Mormon History

The State of Deseret - 1849

Daily Missouri Republican October 1, 1849


It has been already announced that the people residing in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, had instituted for themselves a form of government, which is to be submitted to Congress at its next session. We have been permitted to look at certified copies of the Constitution thus established, and of the proceedings of the Legislature under it, and of the reasons which led to these movements. The new state is quaintly styled the THE STATE OF DESERET, which implies, according to the Mormon history and interpretation, the "Honey Bee," and is significant of Industry and the kindred virtues. It is scarcely necessary to say to our readers, that the population of this new State is composed altogether of persons professing the Mormon faith, of whom the number is rapidly increasing every year; that being the State to which all their emigration is tending. In these proceedings, as everything else, the peculiarities of this people are preserved, though we cannot see that this will offer any good bar to their application for admission into the Union.

In one respect at least, the Convention which formed the Constitution for the new State, has set a good example. They were employed only one week in action upon it, and we do not see but what it is as good an one as some of our States have been able to form after months of deliberation. We proceed to give some of its main features...

Not a word is said in the Constitution about slavery or the Wilmot Proviso, such things not having entered into the imaginations of the law-givers as important for their welfare. The Constitution will be pressed upon Congress, and if ratified, two new Senators and a Representative will soon appear in that body from the State of Deseret -- a State which was without a settled inhabitant four years ago, and which is some twenty-five hundred miles from the seat of the Federal Government.


Quincy Whig October 9, 1849

THE STATE OF DESERET. -- This is the name of the State the Mormons have organized in the Salt Lake Valley. It seems from an account in the Republican, that a Convention to form a Constitution has been held. The Constitution describes the boundary of the new State, and in other respects patterns after our State Constitutions -- the committee to draft the Constitution, were Alfred Carrington, Jas. L. Heywood, Wm. W. Phelps, David Fullmer, John S. Fullmer, Charles C. Rich, John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt, John M. Bernhisel, and Erastus Snow. All of these names will be recognized, as prominent individuals, among the Mormons, during their career in Hancock County. The officers chosen for the new State, are Brigham Young, Governor; Heber C. Kimball, Lt. Governor; Wm. [sic] Richards, Secretary of State; W. M. Clayton, Auditor; Jas. K. Heywood, Treasurer. Almon W. Babbitt was elected by the Legislature, as a Representative of the State of Deseret, in Congress.


When the Mormons Claimed San Diego

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sixteen decades ago today, California became a state, and a powerful man named Brigham Young had to give up his dreams of controlling San Diego.

Until then, the Mormons had claimed much of Southern California for themselves, including a tiny bayside settlement next to the Mexican border. San Diego would've been the port city of the state of Deseret, which created its own constitution and general assembly.

So why was the state of Deseret banished to the inglorious pantheon of would-be states? The answer lies in anti-Mormon fervor and the over-stuffed dreams of a religion on the run.

After his church was violently persecuted in the East, Young led Mormons westward in 1847. His followers settled in the Salt Lake area and planned to colonize other areas in the West, said Michael J. Trinklein, author of the new book "Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States that Never Made It."

"He sent them to the outposts of an empire that he called Deseret, including what's now Utah and much of the Southwest," Trinklein said. "A port is what he wanted in San Diego: If you've got a country, you need a port."

A country? Sure, why not? Mexico owned the territory that Young wanted, but the Mexicans "didn't have any presence, so it was kind of like free territory," Trinklein said. The West was a place where Mormons, at least in theory, could live as they wished and set up their own government free of interference.

But not for long. The U.S.-Mexican War put the region in the hands of the United States, "and that was a bad thing for Brigham Young," Trinklein said. "He wanted polygamy, and the federal government didn't like this at all."

Meanwhile, settlers on the West Coast had their own eyes on San Diego, and not just the settlers who ultimately created the state of California.

Spanish-descended landowners in Southern California floated the idea of a state of their own -- to be called South California or Colorado -- because they feared that the more heavily populated northern section of California would run things if the state wasn't divided, Trinklein said. "There's always talk about splitting up California," he said, "and that's when it almost happened."

South California wasn't to be. Neither was the state of Deseret, named after a word in the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee. California, including the much-claimed San Diego, entered the union on Sept. 9, 1850.

Trinklein says polygamy ultimately delayed Utah's statehood and doomed the Mormon dream of an empire that would spread all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The government "was not going to allow Brigham Young to have that much power. I guess the bottom line is that had he not been a polygamist, you might be in Deseret today."

But there was even more drama to come, fomenting a scenario that could have robbed San Diego of one of its primary distinctions.

In 1853, a "freebooter" -- plunderer -- named William Walker and his cronies traveled down the Baja peninsula and took it over, Trinklein said. "Had he just stopped, you'd be at the center of California instead of at the bottom," Trinklein said.

But Walker blew it: instead of just claiming Baja for the United States, he kept going into Mexico and got routed by a less-than-pleased Mexican army.

Walker later became president of Nicaragua for a year, although his later execution in Honduras extinguished his bid for glory. And San Diego got to continue claiming an honor of its own: it remained the southeastern point of the entire country, not just the midpoint of the Golden State. Or, for that matter, of Deseret.