Nevada’s Path to Statehood

The people of Nevada Territory voted to become a state in 1863 with a huge majority: 6,660 votes to only 1,502. With 81% of the votes, statehood was the clear winner. The territory chose delegates and wrote up a state constitution — which the voters soundly rejected. This first try at a constitution taxed mines at the same rate as private property, and the powerful mine owners didn’t accept that.

The disagreement over the constitution wasn’t the only obstacle to statehood for Nevada. They also had a smaller population than several other territories, and they weren’t doing very well economically yet, even though mining was beginning to thrive. Some other territories felt they had more right to statehood than Nevada.

Nonetheless, Congress went ahead and passed an enabling act for Nevada in 1864, along with enabling acts for Colorado and Nebraska. Nevada would become a state, they said, just as soon as they passed a constitution that President Lincoln would approve. The president isn’t usually involved with these decisions; normally, Congress would have to approve the constitution. however, the congressmen were headed off for a recess, and the country was involved in a bitter Civil War. Since communication was limited in those days, it would be faster to allow the president to make this decision.

What was the hurry?

Nevada supported the Union, not the Confederacy. With the two groups at war, it was natural that the federal government — the Union — would want another state on their side. They wanted another state to ratify the 13th Amendment, which essentially ended slavery.

There was a presidential election coming up, too. It looked as though there would be three candidates instead of the usual two. People worried that no candidate would have enough votes in the Electoral College to win the election. If that happened, Congress would choose the president, and every state would get just one vote. Nevada was a strongly Republican state (it’s now considered a swing state). The federal government wanted another Republican state to help re-elect President Lincoln.

The most expensive telegram ever

Nevada passed a constitution and sent it by telegram to Washington. The telegram cost $3,416.77, which made it the most expensive telegram ever.

Statehood was worth the investment. A week later, Nevada voted for President Lincoln and Lincoln won. Nevada also ratified the 13th Amendment. The Union had won the Civil War, and Nevada ended up on the right side of history. The state of Nevada got the benefit of law and order, solving a serious problem faced by the Territory of Nevada.

Howard Hills, author of Citizens Without a State, wrote that the case of Nevada shows that people who seem like enemies on one occasion may be allies later. The voters who caused Nevada to fail at its first chance for statehood weren’t really voting against statehood. They were voting for their own self interest as they saw it. They worried that becoming a state would mean they would lose money from their silver mines.

When statehood became more urgent, the two sides were able to work together and compromise. A new constitution was established and Nevada became a state.

Puerto Rico statehood is supported by both Republicans and Democrats, and it is time for everyone to work together to bring Puerto Rico out of the powerless territory status and into the status of a sovereign State of the Union. Be on the right side of history!

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