Category: Resources

Law in the Utah Territory

UTAH’S FIRST LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

The first legislative assembly in Utah’s history was convened in Salt Lake City on September 22, 1851. Over the course of six months, 13 members of the Territorial Council and 26 members of the Territorial House of Representatives passed a series of acts and bills that formally codified the first laws of the Utah Territory.

The Utah Territory had been established by an act of the U.S. Congress on September 09, 1850, after a failed March 08, 1849 petition by Utah leaders to create a new state named Deseret. When the petition for the state of Deseret was submitted, the first Mormon settlers had been in region for nearly two years (having arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847). At the time of Mormon settlement in Salt Lake, the U.S. government was in the midst of the Mexican American War. U.S. Victory in this conflict would eventually lead to Mexico ceding large chunks of western North America over to federal control.

Wpdms_deseret_utah_territory_legend
Utah Territory with Deseret Border by Matthew Trump licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

 

The designation of the Utah Territory by Congress was part of a much larger set of bills passed that would come to be known as the Compromise of 1850. This “compromise” attempted to maintain a balance of power between free states and territories and slave states and territories in the Union. As part of complex package of legislation, California was admitted into the Union as a free state, while the territories of Utah and New Mexico were admitted under the provision that slavery in each territory would be decided by the popular sovereignty of its citizens.

With the designation of the Utah Territory, the size of Deseret was dramatically scaled back. Mormon leaders had originally called for a state that would have encompassed all of the Great Basin, the entire Colorado River Drainage Basin, and an outlet to the Pacific Ocean running through San Diego. Instead, the new territory was scaled back to include much of modern-day Utah, Nevada, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. In addition, legislation creating the territory called for the designation of territorial officials, the formation of a territorial legislative assembly responsible for enacting laws and a civil code for the territory, and the creation of a territorial judiciary.

On February 03, 1851, Mormon church president, Brigham Young was designated as the first Territorial Governor of the Utah Territory, and by September of that year, the 13 members of the Territorial Council (with Willard Richards as president) and 26 members of the Territorial House of Representatives (with William W. Phelps as speaker) had been chosen and met to conduct the business of Utah’s first legislative session.

ASSEMBLY BUSINESS

Between September 1851 and March 1852, the first legislative assembly in Utah’s history met in Salt Lake City and enacted Utah’s first set of formally recognized laws. Much of the work done by this legislative body came out of efforts that had already been made in drafting a proposed legal code for the failed State of Deseret. The Utah State Archives holds the records from this first legislative session. Examples from this series reveal the scope and variety of laws debated and passed by Utah’s first Territorial Legislative Assembly.

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An act affirming Salt Lake City’s Charter (series 3150).

Among the most important pieces of legislation passed was an act approving charters for the cities of Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Manti, and Parowan. A portion of this record reads:

“Be it enacted by the Counsel and House of Representatives of Utah Territory Assembly that we reenact the following ordinances, passed by the Legislature of the State of Deseret, January the 9th and February the 6th A.D. 1851 granting the several petitions for the above named charters…And be it further enacted that we do grant unto the City Counsel of Ogden City the entire control of all the timber lying west of the Corporation to the Great Salt Lake.”

Much of the Territorial Legislative Assembly’s initial business sought to spell out property rights and resource regulation, as evidenced by the passage of another act granting access to water rights from Mill Creek Canyon to Brigham Young. In this record the assembly states:

“Be it enacted by the Governor and the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, that the privilege is hereby granted unto President Brigham Young to take the waters from the channel of Millcreek, immediately below Neff’s Mill, and to convey the same to the channel of Big Kanyon creek agreeably to the provisions of the act passed in the Legislative Council of the State of Deseret, January 15, 1850.”

03150001045_BYMillcreek
An act granting Mill Creek water rights to Brigham Young (series 3150).

A third act demonstrates the lengths the Territorial Legislative Assembly went to provide social order in the new territory. This, “act in relation to the inspection of Spirituous Liquors,” serves as the first piece of liquor control legislation in Utah’s history. It established an office of Territorial Liquor Inspector, mandated the methods for determining alcohol levels, and establishes fines for anyone caught selling contraband liquor in the territory.

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An act establishing Utah’s first Liquor Inspector (series 3150).

These examples, all signed by powerful Mormon leaders acting in a secular government capacity, show just how intertwined church and state were in the early history of the Utah Territory. In the coming years this dynamic would shift as outside, non-Mormon populations began to settle in the territory and call it home. With increased federal influence, national westward expansion, mining booms, and eventually the birth of an intercontinental railroad system, the hold over government held by Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders would incrementally lessen over the years, though the influence the Mormon Church would wield over local affairs remained very much in tact. The legislative records of Utah tell the story of this growth and the profound changes that would come to the Utah Territory as it evolved towards eventual statehood in 1896.

LEGISLATIVE RESOURCES TODAY

Today the Utah State Archives preserves and provides access to a vast collection of historic records documenting Utah’s legislative history. In addition, the Utah State Legislature has made many of the records related to contemporary legislation freely accessible to the public through the Legislative website.

The Utah Legislature and Utah State Archives have also made a variety of useful guides available online that help explain the complexity of the legislative process, as well as how researchers can draw on historic legislative records to conduct important research, such as the discovery of legislative intent.

An effective democracy relies on the checks and balances placed upon its representatives by informed citizens. The Utah State Archives and the Office of Legislative Research and General Council serve as important government agencies in terms of promoting this ideal and ensuring that transparency remains an unassailable part of Utah’s annual legislative process.

Digital Public Library of America

DPLA

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched a beta of its discovery portal and open platform on April 18, 2013. The portal delivers millions of materials found in American archives, libraries, museums, and cultural heritage institutions to students, teachers, scholars, and the public. The Utah State Archives has contributed hundreds of thousands of pages through its participation with the Mountain West Digital Library.

Far more than a search engine, the DPLA portal provides innovative ways to search and scan through its united collection of distributed resources. Special features include a dynamic map, a timeline that allow users to visually browse by year or decade, and an app library that provides access to applications and tools created by external developers using DPLA’s open data.

“The DPLA’s goal is to bring the entire nation’s rich cultural collections off the shelves and into the innovative environment of the Internet for people to discover, download, remix, reuse and build on in ways we haven’t yet begun to imagine,” said Maura Marx, Director of the DPLA Secretariat. “Regular users can search in the traditional way using the portal, and developers and innovators can build on big chunks of code and content using the platform—we’re creating access, not controlling it.”

Utah State Constitution in the Digital Public Library of America
Utah State Constitution in the Digital Public Library of America

Legislative Publications

Legislative Research
Legislative publications available in the Research Center

As the 2013 session of the Legislature gets underway, we’d like to highlight some relevant publications that have been updated recently.

It’s always best to start with the Research Guide, such as Legislative History or Legislative Records Overview.

The Unannotated Code is the complete, codified law statutes reflecting changes in the most recent session. It has been published since 1982, when it was recognized that the full annotated code was getting unwieldy just to check what the “law of the land” was for a certain year.

The Utah Code Annotated is, however, immensely valuable when it comes to research in the legislative process and how bills turn into law (and sometimes even the intent of the legislation). Unlike other records and publications that are produced by government agencies and preserved by the Utah State Archives, this publication represents the work of editors experienced with legal research,  and is purchased for the use of research and future historical context. Supplements and replacement (“pocket parts”) are released a couple times a year.

Administrative Rules are created by agencies of the state’s executive branch and are enacted as laws under regulatory authority granted by the Legislature or the state Constitution. In short, the Legislature has created a method by which Executive branch agencies can codify their own policies and procedures and give them the force of law. Like the Utah Code, the Administrative Code is compiled with authorization by editors and published for the use of legal research. The most up-to-date information on rules is always found at http://www.rules.utah.gov.

Evidence From A Transatlantic Friendship

A Thank-You Gift from France

In 1949 a small boxcar arrived in Salt Lake City, a gift from the people of France.  Just after the end of World War II a train had traveled across America, collecting donations for war-devastated Europe.  Several years later, as a token of appreciation for the American assistance, a collection of boxcars known as the “Merci Train” arrived from France, filled with gifts.  The 49 boxcars had been used in World War I and were known as “Forty and Eights” because they could be used to transport 40 men or 8 horses.  One boxcar was to be sent to each of the 48 states and the remaining car was to be divided between the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii.

Union Station in Ogden.

When Utah’s boxcar arrived, Governor J. Bracken Lee formally accepted the gift on behalf of the people of Utah.  The varied contents, including dolls, folk costumes, embroidery work, wine, books, crystal, and artwork, were placed on display for the public to see.  Today, a small collection of gifts from the boxcar is held by the Utah State Archives. 

Most of these items are currently on display at the Utah State Railroad Museum in the Ogden Union Station.  The items include a number of books relating the history, scenery, and culture of France.  The collection also includes medals, artwork, and a number of felt stars embroidered with the names of French and American cities.

What Happened to Utah’s Merci Train Boxcar?

After the Utah boxcar was emptied of its treasures, it ended up on display in Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove.  Over the years exposure to the elements took its toll.  In order to protect the car, it was repainted, but the original colorful detailing was covered over.  As part of the restoration of Memory Grove following the tornado that tore through the area in 1999, the Merci Train boxcar was removed from the park.  In 2006 volunteers completed a restoration of the boxcar and it was placed on the grounds of the Ogden Union Station, where it can be seen today.

The restored Merci Train boxcar.

The Mystery of the Remaining Merci Train Gifts.

The committee appointed by Governor Lee to oversee the contents of the Merci boxcar decided that after the initial public display in Salt Lake, the gifts would be divided up and dispersed among the state’s 29 counties so that more people would be able to see them.  The final fate of these dispersed gifts is unknown.  The gifts sent to the counties were presumably displayed for a time, but have been lost since then.  Perhaps some ended up in the collections of local museums or were distributed to residents.  Furthermore, the records of the Merci Train Committee have been lost as well, so there is no known inventory of the contents of the boxcar or any documentation of how the items were dispersed.  The only Merci Train gifts known to survive in Utah are in a the collection held by the Utah State Archives, but the most significant and expensive of the gifts are not among them.  Undoubtedly, many of the finest gifts are still out there, perhaps unidentified or in private hands.

Do You Know Anything About the Lost Merci Train Gifts?

Have you ever seen anything in some scattered corner of the state that might have come from the Merci Train?  If you have, we would love to hear about it.

More Information

For more information about the Merci Train and the gifts that have survived, you can visit the exhibit at the Utah State Railroad Museum, peruse the inventory of items held by the Utah State Archives at http://archives.utah.gov/research/inventories/20732.html , and read an article about Utah’s Merci Train boxcar in Beehive History 23 at http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1 .

How do you research?

OCLC Research wants to know how researchers (you) use archives and special collections. Complete this survey and be entered in a chance to win an Amazon Gift Card!

Please visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/W8MKXP9 to answer some questions about how you find – and find out about – websites and other research resources. The information you provide will help OCLC Research make it easier to discover materials in special collections.

Previous survey results were incorporated in the design of ArchiveGrid, a place to access descriptions and finding aids from hundreds of archives and special collections.

Microfiche Project

A guest post by Rebekkah Hibbert.

The Utah State Archives received a grant in 2010 to organize thousands of unknown microfiche. With the help of our wonderful volunteers this project is making great progress! Microfiche has been moved from metal storage cabinets, inventoried and organized by series. Volunteers are helping us view the microfiche, create descriptions and put them in archival boxes for patron use.

There have been several exciting finds: we have found a picture of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser at the Salt Lake Airport from 1949, blueprints of the Utah State Capitol, executive orders from many governors, an indictment of Butch Cassidy and more!

The project has provided me with a crash course of processing, records management and the programs used. What was at first daunting to look at has become so familiar I occasionally find myself wondering why F8 doesn’t do the same thing on my home computer as it does for the APPX program. I have learned attention to detail is more crucial than I thought, and I already thought it was crucial. Not only could lacking attention causing simple mistakes (which can be problematic and frustrating enough in itself), but could lead to losing a record to a series in which it does not belong. Assigning a series to a record is important and requires careful consideration if the record is ever to be utilized.

Though records date back to 1916 and as current as 2003, we discovered most microfiche we have were produced in the late 1960’s thru the early 1980’s. Computer Output Microfiche, or COM fiche was used often by state agencies to keep track of information during those decades. It appears to have been so readily available that we have thousands of cards of occupational licenses. Normally these would not be put on microfiche, but in the 80’s and 90’s it must have been an easy way to keep these records considering the volume we have. Hopefully one day these will be of great value to genealogists.

All the microfiche has been assigned to a series, which being done feels like a new project has begun. Everything is starting to be labeled and finding aids will be created so these records can share their information with you.

World War II Casualty Lists from National Archives

In the immediate aftermath of  World War II, the Department of War and the Department of the Navy both published national lists of casualties for the U.S. Army and Army Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The intent was to disseminate the information to the general public in a timely manner, for the benefit of next of kin, and even with an eye towards the needs of veterans and patriotic organizations, who would–to quote the War Department–”find these lists of value in establishing or checking honor rolls in their communities.” The original publications are part of the large holdings of modern military records located at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, but they have also been scanned and can be viewed in digital form[.] (blogs.archives.gov/online-public-access/?p=4553)

PDF copies of the lists from Utah are now linked from the Utah Military Records: Wars and Conflicts Research Guide. This information is often requested at the Research Center so we are glad to know of one good source.

Laws of Utah Online through Pioneer database

Legislative Books in the Research Center

The Utah State Library through its Pioneer databases has made the entire set of the Laws of Utah available online. The restricted access requires a Utah library card. Once through, one may search and browse the session laws published each year after the Utah State Legislature meets.

The session laws are key to legislative research which is explained fully in the Legislative Intent and History Research Guide. Until 1972, laws were not considered to be in effect until they had first been published, a requirement dating from the 1849 Constitution of the State of Deseret.

Legislative sessions were held annually until 1870, usually in the winter, from December to March. After that date biennial sessions were held in even numbered years until statehood. Starting with the second session of the new state legislature in 1897, biannual sessions were switched to odd numbered years. The 13th state legislature held the first special session in 1919, and after that date one or more special sessions began to be held more often.

A 1968 change in the state constitution created the budget session, and the first of these was held in 1970. These were held during the even numbered years when the regular session did not meet, and only government funding issues were considered. The constitution of the state was changed again in 1985 to provide for annual sessions of the legislature, eliminating the biannual budget session. Read more about the background of the Laws of Utah.

Thanks to the Utah State Law Library.