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Antique Maps of Deseret

Deseret


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When the Mormons settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they wanted to establish their own government, but one that would be recognized by the United States. They intended to establish their domain over the very large territory which stretched from the Rockies to the Sierra Nevada mountains and from Mexico north to the Oregon Country, encompassing the "Great Basin," the drainage area of the Colorado River and the southern part of today's California.

In early 1849, Brigham Young and the church elders sent a representative to Congress to ask them to create the Territory of Deseret. This name came from a word from the Book of Mormon meaning "honeybee," representing industry. Meanwhile, Young heard that both California and New Mexico were petitioning for statehood (which California achieved in 1850, though New Mexico was admitted only as a territory), so he sent a second representative to modify the request so that Deseret would be admitted as a state.

To help establish the legitimacy of their request, the Mormons wrote a constitution (based on that of Iowa's) and established a tentative state government under "Governor" Young. The officers and legislature of Deseret then began to function as de facto government, passing laws, raising taxes, establishing a militia, and setting up a judiciary and criminal code. Congress, which thought the area too large and which had reservations about the Mormons, denied the request for a state of Deseret, instead creating in September 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850, the Territory of Utah, which encompassed less than half the region purposed by the Mormons.

Official territorial officers took over in the spring of 1851, at which time the Deseret General Assembly was dissolved. Its laws, however, were re-enacted by the territorial government later that year. The Mormons did not give up on creating a state, however, and they continued a shadow government until 1870, each year passing the same laws as were enacted in the territory in the name of Deseret.

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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated February 20, 2013