January 18, 2006

Nevada's Online State News Journal

 

.
   
 
Nevada History:

[From James G. Scrugham, Nevada: The Narrative of the Conquest of a Frontier Land (1935), vol. I]

VIII

THE WAY TO STATEHOOD

 

            After the election of Lincoln in 1860 there were seventeen northern states, from Minnesota and Iowa on the west to New England on the east, which could be counted upon in loyalty and support of the Union. Three border states, Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland, had to be coaxed, cajoled or forced into a status of loyalty. Secession had carried into the Confederacy the cotton states from Virginia to Texas. The territories of New Mexico and Arizona because of their mixed population, were of doubtful advantage either to the North or the South. Doubtless it was religious prejudices rather than overt acts which classified the inhabitants of the Mormon hierarchy of Utah as of doubtful loyalty.

            On the Pacific Coast were two states, California and Oregon, whose attitude undoubtedly caused considerable anxiety to the Lincoln government in its first months. Before the inauguration of President Lincoln there had been talk of establishing a "Pacific Republic." It was supposed that England and other foreign governments would have looked with favor upon this sectional division. Governor Weller had declared that if the eastern states split up into two divisions, California would go neither with the South nor the North, but upon the Pacific would "found a mighty republic which may in the end prove the greatest of all."[1]  There were also stories told of a conspiracy to betray California to the Confederacy. Later events disproved all these rumors concerning the disloyalty of Pacific Coast people.

            Horace Greeley said that his long overland journey to California in 1859 had been undertaken in the hope that he might do something toward the early construction of the Pacific Railroad which would "add more to the strength and wealth of our country than would the acquisition of a dozen Cubas," and would prove a "bond of union not easily broken," and put an end to attempts to extend the national dominion beyond natural boundary lines. No small part of the propaganda for constructing a railroad to the Pacific as a government enterprise was based upon the consideration of thus uniting the East and West. With the outbreak of the war Lincoln himself advocated the construction of the road both as a military necessity and as a means of holding the Pacific Coast in the Union. It is supposed that this was the origin for the phrase "Union Pacific" as the name for the eastern section of the road.

The Union and the Far West.

            Between California and Missouri River stretched the immense area of plains and mountains, containing not a single state when Lincoln was elected. Before he was inaugurated Kansas had been

184

186      NEVADA

admitted to the Union under a free constitution, while a large part of the remainder of the region had been carved up into the territories of Dakota, Colorado and Nevada. War had not broken out, and there is no reason to suppose that the creation of this group of territories was influenced by the considerations which were forcing the northern states into political alignment against the South. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of southern members from Congress had freed that body from the restraint hitherto imposed upon action for setting up new territories or states in the West.

            In the early years of the war the political problems were as important as the military. Doubtful states had to be wheedled or coerced, factions in loyal states had to be reconciled, and all the while there were abuses of personal liberty and infractions of the constitution, producing a steadily increasing opposition to the war policies of the Lincoln government. In the election for members of Congress in 1862 the dominant party's strength had been seriously impaired. How could the Union be preserved, if the party into whose hands had been committed the task, should lose control in a majority of the states and in Congress ?

            From the time that southern congressmen began going home in December, 1860, until 1862, the rapid subdivision of the western country into territories proceeded in part from the removal of restraints which had interfered with that normal process hitherto, and also in part from the desire to integrate the western country with the older portions of the Union. In 1862 a new element appeared, dominated largely by partisan politics, when political leaders saw the importance of resorting to ways and means that would produce additional senators and representatives of their partisan faith. There was the possibility that the Democrats, riding on the wave of discontent with war policies, might secure a majority in one House of Congress or even control the entire government after the elections of 1864. The core of loyalty was undoubtedly in the West, where the republican party had originated. But the West had little representative power, since most of the newer states on the frontier had a minimum of congressmen. As a means toward building up and fortifying republican strength, there undoubtedly arose a vision, in the minds of some leaders, of a string of republican states stretching from the Missouri River westward. Consequently the party and the national administration were inclined to favor the designs of politically ambitious groups who were reaching out for statehood as a political prize far in advance of the normal course of such an event. The history of the territories shows that such groups have appeared and have swayed local legislators to present memorials to Congress long before population, economic developments and other factors in the territory have justified statehood. War conditions and abnormal political exigencies have accounted for a number of conversions of territories into states.

Proposed Admission of Western Territories.

            The political situation which has been sketched affords a reasonable explanation for the sudden appearance of statehood bills in Congress after the election of November, 1862. During the last session of the Thirty-seventh Congress which convened the following month, bills were introduced in the House from the Committee on Territories, permitting the people to form a consti-

NEVADA        187

tution and state government and providing for the admission of such states into the Union, for Colorado, Nebraska, Utah and Nevada. When the committee on February 11, 1863, reported these bills, it omitted Utah from the list. An indication that these bills were regarded as a means for bolstering up the republican party is found in an objection made to their consideration by the Ohio Democrat, Vallandingham, who expressed the opinion that "we had better get back the states which are absent before we make provision for any new states."[2] At this time Senator Lane of Kansas introduced into the Senate enabling acts for Colorado, Nebraska, Montana and Nevada. One of the conservatives of the Senate thought that it was premature to consider these measures in the absence of any information about the population, resources or other qualifications of the territories for admission, but evidently these considerations had little weight, since on March 3, 1863, just before the end of the session, and in spite of Senator Trumbull's complaint that there was "too much readiness to pass statehood bills without due consideration," the Senate gave its approval to the enabling act for Colorado and Nevada. On the following day, March 4th, just before the Thirty-seventh Congress adjourned, sine die, an effort was made in the House to suspend the rules and take a vote on the Colorado and Nevada bills, but a two-thirds vote for the motion could not be secured.

            With the assembling of the Thirty-eighth Congress in December, 1863, statehood bills again were introduced, such bills for Nebraska, Nevada and Colorado being introduced in the House December 14. The Committee on Territories reported back the bills for Nevada and Colorado on the 22nd.

Nevada Enabling Act.

            On February 8, 1864, Senator Doolittle of Wisconsin obtained leave to introduce Senate Bill No. 96 "to enable the people of Nevada to form a constitution and state government," and at the same time he introduced a similar bill for Colorado. On February 16, Senator Wade of Ohio, from the Committee on Territories, reported both bills without amendment. On February 24 the Senate as a committee of the whole took up the consideration of the Nevada bill.[3] It was stated that the bill was the same in form and content as the one which had passed the Senate the previous year. In Section 4 of this bill there was a provision, such as was found in the enabling act of several other states, exempting homesteads from local and state taxation for a period of three years. Senator Harlan of Iowa proposed that this exemption be stricken out, asking "how will the state government be supported if we exempt all real estate ?" One senator said that the people of Nevada objected to taxing the mines, and if real estate was exempted, there would be no adequate basis for revenue to support the state government. It was then suggested that if the "people there want to tax the land let them do so," and the amendment was agreed to. This exemption provision, as Senator Lane explained, had "crept into these bills for the benefit of speculators and not for the benefit of the residents." Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky opposed the bill on the score of insufficient population and also because the enabling act required a constitution in accord with the principles

188      NEVADA

of the Declaration of Independence—an entirely new condition, he declared. Nevertheless, with another minor amendment to Section 10, the enabling act passed the Senate on February 24, without roll call, and the Colorado bill passed the same day.

            The House took up the consideration of the Senate bill for Nevada on March 17, 1864. The bill was passed without debate, and on the same day the House gave its approval to enabling acts for Colorado and Nebraska. On March 21, President Lincoln signed the bills for Colorado and Nevada. The Nebraska enabling act later received the concurrence of the Senate and was also signed by the President on April 19. All of these acts may be properly considered as war-time measures. Another exercise of extraordinary power had occurred in 1863 when President Lincoln had given his approval to the formation of a separate state from the Union counties of Virginia. By the enabling acts of 1864 Congress and the administration opened the way, so far as they could do so, for the admission of three other loyal republican states which might be counted upon, through their representatives, to uphold the war administration. From the three enabling acts of 1864 came only one state, Nevada. In Nebraska delegates to a constitutional convention were elected, but when they assembled they immediately adjourned sine die. In Colorado a convention assembled, framed a constitution, but when it was submitted to the people it was rejected by an overwhelming majority.

            "War politics" may be assigned as the general cause for the passage of these several enabling acts. Doubtless there were some other factors that influenced the national sponsors of these bills. Among national problems apart from the perplexities of the immediate war situation which appealed most strongly to the interest and thought of President Lincoln, that of the Pacific Railway was uppermost. Even before he was elected president he was committed to the proposed "central route" of such a railway, to run from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to the Pacific. It is at least noteworthy that the three territories given enabling acts in 1864, Nebraska, Colorado and Nevada, were all in the direct line that such a route, as laid down on paper, would traverse. The only portion of the territory through which such a line would run excepted from the statehood measures was Utah, and only the obstacle of Mormonism prevented the favorable consideration of that territory for statehood. If the proposed railroad could be built across a consecutive string of states instead of territories, the attitude of capital toward such an enterprise would undoubtedly be more favorable, and possibly Lincoln had this in mind when he said in his annual message of 1862:

            The immense mineral resources of some of those territories ought to be developed as rapidly as possible. Every step in that direction would have a tendency to improve the resources of the government and diminish the burdens of the people. It is worthy of your serious consideration whether some extraordinary measures to promote that end cannot be adopted.

The Thirteenth Amendment.

            Lincoln's biographers and other writers usually explain the passage of the Nevada enabling act by a desire on the part of the

NEVADA        189

President to secure ratification by three-fourths of the states for the then pending thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States and the territories. In support of this specific, rather than the general reasons enumerated above, for admitting Nevada, Charles A. Dana's version has often been quoted.[4] Dana's story was as follows :

            Lincoln was a supreme politician. He understood politics because he understood human nature. I had an illustration of this in the spring of 1864. The administration had decided that the Constitution of the United States should be amended so that slavery should be prohibited. This was not only a change in our policy, it was also a most important military measure. It was intended not merely as a means of abolishing slavery forever, but as a means of affecting the judgment and the feelings and the anticipations of those in rebellion. It was believed that such an amendment to the Constitution would be equivalent to new armies in the field, that it would be worth at least a million men, that it would be an intellectual army that would tend to paralyze the enemy and break the continuity of his ideas.

            In order thus to amend the Constitution, it was necessary first to have the proposed amendment approved by three-fourths of the States. When that question came to be considered, the issue was seen to be so close that one State more was necessary. The State of Nevada was organized and admitted into the Union to answer that purpose. I have sometimes heard people complain of Nevada as superfluous and petty, not big enough to be a State ; but when I hear that complaint I always hear Abraham Lincoln saying, "It is easier to admit Nevada than to raise another million of soldiers."

            In March, 1864, the question of allowing Nevada to form a State government finally came up in the House of Representatives. There was strong opposition to it. For a long time beforehand the question had been canvassed anxiously. At last, late one afternoon, the President came into my office, in the third story of the War Department. He used to come there sometimes rather than send for me, because he was fond of walking and liked to get away from the crowd in the White House. He came in and shut the door.

            "Dana," he said, "I am very anxious about this vote. It is going to be a great deal closer than I wish it was."

            "There are plenty of Democrats who will vote for it," I replied. "There is James E. English, of Connecticut ; I think he is sure, isn't he?"

            "Oh, yes ; he is sure on the merits of the question." "Then," said I, "there's 'Sunset' Cox, of Ohio. How is he ?"

            "He is sure and fearless. But there are some others that I am not clear about. There are three that you can deal with better than anybody else, perhaps, as you know them all. I wish you would send for them."

            He told me who they were ; it isn't necessary to repeat the names here. One man was from New Jersey and two from New York.

190      NEVADA

            "What will they be likely to want ?" I asked.

            "I don't know," said the President ; "I don't know. It makes no difference though, what they want. Here is the alternative : that we carry this vote, or be compelled to raise another million, and I don't know how many more, men, and fight no one knows how long. It is a question of three votes or new armies."

            "Well, sir," said I, "what shall I say to these gentlemen ?" "I don't know," said he ; "but whatever promise you make to them I will perform."

            I sent for the men and saw them one by one. I found that they were afraid of their party. They said that some fellows in the party would be down on them. Two of them wanted internal revenue collector's appointments. "You shall have it," I said. Another one wanted a very important appointment about the custom house of New York. I knew the man well whom he wanted to have appointed. He was a Republican, though the congressman was a Democrat. I had served with him in the Republican county committee of New York. The office was worth perhaps twenty thousand dollars a year. When the congressman stated the case, I asked him, "Do you want that ?"

            "Yes," said he.

            "Well," I answered, "you shall have it."

            "I understand, of course," said he, "that you are not saying this on your own authority ?"

            "Oh, no," said I ; "I am saying it on the authority of the President."

            Well, these men voted that Nevada be allowed to form a State government, and thus they helped secure the vote which was required. The next October the President signed the proclamation admitting the State. In the February following Nevada was one of the States which ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, by which slavery was abolished by constitutional prohibition in all of the United States. I have always felt that this little piece of side politics was one of the most judicious, humane, and wise uses of executive authority that I have ever assisted in or witnessed.

            From the account that has been given above it would seem that Nevada was one of the pawns on the national chess board moved by the hands of the gods of politics and war. In Nevada itself were a group of men putting forth every effort to take advantage of this peculiar situation which favored their plans and ambitions for projecting a new state into the Union.

            The Second Territorial Legislature had convened November 11, 1862. Some of its members knew, of course, that statehood bills would be introduced in Congress with prospect of favorable consideration. In anticipation of this favorable action the Legislature by act of December 20, 1862, ordered an election to be held in September, 1863, "for delegates to a convention to frame a constitution and state government for the State of Washoe." At the election of the thirty-nine delegates the voters also had the privilege of casting ballots for or against a state government. In case the statehood proposition received a majority, the elected delegates were to assemble at the capital on the first Tuesday of November

NEVADA        191

and take up the work of framing a constitution. This constitution would not be valid without the approval of the people. Though Congress did not pass an enabling act in 1863, the Nevada election was held, resulting in a majority of 3,656 in favor of statehood. The delegates elected at the same time assembled at Carson City November 2, and remained in session until December 11, framing a constitution. The schedule of this constitution prescribed that it should be submitted to the voters on the third Tuesday of January, 1864, and at the same time all state officers were to be elected.

            On March 25, 1864, just four days after the Nevada enabling act had been signed by the President, Governor Nye, in a letter previously quoted, wrote to Lincoln the following account of the statehood movement : "The convention convened, framed a most excellent constitution and submitted to the people for ratification, which they failed to adopt." One of the reasons assigned by Governor Nye for this defeat was the stringent provisions in regard to the right of suffrage.[5] "This arrayed all the disloyal or secession element against it," said Governor Nye. The provision for taxing the mines was also unpalatable to the miners.[6] "Neither or both of the above causes," continued Governor Nye, "would have defeated it (constitution), but it was submitted at the same time that the election for state officers was held, and the dissatisfaction with some of the state tickets, and the proceedings of some of the county conventions, caused its opponents to act in concert, and all combined they were strong enough to defeat it. The Storey County convention had instructed its legislative nominees to vote against the mine tax. "The action of that convention alarmed the ranch men or farmers, for the reason that, if the Legislature should not pass laws for the taxing of mining property, the whole burden of supporting a state government would fall on them."

            Thus the first effort at statehood in Nevada, without an enabling act, failed when submitted to the people, as the statehood movement, with enabling act, subsequently failed in Nebraska and Colorado. The legislative act had designated the name of the proposed state as the "State of Washoe," but the Constitutional Convention did not adopt that phrase, using instead the "State of Nevada."

 


 

[1] Quoted by R. D. Hunt, in California, An American Commonwealth.

[2] Congressional Globe, February 12, 1863.

[3] Congressional Globe, Thirty-eighth Congress, First Session.

[4] Charles A. Dana's Recollections of the Civil War, 174-177.

[5] It disqualified any person who had voluntarily borne arms against the United States or held civil or military office under the Confederacy and any "disloyal person."

[6] The constitution of 1863 made subject to assessment and taxation "all property, both real and personal, including mines and mining property," while the similar article in the constitution of 1864 read: "All property, real, personal and possessory, excepting mines and mining claims, the proceeds of which alone shall be taxed.