The D.C. Battle over Colorado
June 26, 2009
By Jerry Kopel
The battle in Washington, D.C., between legislators supporting or
opposing statehood for Colorado was much deeper than I recently thought.
And it will certainly appear very "modern" to Colorado state
President U.S. Grant in a December 1873 message to Congress included "I
would recommend for your favorable consideration ... passage of an
enabling act ... for admission of Colorado as a state of the Union. It
has the elements for a prosperous state, agriculture, minerals, and I
believe a population now to justify such admission."
Colorado Territorial Delegate Jerome Chaffee, Republican, rushed in an
enabling act bill which passed the House June 8, 1874. The bill stalled
in the Senate when amendments were added in late February and sent back
to the House. The House had not approved the amendments by March 3d,
1875, the last day of the Congress.
The Colorado debate was one of the last pieces of work done that day.
There was an afternoon break until 8 p.m. that night. Amendments by the
Senate to the enabling statute were adopted and the enabling bill
re-passed. The legislative session was nearly over. The proper
signatures were hurriedly added and the measure rushed to the president.
Grant signed the measure with only 20 minutes left before the House
would adjourn at midnight.
Chaffee had a lot to do those final hours. He had to break a promise he
had made to the territorial delegate from New Mexico to work together on
both enabling acts. He had to break the New Mexico promise because Sen.
O.P. Morton from Indiana told him to. Morton was the Republican boss in
Indiana and had influence across the Midwest states. New Mexico's
enabling act did not pass and that state was the 47th to become a state,
but not until 1912.
Chaffee had to convince Republican legislators that the "Panic of 1873"
which created a depression was still in play in 1875 in Colorado and
would actually help Republicans. Meanwhile Morton in February got
Colorado Territorial Governor Edward M. McCook removed by President
Grant before the final vote was taken in the House. Morton feared
Colorado would vote Democratic if McCook remained as territorial
governor despite charges of corruption. McCook urged Grant to veto the
enabling act, but Grant did not do that.
Much of this was new material for me which I found in a law school
article written 50 years ago by Harold H. Dunham, a lawyer and professor
at the University of Denver, plus the book The Politicos written
70 years ago by M. Josephson.
The "Panic of 1873" did not begin nationwide with a glut of new homes,
but with a glut of railroad tracks which often led nowhere important.
Investment giant Jay Cooke and Co. collapsed in September, 1873 followed
by many savings and business banks. Over the next three months 5,000
Colorado businesses closed. Tens of thousands of workers were
unemployed. High interest rates led to major foreclosures on farms.
Farmers were also hurt by a continuation of feasting by Rocky Mountain
locusts. Colorado real estate values fell by one-half and building
construction nearly deceased.
Whether by luck or good political vibes, Chaffee proved to be right.
Colorado's executive, judicial and legislative branches went Republican
in the first election in 1876 as a state.
McCook had been appointed by Grant due to friendship when McCook served
as a general under Grant in the Civil War. McCook proved a bad
administrator. Many historians considered him corrupt. His Indian agent
was charging the federal government for good cattle purchased for Indian
tribes while actually giving the Indians skin and bones animals.
More important, McCook had removed experienced Republicans from state
jobs and replaced them with his own supporters causing a major collapse
of Republican leadership harmony.
Morton's Senate supporters opposing state status for Colorado finally
showed enough power to make Grant rescind his re-appointment of McCook.
Grant then appointed John Routt as territorial governor. He was
confirmed and arrived in Colorado March 21st, 1875. Routt began turning
McCook supporters out of territorial jobs and healing the Republican
base. He was elected state governor on the Republican ticket in 1876 and
again in 1878.
There were 39 delegates for the constitutional convention of which 24
were Republicans and 15 Democratic. They produced a constitution (based
on Iowa) that was adopted by them unanimously in March, 1876. The
territory voted July 1, 1876 15,443 in favor and 4,052 opposed to
becoming a state. The vote was low because the opposition was almost
On August 1, 1876 Grant issued the document making Colorado the 38th
state. National opposition to Colorado's statehood continued when
several Congressional leaders protested the president's action, noting
that only Congress had the power to approve a state constitution and
admission of states. Actually the Secretary of State signed the
document. The argument of Congress vs. the President went nowhere.
On Oct. 3, 1876 Colorado voters elected majority Republican members of
the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The three presidential
electors were chosen Nov. 7, 1876 by the legislature.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)