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State of Deseret

The word "Deseret" appears twice on the Utah stone at the Washington Monument (1978; replica of the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple, 1853). The interior of the monument contains 190 stones representing individuals, cities, states, and nations. "Deseret" was a name often used in the territory colonized by the Mormon pioneers. Photographer: Robert L. Palmer.

by Jeffrey Ogden Johnson

On February 2, 1848, by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded to the United States an extensive area that included the Great Basin, where Mormon pioneers had begun settlement six months earlier. Even before the treaty was signed, Church leaders began discussing petitioning the U.S. government for recognition as a state or asking for territorial privileges. In July 1849 a committee wrote a Constitution. It used as models the U.S. Constitution and the Iowa Constitution of 1846, from which the committee took fifty-seven of the sixty-seven sections of the new Constitution. The committee requested that the state be named Deseret and that the boundaries be Oregon on the north, the Green River on the east, Mexico on the south, and the Sierra Nevada on the west, including a portion of the Southern California seacoast. "Deseret," a word from the Book of Mormon, means "honeybee" (Ether 2:3) and is symbolic of work and industry. A slate of officers was approved, with Brigham Young as governor. Almon W. Babbitt, appointed representative to Congress, was instructed to carry the plea for statehood to Washington, D.C.

This effort by Latter-day Saint settlers to organize themselves into a provisional government was much like the attempt made in the 1780s by settlers in Tennessee, who organized the state of Franklin when they felt neglected by North Carolina, and the settlers of Oregon, who established a local government that functioned without recognition from the U.S. government until they were given territorial status in 1848.

The State of Deseret General Assembly met in regular session from December 1849 to March 1850. After special sessions during the summer, the members assembled for their second regular session in December 1850. Earlier, on September 9, U.S. President Millard Fillmore had signed an act to create a much smaller Utah Territory and appointed Brigham Young the first territorial governor. After word of the creation of the territory reached Utah, the tentative state of Deseret was dissolved on March 28, 1851. The provisional government had lasted only about a year and a half.

The territorial status did not provide the self-government Latter-day Saints desired, and even though Brigham Young was appointed first governor, Church leaders and the territorial legislature continued efforts to obtain statehood. In 1856, delegates met to again write a Constitution and propose the state of Deseret, an effort rejected by Congress. As a part of a third effort in 1862, Brigham Young called the State of Deseret General Assembly into session for the first time since 1851. Thereafter it met each year until 1870, each session lasting only a few days and focusing on winning statehood on the basis of the proposed Constitution of 1849 with only minor changes.

In the meantime, Brigham Young had been replaced as territorial governor by a series of outside appointees, who became progressively more hostile to the meetings of the General Assembly and complained about this "ghost government," as they called it. In 1872 a constitutional convention drew up a new Constitution and dropped the name Deseret from the petition. This petition also failed, and hope for the state of Deseret came to an end.

[See also History of the Church, 1844-1877; Utah Statehood; Daily Living home page; Church History home page]

Illustrations

Map of the Proposed State of Deseret (1849-1850)

Bibliography

Constitution of the State of Deseret. Kanesville, Iowa, 1849.

Crawley, Peter. "The Constitution of the State of Deseret." BYU Studies 29 (Fall 1989):7-22.

Morgan, Dale L. "The State of Deseret." Utah Historical Quarterly 8 (1940):65-251. Reprinted as The State of Deseret. Logan, Utah, 1987.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Deseret, State of

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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