State of Deseret
𐐝𐐻𐐩𐐻 𐐲𐑂 𐐔𐐯𐑅𐐨𐑉𐐯𐐻 (Deseret alphabet)
Flag of Deseret
Reconstruction of an alleged flag
Flags of the State of Deseret
The boundaries of the provisional State of Deseret (orange with black outline) as proposed in 1849. Modern state boundaries are underlaid for reference.
The boundaries of the provisional State of Deseret (orange with black outline) as proposed in 1849. Modern state boundaries are underlaid for reference.
StatusUnrecognized state
CapitalGreat Salt Lake City
Common languagesEnglish
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
• Governor
Brigham Young
Heber C. Kimball
• Established
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Centralist Republic of Mexico
Utah Territory
Today part ofUnited States

The State of Deseret (modern pronunciation /ˌdɛzəˈrɛt/ DEZ-ə-RET,[1] contemporaneously /dɛsrɛt/ dess-ee-ret, as recorded in the Deseret Alphabet spelling 𐐔𐐯𐑅𐐨𐑉𐐯𐐻)[2] was a proposed state of the United States, promoted by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) who had founded settlements in what is today the state of Utah. A provisional state government operated for nearly two years in 1849–50, but was never recognized by the United States government. The name Deseret derives from the word for "honeybee" in the Book of Mormon.[3]


Proposed concept as territory, then state

When members of the LDS Church (the Mormon pioneers) settled in the Salt Lake Valley near the Great Salt Lake in 1847 (then part of Mexico), they wished to set up a government that would be recognized by the United States.

Initially, church president Brigham Young intended to apply for status as a territory, and sent John Milton Bernhisel to Washington, D.C., with the petition for territorial status. Realizing that California and New Mexico were applying for admission as states, Young changed his mind and decided to petition for statehood.[citation needed]

Realizing that they did not have time to follow the usual steps towards statehood[clarification needed], Young and a group of church elders formed a convention in Salt Lake City, where they quickly drafted and adopted a state constitution on March 6, 1849.[4][5] It was based on that of Iowa, where the Mormons had temporarily settled. The state legislature had 17 senators and 35 representatives, all free white male citizens.[4] The state government also had a governor, a lieutenant governor, and a supreme court.[4] The state constitution was silent on the matter of slavery.[6][5] The state constitution went into effect on May 10.[4]

They sent the legislative records and constitution back to Iowa for printing, because no printing press existed in the Great Basin at the time. They then sent a second messenger with a copy of the state's formal records and constitution to meet up with Bernhisel in Washington, D.C., and to petition for statehood rather than territorial status.[citation needed]

Geography of the proposed state

The Deseret Stone used in the construction of the Washington Monument. The stone was donated by the territory in 1853 to represent the provisional state.

The provisional state encompassed most of the territory that had been acquired from Mexico the previous year as the Mexican Cession.

The Territory of Deseret would have comprised roughly all the lands between the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies, and between the border with Mexico northward to include parts of the Oregon Territory, as well as the coast of California south of the Santa Monica Mountains (including the existing settlements of Los Angeles and San Diego). This included the entire watershed of the Colorado River (excluding the lands south of the border with Mexico), as well as the entire area of the Great Basin. The proposal encompassed nearly all of present-day Utah and Nevada, large portions of California and Arizona, and parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.

The proposal was crafted specifically to avoid disputes that might arise from existing settlements of Euro-Americans.[7] At the time of its proposal, the existing population of the Deseret area, including Southern California, was sparse, since most of the California settlement had been in the northern gold rush areas not included in the provisional state. Likewise, the border with New Mexico did not reach the Rio Grande, in order to avoid becoming entangled in the existing disputes of the western border of Texas. Deseret also avoided encroaching on the fertile Willamette Valley of Oregon, which had been heavily traveled and settled since the 1840s. Planners utilized "a map drawn by Charles Preuss, and published by order of the Senate of the United States, in 1848."[8] This map was drawn by Preuss, based on survey data from John Charles Frémont, and published in 1848.[9]

The Beehive symbol often associated with Deseret.

Since the proposal encompassed lands largely considered inhospitable for cultivation, it was hoped that it might avoid conflict over the issue of the expansion of slavery. Its size would make it easier to preserve the balance of power in the Senate, by decreasing the number of free states entered into the Union. However, the proposal for the state was seen as too ambitious to succeed in Congress, even setting aside controversy over the Mormons and the rumored but not yet publicly acknowledged practice of polygamy.

Political context for creation of Utah Territory

The California Constitutional Convention debates of 1849 mentioned the Mormons or Salt Lake a number of times[10][11] along with the North–South conflict over extension of slavery. Advocates of smaller boundaries (such as 116° west or the crest of the Sierra Nevada) argued that the Mormons were unrepresented at the convention, culturally different, and applying for their own territorial government. They also argued that Salt Lake was too far away for a single government to be practical and that Congress would not agree to such a huge state. Those advocating retention of all of former Mexican Alta California, such as pro-slavery future Senator William M. Gwin, argued these were not real obstacles or could be solved later.

With congressional action approaching, the provisional government of Deseret sent Mormon apostle Amasa Lyman and John Wilson, federal Indian agent in California, as a delegation to the interim government of California. The delegates sought to call a new constitutional convention and include Deseret in the new state so as to settle the slavery question throughout the territory acquired from Mexico. However, California governor Peter H. Burnett rejected the proposal on the basis that the community in Salt Lake was too far to combine under a single government even temporarily.[12]

The Utah Territory is shown in blue, while the proposed State of Deseret is outlined by the dotted line. Modern state boundaries underlaid for reference.

On September 9, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850, the Utah Territory was created by Act of Congress, encompassing a portion of the northern section of Deseret.[13] Congress decided that the question of whether slavery would be allowed in the territory would be decided by the territory's residents.[13]

Lingering impact after territorial incorporation

The Beehive symbol used on Utah's state route shield.

On February 3, 1851, Brigham Young was inaugurated as the first governor of the Utah Territory. On April 4, 1851, the General Assembly of Deseret passed a resolution to dissolve the state. On October 4, 1851, the Utah territorial legislature voted to re-enact the laws and ordinances of the state of Deseret.

After the establishment of the Utah Territory, the Latter-day Saints did not relinquish the idea of a "State of Deseret". From 1862 to 1870, a group of Mormon elders under Young's leadership met as a shadow government after each session of the territorial legislature to ratify the new laws under the name of the "state of Deseret".[citation needed] Attempts were made in 1856, 1862, and 1872 to write a new state constitution under that name, based on the new boundaries of the Utah Territory.

The idea of creating a state based on Mormonism began to fade away after the coming of the railroad, which opened the territory to many non-Mormon settlers, particularly in the western areas of the territory. Young and the LDS Church supported the railroad, even taking members that were working on the Salt Lake Temple and reassigning them to work on the railroad. The driving of the golden spike just 66 miles from Salt Lake completed the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit in 1869.


Prior to the establishment of Utah Territory, in the absence of other authority, the provisional government of Deseret became the de facto government of the Great Basin. Three sessions of the General Assembly, a bicameral state legislature, were held. In 1850, the legislature appointed judges and established a criminal code. Taxes were established on property, and liquor and gambling were outlawed. The LDS Church was incorporated and a militia, based on the Nauvoo Legion, was formed.

The legislature initially formed six counties, which covered only inhabited valleys. These "valley counties" initially encompassed only a small portion of the area of Deseret and were expanded as settlement grew.[14]


According to most descriptions, the Deseret flag was similar to the historic Utah state flag. However, as it was not standardized, multiple other secular and religious alternatives were also used.[15] Variants similar to the US Flag were also reported.[16][17]

Deseret in fiction

See also


  1. ^ "Book of Mormon Pronunciation Guide" (retrieved February 25, 2012), IPA-ified from «dĕz-a-rĕt´»
  2. ^ "DESERET". Book of Mormon Onomasticon. Brigham Young University. Deseret Alphabet: 𐐔𐐇𐐝𐐀𐐡𐐇𐐓 (dɛsiːrɛt)
  3. ^ "Ether 2". Retrieved October 11, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d "The State of Deseret". The Zanesville Courier (Zanesville, Ohio). October 9, 1949. p. 2.
  5. ^ a b "The State of Deseret: Progress of a Mormon Settlement". The New York Evening Post. October 10, 1849. p. 2.
  6. ^ "State of Deseret". Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia). October 10, 1849. p. 2.
  7. ^ Michael J. Trinklein (2010). Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It. Quirk Books. ISBN 978-1-59474-410-5,
  8. ^ "Constitution of the State of Deseret, With the Journal of the Convention Which Formed It, and the Proceedings of the Legislature Consequent Thereon" (Kanesville, UT: Orson Hyde, 1849).
  9. ^ "Map Of Oregon And Upper the Bay of San Francisco" (Washington, D.C.: Wendell and Van Benthuysen, 1848).
  10. ^ Browne, John Ross (1850). "chapters about Mormons". Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of ... - California. Constitutional Convention, John Ross Browne - Google Books. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  11. ^ Browne, John Ross (1850). "chapters about Salt Lake". Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of ... - California. Constitutional Convention, John Ross Browne - Google Books. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  12. ^ "Deseret Asks Admittance to California". Deseret News. July 6, 1850. p. 7. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  13. ^ a b "The Question Settled". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York). September 9, 1950. p. 2.
  14. ^ Territory of Utah Archived January 15, 2004, at the Wayback Machine, Historical and Political Data, Political History of Nevada, Department of Cultural Affairs, Nevada State Library and Archives, accessed July 1, 2007
  15. ^ Walker, Ronald W. "A Banner is Unfurled" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Volume 26 Number 4, Winter 1993, pages 71-91.
  16. ^ "Deseret Territory (Utah, U.S.)". Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  17. ^ "Historical Flags of Our Ancestors - State of Utah - USA". Retrieved October 29, 2019.

Works cited

Further reading