The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
On August 1, 1876, Colorado became the 38th State of the United States of America. It was also the year that the United States turned 100, hence the name “Centennial State.” Statehood didn’t come easy for Colorado. It was a quest that took 18 years. As late as 1864, even the voters rejected the idea of statehood:
As a state, Colorado could secure government protection from hostile Indians. It also would be easier to lure the railroads here and to protect mining interests. And Coloradans would have the privilege of self-government. But opponents noted that Colorado could hardly afford self-governance. Most mines were not producing, and the Civil War was retarding westward expansion. In the end, Coloradans voted their pocketbooks, rejecting the constitution – and statehood – by 5,006 to 4,219.
In 1865, another attempt was made. But this time, it was the U.S. that balked. Turns out, most of Colorado’s voters were Republican.
In April, Lincoln was assassinated, and Andrew Johnson – a Democrat – became president. Johnson, a Southerner, already had his hands full with a Republican Congress, and he wasn’t inclined to admit any more Republican states to the union. And Colorado leaned Republican.
The 1864 massacre of Indian women and children didn’t help, and Easterners didn’t like us either.
“Do not allow Colorado in, with its roving, unsettled horde of adventurers with no settled home, here or elsewhere,” an Eastern newspaper warned. “They are in Colorado solely because a state of semibarbarism prevalent in that wild country suits their vagrant habits.”
Our big break in D.C. came in 1875.
The state had shown impressive growth since the railroads arrived in 1870. State population topped 135,000 by 1875, the minimum needed then to be considered for statehood. Opposition to Colorado statehood began to fade. Republicans, sensing a tough election in 1876, coveted Colorado’s electoral votes, which they felt sure would fall in the GOP column. But Thomas Patterson, one of two territorial delegates to Congress and a staunch Democrat, assured Democrats that Colorado wasn’t as Republican as the Republicans believed. Patterson, who would later buy the Rocky Mountain News and win election to the U.S. Senate, told a convincing tale, and the Congressional Democrats bought it. Democrats went along with the Republicans and passed legislation to bring Colorado into the union.
In July, 1876, Colorado convened a Constitutional Convention and passed a Constitution. A month later, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation making us a state. And the rest, as they say, is history.