The Mormon Question

The fifteenth legislative assembly of Idaho convened December lo, 1878, when the people were excited over Mormonism more than in regard to all other things together. In all contested elections the Mormon candidates were excluded, and even an undue prejudice was bitterly exhibited against them. Congress was memorialized to refuse Utah admission into the Union, and also to require of homestead and preemption settlers an oath giving a statement of their polygamous practices. Already the local law required superintendents of schools to sub-scribe to an affidavit that they were neither bigamists nor polygamists, but at this session it was so altered that in case the person challenged were a woman the objectionable terms should not be included in the oath!

At this session, also, was created the county of Elmore from the western portion of Alturas county, and Logan and Custer counties were formed. In the case of Elmore county, after much display of parliamentary tactics, the bill was passed, although the speaker became so excited that he bolted and left the chair abruptly during the reading of the journal on the last day of the session. The president of the council also left his chair on the last day of the session, in order to obstruct the passage of a measure obnoxious to him. In neither case was the action successful, as the house immediately elected George P. Wheeler, of Bingham, chairman, and the council chose S. F. Taylor, of the same county, president.

To encourage the settlement of the territory a board of immigration was established. This measure was recommended by the committee on territorial affairs, whose report set forth that the natural wealth of Idaho was less known to the world than that of any other part of the Union. This legislature appropriated fifty thousand dollars for the construction of a road, long needed, between Mount Idaho and Little Salmon Meadows, more closely connecting the Panhandle with the main body of the commonwealth. Congress was also memorialized for an amendment to the alien act, so as to except mines from its provisions and encourage the immigration of miners, and the establishment of the “University of Ida-ho” was provided for.

Preparatory to the admission of Idaho into the federal Union, a bill was introduced in the house by Bruner, of Boise, providing for a constitutional convention; and Perkins, of Alturas, gave notice in the council that a joint memorial to congress would be presented for adoption in due time for an act enabling the people of Idaho to form a state government. The citizens of Lewis-ton held a mass meeting and adopted resolutions, which they forwarded to the legislature, demanding of congress admission into the Union, and indorsed Delegate Dubois and others who were laboring to secure this end. Accordingly, on the 29th of January the council approved a house joint memorial for the admission of Idaho, with-out a dissenting voice; and on the 4th of February a special committee, appointed to examine a house bill providing for the calling of a constitutional convention, made a favorable report. Statehood was unanimously regarded as a great help to the investment of capital in Idaho. The year 1889 found the people in a much improved condition. Both mining and agriculture were making rapid advances, aided by the opening of routes of travel and transportation, and also by plants for irrigation. Prosperity was in the air. Nearly all the old political acrimony had died out. Even the scheme for annexing the Panhandle to Washington was not heard of, except to be denounced. Such an expression of sentiment was indeed made emphatic by resolutions of the legislature and of both the main political platforms. The little opposition to statehood was exhibited principally among the farmers, who feared increased expenses without a full compensation.

In the judiciary of Idaho the changes during its territorial career were frequent. James B. Hays was appointed chief justice in 1886, in place of John I. Morgan; Norman Buck and Case Broderick, appointed in 1884, were his associates, while James S. Hawley was the United States attorney. In 1888 Hugh W. Weir was chief justice, and John Lee Logan and Charles H. Berry associates, with Hawley still the federal attorney. In 1889 Weir was superseded by James H. Beatty, of Hailey; and Logan, who was removed on account of ill health, was succeeded by Willis Sweet, of Moscow, who had a few months previously been appointed United States attorney.

Judge Logan came to Idaho when the bench and society were shaken to their foundations and mob law openly advocated, but he exhibited a remarkable degree of moral courage and re-formed matters as if by magic. The people recognized in him a splendid lawyer and a man of firmness and clear intellect. He conducted and ruled the court, instead of permitting the court to rule him. He was just and fearless. The very first criminal cases tried before him showed that he was a judge for the people and that he would apply the law as it should be applied.

With a change of administration, and the election of 1888 in Idaho, came a general change of federal and territorial officials. Frederick T. Dubois, however, was again chosen delegate to congress. George L. Shoup was appointed governor, E. J. Curtis remained secretary, Joseph C. Straughan was appointed surveyor general Richard Z. Johnson was elected attorney general of the territory, James H. Wickersham comptroller, Charles Himrod treasurer, and Charles C. Stevenson superintendent of public instruction. Regents of the university, capitol and prison commissioners, etc., were appointed by the legislature. Thus it may be seen that as the country grew older a greater and greater proportion of the territorial officers were taken from the resident population.

April 2, 1889, Governor Stevenson issued a proclamation that the people elect delegates to a constitutional convention, to meet at Boise City July 4 of that year, although as yet no enabling act had been passed by congress. Shoup, succeeding Stevenson as governor April 30, issued another proclamation, indorsing the one which Governor Stevenson had published; and accordingly seventy-two delegates were elected, who met and continued in session for thirty-four days, framing a constitution for the coming state, which instrument had no peculiar features, excepting perhaps the one which emphasized the prohibition of polygamy. It provided for the election of the state justices, three in number, by the people. Six months’ residence was required as a condition of voting. Taxes for state purposes should never exceed ten mills on the dollar; when the assessed valuation should reach fifty millions of dollars, five mills, and when it should reach a hundred millions, three mills, etc., as the state advanced in wealth. The capital was located at Boise for twenty years.

According to Governor Shoup, the population of Idaho in 1889 was 113,777, of whom he thought about twenty-five thousand were of the Mormon faith. Although public sentiment to a considerable extent suppressed the visible fact of polygamy, it was really known that plural marriages were occasionally contracted, and that the doctrine of polygamy was taught by some of the, Mormon leaders. It was not so much, the Governor said, that examples of plural marriages were known that the Gentile majority made war upon Mormonism, but because the leaders of that faith taught that all laws enacted for the suppression of polygamy were unconstitutional, on the ground that they were an interference with religious liberty. This was a point, he claimed, most dangerous to the safety of society; for, according to that heresy, any association of per-sons could, under the cover of religion, commit any crimes with impunity. The legislature of 1884-5 passed a registry law requiring voters to take an extremely rigid oath to the effect that they were opposed to polygamy both practically and theoretically.

The popular vote on the constitution as pro-posed took place on the 5th of November 1889, when 12,398 votes were given for the document and 1,773 against it. At this time the territory was about evenly balanced between the two main political parties.

In order to settle the question raised by the Mormons as to the constitutionality of the registry oath, a Mormon voter was arrested, charged with conspiracy and imprisoned. A writ of habeas corpus was denied and the case was taken to the United States Supreme Court. Pending this case Delegate Dubois was taking the opinion of congress on the admission of Idaho, and was met by the assertion of the Mormon leaders that the effort to disfranchise twenty-five thou-sand people would prove a stumbling block in the way of statehood. He rejoined that rather than have the territory come in without the anti-Mormon clause in its constitution he would prefer that it should remain out of the Union.

Furthermore, with reference to loyalty in general, for he remembered the secession days, “Our constitution,” said he, “forbids the carrying of any flag in public processions except the American flag. We want a state for those whose highest allegiance is to the United States, or else we want no state at all.”

There were several other complications besides the “Mormon test oath” in the way of a smooth admission of Idaho into the relation of a state. One was the objection raised by the Democrats as a partisan measure, that Idaho should not be admitted without Wyoming and New Mexico at the same time. Another was that should there be by this means or other any delay in the ad-mission of Idaho, the near approach of a new federal census would occasion a new basis of representative apportionment and thus postpone Idaho’s admission for a number of years. Thus fears and hopes alternated.

It is well to glance at the material advancement now being made here. The thirty-eight newspapers of the territory truthfully asserted that never had there been so many new enterprises inaugurated in Idaho as in this year of 1889, irrigation schemes that would cost mil-lions; new mining camps as fast as they could be built and machinery could be transported to the mines; homestead filings for the year, 861; homestead proofs, 463; desert filings, 294; desert proofs, 841; preemption filings, 841; preemption proofs, 441; timber-culture filings, 293; timber-culture proofs, 5; mineral filings, 72; proofs, 62. All these meant so many times one hundred and sixty acres improved, or about to be. The total amount of land surveyed in Idaho was 8,500,000 acres; amount of land patented or filed on 4,500,000 acres; land in cultivation, surveyed and unsurveyed, 600,000 acres. Altogether Idaho contained about 55,000,000 acres, 12,000,000 of which were suitable for agriculture, while nearly as much more could be made so by irrigation. There were 5,000,000 acres of grazing land, 10,000,000 acres of timber and 8,000,000 acres of timberland. Idaho had indeed advantages unsurpassed in the world.

History, Mormons,

Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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