July 3rd is a significant day for Idaho because it marks the 132nd anniversary of its statehood. One hundred and forty-four years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, President Benjamin Harrison signed a proclamation in 1890, admitting Idaho into the Union as the 43rd state. In an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio, Governor Brad Little said that choosing July 3 for statehood was very intentional.
“You know why we picked July 3rd instead of July 4th? Because if we had picked July 4th the addition of the 43rd star to the flag wouldn’t have been until a year later. If you have 42 states on the fourth of July, then you have 42 stars, and so they moved up the date that we were recognized as a state one day, so that we could get our star on the flag.”
Idaho is a mountainous state with a rich Native American and pioneer history, but it has not always been the familiar panhandle shape characterizing it today. What is now the state of Idaho started out as vast territory which included all of modern-day Montana and most of Wyoming.
This geographical region officially became a U.S. territory on March 4, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln signed an act of Congress into law. Today, we celebrate “Idaho Day” on the anniversary of this signing.
Lewiston, a city along the Washington border, was named the original state capital, but opposing forces reinstated the capital in Boise with some slight-of-hand tactics, said Jeff Carr, the senior director of external affairs at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls.
“Basically, there were fights, there was a mining company, there were other folks with money who were interested in moving the capital south to Boise,” he said. “The state legislature was opposed to it. One of the territorial governors succeeded in stealing the state seal and other major documents overnight to whisk them down to Boise to try to create a new capital there by force.”
In addition to the controversy on capital location, history also shows that Idaho came very close to not existing at all.
“In the late 1880s, there was a campaign in Congress to basically split up Idaho, and that bill actually passed in Congress. It was sort of a touchy subject, and so President [Grover] Cleveland chose to pocket veto it, which basically means he just chose to not sign the bill. Because the bill was never signed, Idaho remained intact and became a state in 1890,” Carr explained.
In June, the Idaho State Historical Society or ISHS presented Esto Perpetua awards to individuals and organizations committed to preserving Idaho’s history. The Museum of Idaho received an award for its exhibit “Way out West,” which Carr helped to curate. Detailed historical records are kept by the Idaho State Museum, the Idaho Genealogical Society, the Idaho Museum of Natural History and several other organizations for this same purpose.
Today, residents and non-residents alike associate Idaho with homegrown potatoes; however, dairy is actually its main agricultural contribution.
“Potatoes really became famous because of a marketing campaign. In the 1930s, the Idaho Potato Commission came up and started marketing Idaho potatoes all over the country, and they were really good at it,” Carr said.
History continues in Idaho with elected officials like Governor Brad Little. He plans to celebrate the 4th of July with his family and wants Idahoans to remember to be proactive in preserving the freedoms of our nation.
“People need to remember that we have a republic and that we should celebrate our history, continue to work on creating a more perfect union, but people need to participate in our system,” he said. “A democratic-republic requires participation. Just shooting off a few fireworks and having a BBQ is important, but you’ve got to remember the sacrifices of the people who created this country.”
He suggested that participating in your local meetings for the city council, the school board and planning and zoning is important. He also suggests running for elected office as a basic way citizens can get involved with shaping the future of Idaho.