Gold rush-era Idaho was growing so fast before Congress made it a territory, some thought it might go straight to statehood and bypass the interim step entirely. Not to be. The Idaho Territory, created in 1863, lasted 27 years.
Statehood was largely out of Idaho's hands. The timing and shape of the state were dictated by regional and national politics, driven by whether admission of the mining- and Republican-dominated territory would benefit the factions in power. By 1890, the Republicans in power in Congress could benefit from adding Idaho's votes. The statehood bill rushed to passage on July 2.
Territorial Delegate Fred T. Dubois went to the White House the next day and found President Benjamin Harrison in a welcoming mood. Dubois asked the president to wait until July 4 to sign the act, so Idaho could celebrate its birthday with the nation on Independence Day. But Harrison presented Dubois with a dilemma: Stars are added to the flag on July 4 for all states admitted in the previous year. If Harrison signed on July 4, Idaho wouldn't get its star on the flag until 1891. What did the Idaho delegate want the president to do?
Hundreds of congratulatory telegrams had urged Dubois to arrange Idaho's birthday for July 4. Nevertheless, Dubois responded: "The responsibility is all mine and I ask you to sign the bill now. I want the star of Idaho on the flag tomorrow."
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"I think you have chosen well," Harrison told him. The president signed the act of statehood and presented the 39-year-old Dubois with the pen and a gold pen holder: "There is no honor which can come to a young man greater than that of bringing your state into the Union."
Dubois later wrote that the pen was "among the Idaho relics" at the Statehouse. But no one today knows where it ended up.
On July 6, the Idaho Daily Statesman reported the signing of the Statehood Act under the headline: "The Star of Idaho."
Today: Experience statehood by reading from the time, touring the Capitol or visiting the Idaho State Historical Museum. On a trip to the Capitol, you may well rub elbows with legislators, a secretary of state or a governor. A visit to the history museum will give you a glimpse of the state's early years.
Sources: Merle Wells, Idaho Historical Society, Dubois' "Making of a State."
Bill Manny: 377-6406