Utah statehood was a long sales process
Thursday , July 24, 2014 - 11:15 AM
Happy Pioneer Days and happy birthday Utah as we celebrate our 118th year as a state. The process to gain statehood required 50 years of sales strategy, patience, change, and the recognition that sometimes it takes several “no’s” to get a “yes.”
From the time the Mormon pioneers first arrived in Utah, the majority of residents strongly desired recognition as a state to overcome inferior territorial status. In 1848, the path to statehood became a reality by the United States winning the Mexican War, giving what is now the American West, including Utah, to the United States.
The first attempt at statehood in 1849-50 aimed to persuade Congress to admit the state of Deseret, stretching from the Colorado Rockies to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As the area didn’t meet the threshold of voters required (60,000), the attempt quickly failed.
Undeterred, Mormon leaders sponsored a second attempt at statehood in 1856, sending Congress a draft of a constitution for a state much more limited in size. All hopes of statehood were quickly dismissed due to the hot topics of the day, slavery and polygamy. A third effort in 1862 was not given serious consideration by a Congress, then in the process of prohibiting plural marriage by federal statute.
When another movement for Utah's admission into the union was mounted in 1876, its sponsors disregarded warnings from visiting federal executive and legislative leaders that statehood was not possible so long as plural marriage continued to be condoned and practiced in Utah.
With increasing hostility and bitterness between the Mormons and their opponents, the territorial legislature adopted a new tactic for an 1882 statehood attempt, demanding "a republican form of government" so that citizens in Utah could enjoy the blessings of liberty the founding fathers of the nation had sought to assure for all citizens. Again, the answer was no.
In consultation with new Democratic Party leaders, a sixth attempt at statehood was launched in 1887, featuring a constitutional clause prohibiting polygamy. Mormon Church leaders also approved of the strategy, agreeing that it was better to have anti-polygamy laws enforced by their own elected officials than to have continued enforcement by unsympathetic outside appointees. This attempt also ended in defeat, but progress was being made.
It was clear to church and territorial leaders that until the issue of polygamy was addressed, statehood would be out of reach. In 1890 the LDS Church officially disavowed the practice of plural marriage and the stage for statehood was set.
Over the course of the next six years the state constitution was modified, ratified and on Jan. 4, 1896, President Cleveland proclaimed Utah a state on an equal footing with the other states of the union. The long battle for statehood was won, and most Utahns joined in the long-awaited celebrations held throughout the new 45th state.
A nearly 50-year sales cycle may be too much to bear, but persistence, persuasion, and sometimes changing to meet the customer’s requirements are in order. They say it takes seven no’s to get a yes, in the case of Utah achieving statehood, the saying is spot on. (Credit to Edward Lyman Leo, Utah Historical Quarterly 39 (Fall 1971.)
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Aaron Hall serves as the Executive Director at the WSU Alan E. Hall Sales Center and is a member of the Faculty in the Professional Sales Department.
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