a preliminary schedule of the military parade order available.