The Utah History Lecture Series opens on Friday at 4 PM with a lecture about Utah’s early territorial government. The speaker promises some curious details about how long it took Utah to become a state and how the early settlers in Utah were all Democrats. Carolyn Murray has this:
Dr.Gene Sessions is a History Professor with Weber State University and he opens the series with his talk on Utah’s efforts to convince the Federal Government it was ready to become a state. Sessions said Utah was a territory for 50 years due to a lot of conflict and controversy because of the Mormon practice of Polygamy and how much control the church wielded over the territory.
"A couple things that make our territorial history unique. One is it lasted for so long. Utah was probably ready for statehood for so long. Some of the states surrounding us got to be states. So, commonly in the 19th century, folks called it the Mormon problem. There were a number of issues there. There was the polygamy problem. Most Americans found polygamy to be odious and probably more significant underneath the surface of that hot button issue was the control the Mormons had over the politics of the territory."
The Republican Party in Washington in the mid-19th century was suspicious of how much control the Mormons had over politics and the economy. It took six tries before the Federal Government declared statehood.
“The non-Mormon population got the help from the federal government to take away the right to vote and hold office from Mormons. So, gradually in the 1880’s it became clear the Mormons were going to lose their control so alright, we’ll make a deal with you. We’ll abandon polygamy and we’ll also be able to guarantee parity, so the Mormons divided the Mormon people between the two political parties and literally ordered people to join one party or the other. I think that’s the most colorful story in all of American history, about politics.”
Sessions said there was no line between church and state in the early days and some argue it has changed little since statehood.
“The same people who were running the church were running the state. Literally, the Governor was Brigham Young, he was president of the church. All the high officials in the territory were in the legislature…were Mormon officials. That was all changed with the Utah War Episode in the late 1850’s where President Buchannan ordered all that to come to an end and appointed a Governor from out of the territory. Given the way the electoral system sets up, in particularly rural areas of our state, the most prominent people in these rural communities are typically leaders of the local church and they wind up being in the state legislature and they wind up being very powerful people.”
The Utah History Lecture Series starts at 4 PM on Friday, the 28th in the Park City Library in the 3rd floor Community Room.