Nevada's Historical Myths:
    Facing the truth about some of our
    best but tallest tales.
    Dennis Myers & Guy Rocha

Why Did Nevada Become A State?

Guy Rocha
Nevada State Archivist

Who hasn't heard ad nauseam that our state was admitted to the Union on October 31, 1864 because its silver and gold production were needed to help finance the Civil War. Anyone who has attended Nevada's schools has heard the story from a teacher or read it in a textbook. It's a wonderful tale, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Our state's history has too often been embellished and transposed into myth, and the claim of Nevada's mineral wealth triggering statehood ranks as one of the most pervasive fictional stories in the annuals of the Silver State. The reasons for Nevada's statehood were political, not economic. Earlier writers were so caught up in romanticizing Nevada's role in the Civil War they decided to re-invent history.

FACT: Nevada Territory was a federal territory, a part of the Union, and President Abraham Lincoln appointed Governor James Warren Nye, a former Police Commissioner in New York City, to ensure that it stayed that way. Governor Nye put down any demonstration in support of the Confederacy, and there were some. The federal government bought much of Nevada's silver and gold bullion to support its currency. What federal taxes there were at the time that could be effectively collected went into Union coffers. Therefore, Nevada's creation as a TERRITORY on March 2, 1861 by the United States Congress ensured that its riches would help the Union and not the Confederate cause.

FACT: By the time Congress approved an Enabling Acting for Nevada on March 21, 1864, the Civil War was winding down. The Union had won decisive victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the South was in shambles. President Lincoln sought reelection and faced a three-way race against General John C. Fremont, the Radical Republican candidate, and General George B. McClellan, a Democrat--he had earlier in the war relieved both generals of their commands. New states, and their popular and electoral vote, were needed to reelect Lincoln in support of his moderate, reconstruction policies for the South. Among the proposed policies was the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. If Nevada were a state, it could ratify the amendment and help in the passage of the landmark humanitarian legislation.

FICTION: Nevada was singled out to help save the Union. Actually Enabling acts for three territories, Colorado, Nebraska, and Nevada, were passed by Congress in March 1864. Nebraska's constitutional convention voted against statehood, while Colorado Territory's voters did not approve the proposed state constitution. Thus, Nevada Territory was the only territory to come to the support of President Lincoln. Ironically, shortly after Nevadans voted 8-1 in support of the state constitution, General Fremont dropped out of the presidential race, and Nevada was no longer critical to a Lincoln win. President Lincoln proclaimed Nevada a state on October 31, a week before the national election, and then went on to carry Nevada in a relatively easy win over General McClellan.

FICTION: While it is true that Nevadans gave the beleaguered president three Republican Congressman to help rebuild the nation, ironically our two U.S. Senators James W. Nye and William M. Stewart arrived in Washington, D.C. too late to sign the 13th Amendment. Congressman Henry C. Worthington did sign the amendment, and it was soon ratified by Nevada. Senator Stewart would prove to be a key player in the drafting of the 15th Amendment giving Black males the right to vote.

So Nevada was, in fact, the "Battle Born" state because of its entrance into the Union during the Civil War, but not for the reasons we find in the popular mythology. Historians recognize that the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859 was one of many factors influencing Nevada's territorial status. However, making the leap to statehood because wealth from Nevada's mines was desperately needed to help the Union win the Civil War keeps stubbornly recurring as perhaps our state's #1 legend.

The Exhibit Gallery of the Nevada State Library and Archives, where the original State Constitution is displayed, has an informative video entitled "Battle Born" which creatively captures the reasons for granting Nevada statehood in 1864.

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