Ask long-time Nevada residents why their state was admitted into the Union on October 31, 1864 and the probable answer would be because its silver and gold production “was needed to help finance the Civil War.” It’s a wonderful tale but not true. According to Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, “The myth of Nevada’s mineral wealth triggering statehood ranks as one of the most pervasive fictional stories in the annals of the Silver State.”
Silver was discovered in the Nevada Comstock Lode in 1859. On March 2, 1861 the United States Congress established Nevada as Federal Territory and as part of the Union. In doing so, Congress ensured that Nevada’s riches (silver totaled some $400 million) would help finance the Union Civil War effort and not the Confederacy. The Federal Government “bought much of Nevada’s silver and gold bullion to support the strength of its currency.” Accordingly, Nevada’s gold and silver helping the Union previously existed in 1861and was not a factor in Nevada’s becoming a state in 1864.
The reasons for Nevada’s statehood “were strictly political and not economic.” By 1864, Lincoln, a Republican, also a practical politician, feared he might lose his re-election presidential campaign. He was in a three-way race against General George B. McClellan, a Democrat and General John C. Fremont, a Radical Republican. New states, with popular and electoral votes, were needed to ensure Lincoln’s reelection. In addition, among Lincoln’s proposed policies was the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. If Nevada was a new state, it could help elect Lincoln and also ratify the Amendment and “help in the passage of the landmark humanitarian legislation.” With Union sympathizers, Nevada’s entry into statehood was expedited. Nevada then sent the entire state constitution by telegraph for two days (by train it might not arrive on time), consisting of over 16,000 words (the longest transmission for 17 years) just two weeks before the election. Lincoln declared Nevada a state one week before the election. Freemont dropped out of the race, Lincoln carried Nevada in a relatively easy win over McClellan and thereafter, Nevada voted to ratify the 13th Amendment.
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