This week Nevadans celebrate Nevada’s entry into the Union as a state on Oct. 31, 1864 — 155 years ago.
Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.
With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan designated the western portion of the Utah territory as the Nevada territory. Though the Nevada population boomed with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds, by 1864 its population was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of the House at the time represented.
Nevada became a state for the most compelling of reasons. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared Nevada the 36th state.
According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election.
The new state’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country. The Constitution states, “The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”
Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.
Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.
The younger Clemens brother later adopted the pen name Mark Twain for his dispatches from Carson City to the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City.
In a somewhat ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers: “I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”
The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.
While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.
The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.
The New York Herald published a glowing account of Nevada’s admission as a state, predicting: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”
Intelligent and enterprising people, indeed.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at email@example.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.