On July 10, we celebrate Wyoming’s entry into the Union in 1890, but not all of our territorial predecessors were enthusiastic in the years leading up to that historic event. Political machinations and ambitions were at play.
Leading the charge for statehood were “Me and FE,” as the Wyoming Territory’s top Republican leaders Joseph M. Carey and Francis E. Warren were collectively named. Carey was a newly minted lawyer when he arrived during Cheyenne’s track-laying days. Before long he became the territory’s U.S. Attorney (1869–1871), associate justice of the Wyoming Territorial Supreme Court (1871–1876), and territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress (1885–1890). Warren’s career was equally stellar. Arriving in Cheyenne at about the same time as Carey, Warren became the city’s merchant prince and went on to serve the Wyoming Territory as governor (1885–1886, 1889–1890). Statehood for these two high-fliers meant the almost sure prospect of national prominence as U.S. Senators, the logical next step in their political careers.
Democrats in the territory weren’t blind to the trajectories of Republicans Carey and Warren and responded rather truculently to the push for statehood. The platform of the territorial Democratic Party in October 1888, coolly stated: “On the question of statehood the Democrats, when the proper time arrives, will be found working enthusiastically in the front of the battle, but we do not believe in indulging in any spread eagle blatherskitism.” Wyoming historian T.A. Larson notes that Democratic opposition was not really to statehood itself; rather, their opposition was to a statehood movement led by Me and FE.
During the 1888 territorial campaign, the noisiest issue was statehood—at least for politicians. The Democratic Cheyenne Leader credibly maintained that the statehood question had not influenced 100 votes either way. With a Republican win, now Governor Francis E. Warren steamrolled statehood forward. In 1888 the Territorial Assembly had sent to the U.S. Congress a petition for admission in the Union. Bills were introduced in both houses of Congress, but did not pass. Undeterred, Governor Warren and others took action as if the “enabling act” had passed. Warren convened a constitutional convention in September 1889, composed of 49 men. As observed by historian Larson, it seems rather odd to have no women appointees at the convention in a territory where much was said about equality of the sexes, but he adds that it’s consistent with Wyoming’s failure to elect any woman to a territorial legislature. The convention quickly pulled together a state constitution, borrowing from the texts of other state constitutions.
Voters approved the constitution November 5, 1889, by a vote of 6,272 to 1,923. Bills for Wyoming statehood were introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House in December 1889. The House passed the bill March 27, 1890. President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill in July, thus making Wyoming the 44th state to enter the Union, with all the benefits (and some said headaches) that this act entailed. Celebrations sprang up in the new state of Wyoming with a plethora of parades, speeches, and music. But there were discouraging words were from the grumpy Cheyenne Leader, which responded to the new status of statehood with “Don’t expect too much.”
Material for this post is from the chapter on statehood in T.A. Larson’s History of Wyoming.
– Leslie Waggener, Associate Archivist