Early Political History

We have seen that Joseph Smith's desire was, when he suggested a

possible removal of the church to the Far West, that they should

have, not only an undisturbed place of residence, but a

government of their own. This idea of political independence

Young never lost sight of. Had Utah remained a distant province

of the Mexican government, the Mormons might have been allowed to

dwell there a long time, practically without governmental

control. But when that region passed under the government of the

United States by the proclamation of the Treaty of

Guadalupe-Hidalgo, on July 4, 1848, Brigham Young had to face

anew situation. He then decided that what he wanted was an

independent state government, not territorial rule under the

federal authorities, and he planned accordingly. Every device was

employed to increase the number of the Saints in Utah, to bring

the population up to the figure required for admission as a

state, and he encouraged outlying settlements at every attractive

point. In this way, by 1851, Ogden and Provo had become large

enough to form Stakes, and in a few years the country around Salt

Lake City was dotted with settlements, many of them on lands to

which the "Lamanites," who held so deep a place in Joseph Smith's

heart, asserted in vain their ancestral titles.

The first General Epistle sent out from Great Salt Lake City, in

1849, thus explained the first government set up there, "In

consequence of Indian depredations on our horses, cattle, and

other property, and the wicked conduct of a few base fellows who

came among the Saints, the inhabitants of this valley, as is

common in new countries generally, have organized a temporary

government to exist during its necessity, or until we can obtain

a charter for a territorial government, a petition for which is

already in progress."

On March 4, 1849, a convention, to which were invited all the

inhabitants of upper California east of the Sierra Nevadas, was

held in Great Salt Lake City to frame a system of government. The

outcome was the adoption of a constitution for a state to be

called the State of Deseret, and the election of a full set of

state officers. The boundaries of this state were liberal.

Starting at a point in what is now New Mexico, the line was to

run down to the Mexican border, then west along the border of

lower California to the Pacific, up the coast to 118 degrees 30

minutes west longitude, north to the dividing ridge of the Sierra

Nevadas, and along their summit to the divide between the

Columbia River and the Salt Lake Basin, and thence south to the

place of beginning, "by the dividing range of mountains that

separate the waters flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the

waters flowing into the Gulf of California." The constitution

adopted followed the general form of such instruments in the

United States. In regard to religion it declared, "All men have a

natural and inalienable right to worship God according to the

dictates of their own consciences; and the General Assembly shall

make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or

prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or disturb any person in

his religious worship or sentiments." *

*For text of this constitution and the memorial to Congress, see

Millennial Star, January 15, 1850.

An epistle of the Twelve to Orson Pratt in England, explaining

this subject, said, "We have petitioned the Congress of the

United States for the organization of a territorial government

here. Until this petition is granted, we are under the necessity

of organizing a local government for the time being."* The

territorial government referred to was that of the State of

Deseret. The local government mentioned was organized on March

12, by the election of Brigham Young as governor, H. C. Kimball

as chief justice, John Taylor and N. K. Whitney as associate

justices, and the Bishops of the wards as city magistrates, with

minor positions filled. Six hundred and seventy-four votes were

polled for this ticket.

* Millennial Star, Vol. XI, p. 244.

The General Assembly, chosen later, met on July 2, and adopted a

memorial to Congress setting forth the failure of that body to

provide any form of government for the territory ceded by

Mexico,* declaring that "the revolver and the bowie knife have

been the highest law of the land," and asking for the admission

of the State of Deseret into the Union. That same year the

Californians framed a government for themselves, and a plan was

discussed to consolidate California and Deseret until 1851, when

a separation should take place. The governor of California

condemned this scheme, and the legislature gave it no


* "When Congress adjourned on March 4, 1849, all that had been

done toward establishing some form of government for the immense

domain acquired by the treaty with Mexico was to extend over it

the revenue laws and make San Francisco a port of

entry."--Bancroft's "Utah," p. 446.

The Mormons had a confused idea about the government that they

had set up. In the constitution adopted they called their domain

the State of Deseret, but they allowed their legislature to elect

their representative in Congress, sending A. W. Babbitt as their

delegate to Washington, with their memorial asking for the

admission of Deseret, or that they be given "such other form of

civil government as your wisdom and magnanimity may award to the

people of Deseret." The Mormons' old political friend in

Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas, presented this memorial in the

Senate on December 27, 1849, with a statement that it was an

application for admission as a state, but with the alternative of

admission as a territory if Congress should so direct. The

memorial was referred to the Committee on Territories.

On the 31st of December, a counter memorial against the admission

of the Mormon state was presented by Mr. Underwood of Kentucky, a

Whig. This was signed by William Smith, the prophet's brother,

and Isaac Sheen (who called themselves the "legitimate

presidents" of the Mormon church), and by twelve other members.

This memorial alleged that fifteen hundred of the emigrants from

Nauvoo to Salt Lake City, before their departure for Illinois,

took the following oath:--

"You do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, his holy

angels, and these witnesses, that you will avenge the blood of

Joseph Smith upon this nation; and so teach your children; and

that you will from this day henceforth and forever begin and

carry out hostility against this nation, and keep the same a

profound secret now and ever. So help you God."

This memorial also set forth that the Mormons were practising

polygamy in the Salt Lake Valley; that since their arrival there

they had tried two Indian agents on a charge of participation in

the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri, and that they were,

by their own assumed authority, imposing duties on all goods

imported into the Salt Lake region from the rest of the United

States. Senator Douglas, in an explanation concerning the latter

charge, admitted that Delegate Babbitt acknowledged the levying

of duties, the excuse being that the Mormons had found it

necessary to set up a government for themselves, pending the

action of Congress, and as a means of revenue they had imposed

duties on all goods brought into and sold within the limits of

Great Salt Lake City, but asserted that goods simply passing

through were not molested. This tax seems to have been

established entirely by the church authorities, the first of the

"ordinances" of the Deseret legislature being dated January 15,


The constitution of Deseret was presented to the House of

Representatives by Mr. Boyd, a Kentucky Democrat, on January 28,

1850, and referred to the Committee on Territories. On July 25,

John Wentworth, an Illinois Democrat, presented a petition from

citizens of Lee County, in his state, asking Congress to protect

the rights of American citizens passing through the Salt Lake

Valley, and charging on the organizers of the State of Deseret

treason, a desire for a kingly government, murder, robbery, and


The Mormon memorial was taken up in the House of Representatives

on July 18, after the committee had unanimously reported that "it

is inexpedient to admit Almon W. Babbitt, Esq., to a seat in this

body from the alleged State of Deseret." A long debate on the

admission of the delegate from New Mexico had deferred action.

The chairman of the committee, Mr. Strong, a Pennsylvania Whig,

explained that their report was founded on the terms of the

Mormon memorial, which did not ask for Babbitt's reception as a

delegate until some form of government was provided for them. Mr.

McDonald, an Indiana Whig, offered an amendment admitting

Babbitt, and a debate of considerable length followed, in which

the slavery question received some attention. The Committee of

the Whole voted to report to the House the resolution against

seating Babbitt, and then the House, by a vote of 104 yeas to 78

nays, laid the resolution on the table (on motion of its

friends), and tabled a motion for reconsideration. On the 9th of

September following, the law for the admission of Utah as a

territory was signed. The boundaries defined were California on

the west, Oregon on the north, the summit of the Rocky Mountains

on the east, and the 37th parallel of north latitude on the


Colonel Kane's Mission Eastern Visitors To Salt Lake City - Unpunished Murderers facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail