Winter 1996, Volume 13.1
A. J. Simmonds
The "No" Vote
This essay is published posthumously. A.J. Simmonds passed away suddenly under tragic circumstances in June 1995.
A. J. Simmonds was Associate Director and Curator of Special Collections and Archives and Associate Professor of History at Utah State University. He is the author of six books, including A Gentile Comes to Cache Valley (1976) and Pictures Past (1988).
An address delivered before The Statehood Constitution Centennial Symposium, Salt Lake City and County Building on 8 May 1995.
I find myself in a somewhat ambivalent position addressing this learned symposium on the Centennial of the State Constitution. I very much suspect that I am the only person in this very grand chamber whose paternal grandfather and great-grandfather and a couple of paternal great-uncles voted against Statehood for Utah. I also suspect that I am the only person here who lives in one of the ten voting districts in Utah that cast a majority "No" vote on the issue of Statehood. Had my family and my hometown had their way, Utah would still be a Territory.
The historical record on Utah's seven attempts at Statehood is a fairly full one; but it is also fairly one-sided. Even the most balanced of the recent books on Statehood, Edward Leo Lyman's Political Deliverance (in itself a suggestive title), is subtitled, The Mormon Quest for Statehood. That is, of course, the central part of the story. There was a long history of Mormon activity to achieve home rule in a free and sovereign state. Very often, however, the historiography of the quest for statehood presents the issue as one of the noble Utah majority pitted in their just desires for self-government against a carpetbagger administration of Federal appointees and Protestant missionaries.
Yet, on 5 November 1895, one in five Utah voters cast ballots against Statehood. With that election, the Mormon majority achieved the goal of home rule in a State government. National leaders had become reconciled to Utah Statehood. The leading figures in the Gentile community supported Statehood and had participated in writing the Constitution. Even so, 7,687 Utah men voted against Statehood.
That is a massive protest that has been largely ignored in the historiography of the State Constitution. Twenty percent of the electorate was opposed either to Utah becoming a State or to some phrase in that most innocuous of documents, the Constitution of 1895. Or—and it is an important "or"—the "No" vote on 5 November 1895 represented the culmination of a quarter century of the Gentile minority's attempt to have some political influence in Utah.
All available evidence suggests that was the case, that the vote was largely upon religious grounds. Whatever else it entails, to be a Utahn is to carry an especial awareness of religion. Whether Mormon or Gentile, a Utahn is keenly aware of one's own ecclesiastical identity. It has ever been so. Alone of the states in the recent history of the Republic, Utah has been wracked by the bitterest sectarian antagonisms. More than just marked by, the political history of Utah is made of this bi-partite division. Since the accords of 1890 and 1891, when the Mormon Church publicly abandoned the millennial theocracy of its early years and ostensibly capitulated to Federal demands for a secular Utah, Utahns have developed the compromise attitude of not speaking too openly of the divisions in our State. It saves problems, but it compromises our view of our own history.
In July 1870 politically-minded Gentiles met at the new railroad town of Corinne and formed the Liberal Party, a political party composed of both Democrats and Republicans and with a platform comprised of essentially one plank: to secularize Utah. The Mormons responded with the People's party; and for nearly a quarter of a century, the Republic witnessed the unedifying spectacle of political contests between parties founded almost exclusively upon religion.
The question remains, can we be certain in 1995 that those who cast a "No" vote in 1895 represented a continuation of the Liberal Party vote? Might not those 7,700 electors have been opposed to Woman Suffrage or a bicameral legislature or some other element in the Constitution?
Every historian who has considered the issue has assumed that the "No" vote was a Gentile vote. Gustive O. Larson's 1871 work, The Americanization of Utah for Statehood, assumed that to be the case, and in that assumption reduced the "No" vote to a footnote:
The negative votes apparently came from non-Mormon centers where Gentile hopes for protection against the Mormon majority rested in the federal government. (296)
In her careful and authoritative study of Utah State elections, 1895-1899, Jean Bickmore White notes Orlando W. Powers's assumption that Utahns could throw off religious control just as well "under statehood as under the territorial form of government." Then, in analyzing the "no" vote, she writes:
Apparently many of his fellow non-Mormons in the urban and mining centers of the state did not feel as safe in these assumptions as did Judge Powers. (23)
It is fair to say that there has been—and probably still is—that sort of assumption about the urban and mining centers as the heartland of the Gentile vote. Yet of the 7,687 votes cast against statehood in 1895, nearly 3,000 were cast in rural farming and ranching communities (Utah Commission 1896).1
While there was a substantial "No" vote in all the mining camps (except for the nearly defunct Silver Reef which cast a unanimous 5 votes for Statehood), only Detroit Springs in Juab, Bullion in Piute, and Bingham in Salt Lake County cast a majority vote against ratification. In fact, of the ten precincts which cast a majority vote against ratification, five were farming communities. As a percentage of votes cast, Park City was more supportive of Statehood than a farming community like Slaterville in Weber County, and Mercur was more supportive than Deweyville in Box Elder County (Utah Commission 1896).
But while all that is of interest, it does not answer the question of who the "No" voters were. And that is where we are especially fortunate. There is in all probability more readily available data on the religious affiliations of Utahns during the later Territorial period than can be readily recovered for most of the years (except 1930) since that time. First, there are the calculations of the Mormon Church itself. The Reports of the Presiding Bishop's Office show that in 1880, out of a Territorial population of 143,963, 113,828 were Mormons. There is no reason to doubt those figures, but there is a curious twist to them. On 6 September 1882, The Deseret News published a list of the religious affiliations of Utahns. The census showed 120,283 Mormons, 14,156 Gentiles, 6,988 Apostates, 820 RLDS, and 1,716 "Miscellaneous or Doubtful" (May 133, n. 12). One wonders just who could have fallen into that category!
There was clearly an order from somewhere that a religious census was to be taken in conjunction with the United States Census of 1880, though in ten years of searching, this writers has not found it. The original manuscript returns show marginal markings to the left of the first column of every folio: "AM" for Apostate Mormon, "G" for Gentile, and so on. All the exceptions were marked. Mormons were not. But there was clearly an undercount. The Church's own figures showed that it had 7,000 fewer members than were credited in the U.S. Census.
In Cache County, few of the returns were reasonably accurate. Logan, for instance, had two census enumerators, Aaron DeWitt and Thomas Rowland, both ex-Mormons and both members of St. John's Episcopal Church. Yet only Rowland's part of the census returns contain the identifying marginalia. And where the marginalia were absent, the person enumerator was counted as Mormon. The Church was in possession of better statistics, but did not publish them. Rather, it relied upon the count from the Federal Census, since it indicated a larger Mormon population in the Territory (Tenth Census).
In 1880 the Mormon population was 79% of the Territorial total. In 1890 it was 65% In 1900 it was 67%. If we split the difference between the 1890 and 1900 figures—as 1895 splits the difference between those years—it is likely that at the vote on the ratification of the State Constitution, the religious division of the Territory was 66% Mormon and 34% Gentile (May 133 n. 12).
A much clearer picture of the distribution of the Gentile population in the Territory comes from the school census required by the Edmunds-Tucker Act. Section 25 required the annual school census to list all children in the Territory between the ages of 6 and 18 according to the religion of their parents: Mormon or Gentile (words actually used in the text). In 1888 14% of the children in Utah were of non-Mormon parentage. By 1893 the percentage had increased to 20% (Rpt. Commissioner of Schools 1883, 1893).
More to the point, the school census was returned and published by county, thus giving some idea of the distribution of the Gentile population. It is not an absolutely sure marker. A portion of the Gentile population—possibly even a substantial portion in some areas—had to have been drawn from single males living in mining or railroad towns. Even when there were Gentile children shown on the school census, there is no certainty that their fathers were citizens entitled to vote. Of course, that is also a condition that must have affected a portion of the Mormon population.
Still, in many of the counties, there does seem to be a direct correlation between the percentage of Gentile school children and the vote cast for the Liberal Party in the 1880s and early 1890s and against Statehood in 1895. In counties like Box Elder, Emery and Carbon, Millard, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele, Utah, and Weber, the correlation between the percentage of Gentile school children in 1893 and the "No" vote in 1895 is almost an exact one.2
If there can be little doubt that the vast majority of the Liberal vote in the 1880s and the early 1890s was a Gentile vote (and I don't think anyone suggests that there was a significant Mormon bloc within the Liberal Party), there is every evidence that the "No" vote against Statehood was simply a continuation and a hardening of the Liberal vote.
Much is made of the accommodations that the Mormon Church made in 1890 and 1891 to Federal demands and of the so-called Era-of-Good-Feeling that followed. With the exception of the suspension of polygamy, the accommodations were essentially artificial ones. The Church certainly never gave up its domination of the political process. But it did give up overt control of a political party. Because it effectively controlled both of the national parties as they were organized in Utah by 1894, the influence was sub rosa.
In the late 1880s the Church had the luck to acquire a couple of good lobbyists, Alexander Badlam and Isaac Trumbo, whose advice to have The Deseret News and The Salt Lake Herald avoid any head-on confrontation with the Gentile Salt Lake Tribune was eventually accepted. The absence of a newspaper war in Utah automatically lessened coverage in other American newspapers. No one is interested in a one-sided fight. When the Mormons abandoned polygamy, dissolved the People's Party, and began a concerted effort to secure a favorable national press and the friendship of leading politicians, leading Utah Gentiles bowed to what they saw as the inevitable. They accepted Mormon claims at face value.
There was some recognition that this was not a real societal change; that it was, rather, an order in an authoritarian society of exactly the same sort of orders the Liberal Party had attacked for years. C.S. Varian, the U.S. District Attorney, recognized it. Speaking of the Mormons before the Third District Court in October 1891, he said, "They are not obeying the law of the land at all, but the counsel of the head of the Church" (Larsen 274).
Varian was right. There was no surrender to Federal demands by anyone but Wilford Woodruff. But Wilford Woodruff was enough for the overwhelming majority of the Mormon population. The Manifesto and the announced, but fictitious, promise of a withdrawal of the Church from political activity were enough for some people. Nevertheless, Varian joined with other Federal appointees, most of the Gentile leaders of the business and mining communities, and the lawyers and journalists who had been so visible in the crusade of the Liberal Party for a secularized Utah.
What emerges from the historical record is—despite all the public displays of reconciliation—that the Gentile vote hardened during all those years. C.C. Goodwin of The Salt Lake Tribune might have become reconciled to Statehood and editorialized for it in his paper; the Chamber of Commerce may have embraced both Mormon and Gentile and may have endorsed Statehood. But aside from some few select circles in the sophisticated urban centers or in the mining or trading centers where many voters were employed by those same mining magnates or merchant princes, or those who were accustomed to take their lead from the Gentile press, people who supported the Liberal Party in the 1880s and early 1890s voted against the Constitution and against Statehood.
Despite the bonhomie in the Chamber of Commerce or the Alta Club that likely delivered the votes of the 100 or so most prominent Gentiles in Utah in favor of Statehood, the majority of their followers did not follow the path their leaders chose.
In his Political Deliverance, Lyman confidently states that by 1892, "The Liberal party had essentially faded from existence in all except a few mining districts and the two largest cities." Yet the Liberal vote in 1890 was larger than the Liberal vote in 1888. It was still higher in 1892. The party organization may have been faltering, but the voters were still voting for those who ran under its banner and voting for it in increasing numbers.
It may well be that it was the Home Mission Movement that fired the Liberal vote in the 1880s and resulted in the "no" vote in 1895. It may have just been the threat of a grant of Statehood; but the Liberal vote kept growing. In 1880, when there was no chance of Statehood, only 1,357 people in Utah voted the Liberal ticket, while 18,587 voted the People's. By 1888, when there was still no chance of Statehood, 3,484 men (woman suffrage was repealed in 1887) voted Liberal. By 1890, when Statehood was on the horizon, 6,906 voted Liberal. And in 1892—a year in which the Liberals faced both Republican and Democratic opponents—6,986 voters chose the Liberal ticket (Dwyer 140; Larsen 287, 291).
The Liberal vote seems to have hardened under the influence of both Federal legislation, which held out the potential of minority power, and of the Home Mission Movement, which offered an alternative in a society heretofore without alternatives. Mission schools became increasingly important in Utah during the 1880s and early 1890s. In the period between 1870 and Statehood, the Presbyterian Church established 49 schools in the Territory. Most of them were built in the early 1880s, a recognition of the fact that the most important thing James A. Garfield did as President was get assassinated, for by establishing the Garfield Memorial Fund, the Presbyterian Church was able to dot the Intermountain West with Garfield Memorial Chapels and Schools. In the same time period, the Methodists opened 46 schools, 39 of them after the Edmunds Act of 1882. The Baptists opened 13 schools, all of them after 1882.
The location of the schools, those areas where there was already a significant Gentile or ex-Mormon presence, were the centers of Liberal votes and of the "No" vote of 1895. And it was an increasing vote during those years (Lyon).
There is also the indefinable possibility that there was an odd coalescing of disparate non-Mormons and non-Mormon groups into a self-conscious body clearly self-identified as Gentiles or Liberals. In the late 1870s there were several hundred ex-Mormons in Cache Valley, though very few votes were recorded for the Liberal Party. By 1890 ten percent of the electorate was voting liberal. The change seems to have been at least partially the function of the action of Federal laws (possibly in conjunction with the Home Mission Movement). The Poland Act provided, in essence, that one-half of any jury list would be Gentile. The Edmunds Act provided minor, but important, places in the Federal Bureaucracy for Gentiles. The Edmunds-Tucker Act provided more—including the executive authority in each of the counties.
During the 1880s the Reports of the Territorial Governors and of the Utah Commission increasingly mentioned the Gentiles as a separate, united class. Federal action seemed to sponsor that identification. In 1886 the Utah Commission even collected statistics on the valuation of Gentile-owned real estate as a percentage of total value. There was clearly some "internal" recognition of themselves as a class in Territorial Utah. In 1888, the petition to President Grover Cleveland asking for the appointment of C.C. Goodwin as Probate Judge of Cache County began with the phrase: "The undersigned Gentile citizens in the County of Cache and Territory of Utah." A check of the appointment files of the Department of Justice indicates that during that year, the Gentiles mobilized in the signing of petitions for the various Probate Judges in the Territory. It is perhaps significant that 1888 seems to be the base year for the rise in the Liberal vote in the Territory. Every year afterward showed an increased return (Simmonds 3).
If there can be little doubt as to the identity of the bulk of the "No" voters, the question must be asked why they voted "No." There are several answers, none particularly palatable to modern audiences. First, there was their identification as a class. Then, there was their dual fear of personal or economic safety and the fear of losing the influence they had acquired.
The ex-Mormon portion of the Gentile community probably had the greatest personal fear. The literature on the treatment of Apostate Mormons in Utah Territory is extensive, though it has been little used by the Utah history community. It is clear that in many places in the Territory, the act of leaving the Mormon Church carried with it some perceived risk of danger.
Some recognition comes down of a Federal concern for the safety of the Gentile minority in Utah under home rule. In 1887 President Cleveland made it very clear to John W. Young that the guarantee of civil rights to the Gentiles was a very important factor in any consideration of Utah Statehood. Closer to home, in 1893, when Statehood was certain, Pat Lannan of The Salt Lake Tribune put a series of questions to the Mormon hierarchy regarding the protection of the Gentiles in a State under home rule (Lyman 97, 207).
Assurances were forthcoming. As was Statehood.
No matter how long a process the Mormons had undergone from 1849 to secure home rule in a sovereign state, statehood must have seemed to come with blinding speed to the Liberals who opposed it. From the time the Supreme Court upheld the Edmunds-Tucker Act and the Idaho Test Oath in 1890 to the passage of the Enabling Act that made Statehood a foregone conclusion in 1893 was a bare 38 months. In that time, polygamy was abandoned, the People's and the Liberal Parties were dissolved, the population became Democrats and Republicans, the polygamists were pardoned and returned to office and to the franchise, and Federal offices were increasingly filled from among the citizenry of the Territory.
Yet, even as Statehood approached, there were disquieting signs that the old way of doing things had not changed in Utah, signs that probably accounted for some of the "No" vote on 5 November 1895, and may well have accounted for much of it.
The battle within the leading quorums of the Mormon Church to try and keep Apostle Thatcher and B.H. Roberts from being open Democrats (while at the same time allowing Republicans like John Henry Smith and Joseph F. Smith free rein in the political arena) surfaced on 7 October 1895, in a General Priesthood Meeting when Joseph F. Smith attacked—without mentioning names—the two General Authorities for not getting Church permission for their political activities. It was a comment that showed concern for the Church's operation, but it was a political blunder, conveying to many that the church intended to continue its political control from behind the scenes (Lyman 269 ff.).
A week later, the Democratic Territorial Chairman, Orlando W. Powers, a former Federal Judge whose career in Utah had been devoted to ending Mormon political domination of the Territory, reconvened the Democratic Convention and suggested pulling the party's slate of candidates and urging all Democrats to vote against Statehood because of the Church's efforts to interfere in the political process (Lyman 269 ff).
In the annual meeting of the National Council of Congregational Churches in Syracuse, New York, the Rev. Mr. D.W. Bartlett said,
If the people vote for Statehood, the Mormons will control the three principal offices, including Governor, and civilization will be set back five or ten years. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11 Oct. 1895)
A bare four days before the election, B.H. Roberts told a political gathering in Salt Lake City,
I repeat that it is useless to deny that men in high ecclesiastical position have attempted to balance things up and that they have meddled in an unwarranted manner. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11 Nov. 1895)
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Roberts's remarks, but its pages are singularly free from any letters opposing Statehood. Rather, they were dominated by reports of triumphant Republican rallies up and down the Territory. Still, the attempted muzzling of Mormon Democrats, and the interference of Joseph F. Smith in the political process called up unpleasant memories of bloc voting.
Federal legislation had called the Gentiles out of political isolation and had conferred real power on them as non-Mormon citizens of Utah. That their positions were created at the expense of Mormons didn't seem particularly troubling. Before the Poland Act, the Edmunds Act, and the Edmunds-Tucker Act, they had had no position at all. They gained a meaningful voice because of Federal legislation. Federal laws were hostile to the Mormons. So were the resident Gentiles. Need and opportunity meshed. They had filled minor places in the Federal bureaucracy and they had filled the juries that convicted polygamists. Would Statehood end their role?
If there was not a fear of personal bodily or economic harm (at worst) or discrimination (at best), there was a fear of marginalization, of just being shunted off to the side, of not having a voice in the new state as they had so very clearly had in the post-Edmunds Act Territory of Utah. In Logan, Aaron Dewitt, an indefatigable rhymester, noted in his "Poetry Book" some of those concerns about Mormon unanimity in voting. In a poem entitled, "What We Have in Utah," he wrote,
The focal tectonic plates of Territorial society had been developing for years. It was too much to expect that they would be quickly joined. The speed with which the Gentile minority had been effectively eliminated from the political equation was also sudden. Those two factors had to have played a role in the ratification vote. But even with a clear choice of yes or no on the issue of ratification, there seems to have been some further ambivalence about Statehood. In very few voting precincts did as many men vote on the issue of ratification as they did in the race for Representative to Congress. While 41,662 men voted in the election of 5 November 1895, only 38,922 voted on the issue of ratification; 2,670 men voted on state and local races, but did not vote on the issue of Statehood. That is 6% of the total. Granted, the instructions on voting were confusing, but 39,000 other people managed to figure them out (Simmonds 63-64).
And beyond the "No" vote and the "Did not vote," there were 8,055 registered voters who did not vote at all—more than one-third of the electorate.
Divergent forces met on 5 November 1895. For the majority, the way was clear: Statehood was overdue and much deserved. There was no hesitation. For the "No" vote the choices were more complex.
Some obviously did not vote or did not vote on the issue of Statehood. But there was that hard number, 7,687, one in five voters, who voted "No." It probably was not an exclusive Gentile vote. It probably did not totally reflect potential Gentile voting strength. But it also, almost certainly, reflected the continuing concerns of those who had supported the Liberal Party in prior years.
Initially, after Statehood, there was an attempt at balancing candidates between former Liberals and former People's. It was a sort of Ecclesiastical Affirmative Action. Eventually that ended. And the people who voted "No" must have worried that it would end. When it did the Liberal Party was essentially reborn as the anti-Mormon American Party. But eventually the minority was marginalized.
Nothing so demonstrates this marginalization as the actions of the Twelve-Month in which we mark the writing of the State Constitution. That was a Twelve-Month in which Pioneer Trails State Park (an obvious generic, since there were Gentile pioneers) was renamed This is the Place State Park, a fairly chilling change to a name that has obvious and exclusive—religious connotations. It is a park that has rebuilt the Social Hall, but not Independence Hall. It has rebuilt a Brigham Young site, but not the home of a General Connor or a Bishop Tuttle. We listen today to Utah politicians speak of Utah Standards, knowing full well what they are. They are the sort of things that allow a BYU-like dress code to be imposed on the employees of State Archives.
Utah Standards. It is a term that in many homes in this state still raises fears. It is an echo of the fears raised by the social and political unanimity of the majority in Territorial days. The last time Utahns had a chance to vote against those fears was 5 November 1895, and twenty percent voted "No."
PERCENTAGES OF GENTILE SCHOOL CHILDREN BETWEEN AGES 6 TO 18 AS OF AUGUST, 1893 AND PERCENT OF THE COUNTY VOTE AGAINST RATIFICATION OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION, 1895.
*Carbon County created 1894. Carbon and Emery figures added for calculation of the Ratification vote.
1 Contains a complete list of the votes cast in all election districts. The total was reached by adding the "No" votes from all but the following cities and towns:
Beaver Co: Grampion, Minersville, Star, Sulphurdale
Box Elder Co: Junction, Kelton, Rawlins, Sunset, Terrace
Cache Co: Logan
Carbon Co: Castlegate, Helper, Scofield, Spring Glen, Winter Quarters
Davis Co: Steed
Emery Co: Blake, Molen, Woodside
Grand Co: Cisco, Elgin, Richardson, Thompson, Westwater
Juab Co: Detroit Springs, Eureka, Fish Springs, Mammoth, Silver
Kane Co: Georgeton, Johnson
Millard Co: Black Rock, Burbank, Clearlake, Leamington, Smithville
Piute Co: Bullion, Junction, Wilmot
Salt Lake Co: Big Cottonwood, Bingham, Butler, Crescent, Millcreek, Murray, Salt Lake City, Silver, South Jordan
Summit Co: Coalville, Echo, Park City, Parley's Park
Tooele Co: Balesville, Deep Creek, Mercur, Mill, Ophir, Stockton, Tooele
Utah Co: Lehi, Provo, Provo Bench, P.V. Junction, Thistle, Tucker, Vine yard
Weber Co: Bird Creek, Beecher, Kanesville, Ogden, West Weber, Wilson
Dewitt, Aaron. Poetry Journal MS, Utah State University Special Collections.
Dwyer, Robert Joseph. The Gentile Comes to Utah: A Study in Religious & Social Conflict. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1941.
Larson, Gustave O. The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1971.
Lyman, Edward Leon. Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Statehood. Chicago: University of Illinois P, 1986.
Lyon, T. Edgar. "Evangelical Protestant Missionary Activities in Mormon Dominated Areas, 1865-1900." PhD Dissertation. University of Utah, 1962.
May, Dean L. "A Demographic Portrait of the Mormons, 1830-1980" in D. Michael Quinn, ed. The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992: 121-35.
State of Utah. Report of the Commissioner of Schools, 1883.
State of Utah. Report of the Commissioner of Schools, 1893.
U.S. Department of Interior. Report of the Commission to the Secretary of the Interior, 1896 (Washington, D.C., 1896).
Salt Lake Tribune 11Oct. 1895.
Simmonds, A.J. The Gentile Comes to Cache Valley: A Study of the Logan Apostasies of 1874 and the Establishment of Non-Mormon Churches in Cache Valley, 1873-1913 . Logan: Utah State UP, 1976.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880, Schedule A.
Utah Commission, Minutes, 6 Nov. 1888, MS. Utah State Archives, Salt Lake City.
White, Jean Bickmore, "Utah State Elections, 1895-1899." PhD Dissertation. University of Utah, 1986.