In 1864 as the Civil War raged on, Abraham Lincoln was attempting to get re-elected as president and at the same time, trying to pass a constitutional 13th amendment abolishing slavery.
America was equally divided on both Lincoln’s re-election and the proposed 13th amendment to abolish slavery. Lincoln knew he wouldn’t be able to convince any other states to approve the 13th amendment.
Lincoln’s re-election staff came up with the crazy idea of creating a new state in the union and they had set their sights on the Nevada Territory. So the campaign for Nevada Statehood was launched. The fact that Nevada had a population of less than 30,000, most of which were transient miners, was simply ignored.
Lincoln knew that Nevada residents were overwhelmingly Republican supporters of the north and would vote for his re- 36 election. Once Nevada became a state, it only made sense they would be in favor of the 13th amendment that was supported by President Lincoln and the Republican party.
The idea of becoming a new state in the union was so popular it hardly took any urging or money. In just a short period of time, Nevadans overwhelmingly voted to become the 36th state in the union.
To become a recognized state the U.S. Constitution required Nevada deliver a physical copy of their State Constitution to Washington D.C. With Lincoln’s re-election only two weeks away and the vote on the 13th Amendment coming soon, they had to get things finished quickly for their crazy idea of Nevada helping in Lincoln’s re-election and passing of the 13th Amendment.
They asked respected Attorney and Senator James M. Stewart to take on the task of swiftly writing the Nevada Constitution. Stewart finished the Nevada Constitution in blinding speed but how were they going to get the State Constitution to Washington?
Going overland or a combination of going overland and traveling by sea would take two months… longer if they ran into any problems. Either choice would not get the Constitution there in time to help the President.
After hours of discussion about their options someone came up with the crazy idea of sending the entire Nevada Constitution by telegraph. The idea was to send the telegram to Chicago and there it would be written down by longhand. They would then take the written version to Washington D. C.
They enlisted a young telegrapher by the name of Frank Bell, cousin of Alexander Graham Bell. It would take Frank Bell more than 12 hours to tap the 16,543 words of the constitution. The cost of sending the telegram was over $4,000.00, a staggering amount in those days.
Thankfully everything went smoothly and Nevada became the 36th State in the union. Yes, the 13th Amendment was passed, Lincoln was re-elected and the Civil War would soon be over.
Most students in Nevada are still being taught that Nevada became a state for financial reasons; the silver and the gold. But the truth is that Nevada became a state for political reasons… not for financial reasons and some very crazy ideas!
Incidentally, the young telegrapher Frank Bell would become one of Nevada’s first Governors.
About the Author: Martin T. Smith
Besides being an authority on the Nevada state flag, Martin is the creator of 'The Nevada Trivia Game', author of 'The Nevada Outhouse Trivia Book' and longtime owner of 'The Flag Store Sign & Banner' in Sparks, Nevada.