Deseret and Federalism

August 26, 2004 | 15 comments

A coupla bright boys propose dividing the State of Texas into five parts. This is a great opportunity for a modern Caesar, Omnia Texania in quinque parte and so forth. This is also, according to the bright boys, a great opportunity for the modern Texans. It seems that when Congress let Texas into the Union Congress gave Texas blanket permission to split into five states anytime Texas desired. The old Texans were a bit slow to recognize this particular opportunity, true, but what an opportunity it is. Think of it. Ten Senators! Extra votes in the Electoral College! Five Lone Star states! We’re talking, well . . . it starts with a P and ends with Ower. We’re talking Power.

Back in the day the old Saints wanted their own over-sized Texas, or rather, Deseret.

Deseret would have taken in most of the unsettled areas of the Intermountain West—Arizona, Nevada, parts of Colorado and New Mexico—along with the then sparsely populated Los Angeles area. Even a more modest state, laid out along the lines of eventual Mormon settlement, would take in Utah, southern Idaho, southwest Wyoming, parts of southern Colorado and northeast New Mexico, most of eastern Arizona, and parts of Nevada. That’s one big state. We like to talk about it sometimes, because who doesn’t have a sneaking admiration for the grandiose?

Usually, the conversation goes around a little and then wiser heads prevail. Why the current system is almost made to order, the wiser heads say. Reflect a little. We get our own state in which to do our Mormon thing, plus we get to help elect the senators in Idaho and Nevada and Arizona and Colorado sometimes. Our own state! And political power! Yippee! Wiser heads and a coupla bright boys have a lot in common.

But not so Lee-Corso fast. Having our own state means something, surely, but the locus of laws and institution these days isn’t the state. Most important matters are decided nationally. And nationally, the difference between two senators and two senators with part shares in several more means little compared to the whole hundred, who themselves must share power with the President and the House and the Supreme Court and the administrative agencies. All this ‘power’ we’re getting rapidly becomes dilute. We’d be much better off if having a state meant something. We could give more than lip service to the belief that the Gospel reaches into every sphere of life and every kind of activity, even governance and politics. We could expect revelations from God and inspirations to men, because we would need them.

But we don’t have states like that because we don’t have a robust federalism like that. Blame the 17th Amendment, which is both cause and effect. Blame also the decline in the loyalty and attachment of the citizenry to the state, which is also both cause and effect. Federalism will always dwindle and fail in practice if—in every contest between state and national power—the myths, the memories, and the self-identification are all on the side of the nation. States become administrative units. And federalism has already failed its purpose if the states aren’t serving as counterweights and balances to the national government in the hearts and minds of the citizens. Federalism, which means that having-our-own-state would actually mean something, requires that people care about their states.

The problem is that these days our country is grown too homogenous for states to really attract local loyalties. What citizen going from South Bend, Indiana, to Columbus, Ohio, feels that things have changed? Or Seattle to Portland or Boise to Laramie? We have too much in common now.

Except the Texans. If Texas were split into the five states of T and E and X and A and S, perhaps the Essers wouldn’t see themselves as all that different from the X-men, but lump them all together and the difference from the rest of the country becomes apparent. That’s why Texans still have state pride and state loyalty. Student-age Texans are the one with the Lone Star flag in their dorm room. That’s why Texans have their own identity. Things are big out here. The other big state, California, is a little the same way. People there are conscious that they’re Californians and, going elsewhere, can often be recognized as such. California, like Texas, means something. The country is homogenous enough that most differences are only regional, but states like California or Texas are a region all to themselves.

So I suggest that if we had more states like California or Texas we’d have more federalism. States would mean more to people and therefore have more power, and thus we’d have our chance to make a truly Mormon way of life. So cheer for golden California, pray God to bless Texas, and shed a tear for Deseret.

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15 Responses to Deseret and Federalism

  1. danithew on August 26, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    Holeee …

    That would certainly stir up the political pot. I did a little google search on this and it doesn’t appear this is a big news item. But it certainly is an interesting idea.

  2. Nathan Tolman on August 26, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    It does my Texas Heart proud to hear this.

    It also seems that in some places, like the South, New England, or Pacific North West people have transferred their state identifies to regional identities, and often states from those areas seem to pool their resources on certain issues because of shared interest and ideology, at least in some cases (this is certainly true for the Pac NW and the South). While this is not a perfect counterbalance to the problem you bring up, it has served to temper the whims of the federal government.

  3. Adam Greenwood on August 26, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Very true, Mr. Tolman. It was some such phenomenon that led to wonder if these regional identities would be even stronger if they were also political identities. I concluded they would. Probably the best thing is for states to actively pursue regional ties and compacts.

  4. Charles on August 26, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    Nebraska has quite a bit of its own state pride. Twisted as it is around a big red N. Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud to call this place home, but I don’t mind running away during college bowl season. There aren’t enough white coats and butterfly nets to accomodate everyone here round that time.

  5. lyle on August 26, 2004 at 6:48 pm


    Shed a tear while you’re at it for the outright theft of the land settled by the Saints & theft of their Church’s lands & even corporate identity.

    Before we get to reparations for slavery…a tax rebate as suggested by Alan Keyes…perhaps a tax rebate for LDS folks? Now there is a great conversion tool…not.

  6. Bryce I on August 26, 2004 at 8:42 pm

    Charles –

    Please don’t confuse college bowl season (all year round these days) with college football bowl season :) There are plenty of relatively unathletic but sane and thoughtful former college bowl players hanging around here (including Adam G.)

    Of course, the Nebraska football team could probably do pretty well on the college bowl circuit. After all, the “N” on the helmet does stand for “Knowledge”.

  7. Ethesis (Stephen M) on August 26, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    Well, we used to talk about Statehood for Wichita Falls, Texas every time the District of Columbia wanted senators of its own…

  8. john fowles on August 26, 2004 at 10:07 pm

    Having grown up in Dallas and educated in the public schools, I can add that one of the main reasons for Texas pride and sense of identity is the fact that Texas fought its own war of independence against its sovereign–Mexico–and then was an independent country before joining the United States.

    California has such state identity because of its prosperity (the sixth largest economy in the world?) and its own geographical peculiarity.

    I also think that Alaska has the type of state pride that Adam longs for. Maybe this is a characteristic of the big states that are well situated economically. There is somewhat of a banana republic mentality tied up in this as well, though, and that could actually be a negative aspect of such pride.

    But as to the main issue in this post–the state of Deseret–I agree with Adam completely and think that if states regained their proper role in the federal system that the Framers intended to establish, a state of Deseret would still be a possibility. The Constitution mandates that each of these individual sovereign states at least guarantee a republican form of government. That requirement would in no way inhibit a state of Deseret from providing a place where LDS values play a large role in the political order of society (even while maintaining a separation of church and state, despite the fact that such non-establishment on the state level was arguably not actually the sense of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause).

  9. Eric James Stone on August 27, 2004 at 2:59 am

    You know, it’s kind of ridiculous that this proposal is news. I went to law school in Texas over ten years ago, and we used to talk about the right of Texas to split itself into up to five states all the time. Generally the idea was to make a small state around Austin for the liberals, and then have North Texas, South Texas, East Texas and West Texas. But I suppose by splitting Austin among five states, we could have ensured Republican senators from all five.

  10. Julie in Austin on August 27, 2004 at 1:42 pm


    Which, of course, is just about what the latest redistricting accomplished on a smaller scale.

  11. Nathan Tolman on August 27, 2004 at 1:51 pm


    Do you remember the last time the state government redistricted? The democrats were in charge and they did the same thing as the Republicans. Demographic and political changes undermined this system. Pigeons coming home to roost anyone?

  12. Greg on August 27, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    Of course, though it was far less bloody than the Texas cause, California also won its independence from Mexico, in the Bear Flag Revolt, and was sovereign before its annexation to the US.

  13. john fowles on August 29, 2004 at 3:35 am

    Greg, I didn’t realize that! It was really a sovereign country before annexation like Texas? How interesting things would have turned out in world history if Texas, Deseret, and California had not joined the U.S. so that the area that currently comprises the contiguous 50 would have been at least four, possibly five (counting the Confederacy) independent countries.

  14. Nathan Tolman on August 29, 2004 at 1:35 pm


    Although it would have been interesting, the Texans were not really willing to go it alone. After the US had rebuffed them once. They opened negotiations with Britain, which brought about prompt acceptance of Texas in the Union.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on July 11, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    Adam reminds me of this post, in connection with something I’ve written over at my own blog here–thanks for the reminder. I have to say I’m not a fan of your defense of big states, as I don’t believe power (in terms of largeness) is linked to feelings of identity and belonging the way you suggest. And even if they are so linked, I don’t think it’s something to encourage; I’d prefer to work on creating more opportunities for political affection and participation in smaller units (along the lines of Alperovitz’s “pluralist commonwealth”), since I think local democracy and patriotism are best entwined.

    That said, we surely want the same thing: making states “mean something” again. So, in general, I agree: shrink them, enlarge them, change their borders–whatever will make the available representation more legitimate in the eyes of those supposedly empowered by it. I think you’re almost certainly right, Adam, in thinking that if we want to see American Mormons take more seriously and wield more unapologetically their own particular cultural contribution to the union, then building a state which incorporated all (or at least most) of the extant Mormon homeland would be a good place to start.


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