New California Statehood Could Save the 2024 Election

Statehood looked promising, particularly for Nye, who had great political ambitions. He preferred living on the East Coast and saw his post in Nevada as a way to launch himself into what he really wanted to be — a Senator. Nye was charismatic and known for his “winning friendly face,” but his countenance changed rapidly when a telegram arrived the evening of Tuesday, October 25, 1864. The head of the California Pacific Telegraph passed on a telegram to him, which said, “The President has not received a copy of your constitution.” The deadline for the materials was just a few days away. There wasn’t enough time to mail it to the President. If Nye was going to get 175 pages of this official document to Abraham Lincoln, he was going to have to use the new technology that was just installed three years prior — the telegraph.

On the afternoon of the next day, Mr. Hodge and Mr. Ward, the region’s best telegraphers had the job to transmit 175 handwritten pages containing the Nevada State Constitution to Salt Lake City, just over 500 miles away. In a room of Nevada’s esteemed government officials whose names would go down in the annals of history, these two men, whose first names the world would never know, were actually the most important people in the room.

The fancy cursive writing of the document had to be translated into plain dots and dashes of Morse code and then tapped into the lines. Ward began sending electrical pulses in the first shift and Hodge in the second. When Ward’s lightning-fast fingers started their dance of pat-a-tat-tat on the telegraph key, the city officials breathed a sigh of relief. The beginning of the birth of their state had begun. They retired to the inn nearby for it was going to be a long night.

The document that Hodge and Ward had to send contained 16,543 words. The message began with, “His Excy Abraham Lincoln. Official — The Constitution of the State of Nevada…,” followed by what would be equivalent to 40 single-spaced pages of text. The work was onerous, but this was Nevada’s opportunity to join the world stage, and also influence it. Opportunity knocked with the pitter-patter of telegrapher fingers.

The tapping went on for 12 hours, with Hodge, who was on the second shift, finishing at 5:30 the following morning, before the sun rose. Except for finger fatigue, there was no trouble sending the message. However, there was trouble on the receiving side. There was no direct line between Carson City and Washington, D.C., so the message had to be sent to three different relay stations on its way East where the dots and dashes were translated into words and then converted back into dots and dashes and then sent to the next leg.

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In Salt Lake City, the telegrapher did not expect such a deluge and got tired after a while. One person substituted for him, but didn’t last long, and then another sat in, and then a third, before the first operator returned and finished the work. Once the dots and dashes were received in Salt Lake City, they were copied down and then sent 1,400 miles to Chicago, and then 800 miles to Philadelphia, before finally reaching Washington, D.C., 150 miles away. Thousands of dots and dashes marched across the country inside metal telegraph wires with the mission to help Lincoln abolish slavery in the land.

When these electrical impulses finally reached the last leg of their journey, they were sent to the telegraph office of the War Department. This transmission was of such importance that intelligence from the warfront was put on hold for five hours to make way for Nevada’s telegram. Hodge’s and Ward’s message took two days to get to Lincoln and the cost of sending the message was $4,303.27 ($60,000 today). Nevada’s electric constitution reached Lincoln on the evening of October 28 and he proclaimed it a state on the 30th. On the 31st of October, Nevada officially celebrated its statehood, which gave it the right to participate in the election a week later on November 8.

On November 8 of 1864, Lincoln won a second term. Nevada had made good on its promise. Two out of three of its votes from the electoral college were cast for Lincoln. (The third voter got stuck in a snowstorm.) Nevertheless, the presidential election became less critical, when Lincoln’s chances of winning due to a three-way race improved when the race settled to just two candidates. Before Lincoln got to the business of leading the nation, he paused and declared the mission of his next four years. In his inaugural address, he stated that he would not be vindictive towards the South or ignore their transgressions as other candidates had promised. He set a tone for healing, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.” As president, he would serve, “with malice towards none; with charity for all.”

With this victory behind him, Lincoln now worried about the vote on the abolition of slavery act in the House of Representatives. This act had already passed in the Senate, but it had failed to get the majority of votes in the House the year before. Lincoln wished Nevada’s sole Representative, Henry G. Worthington, a swift and safe journey from the West so he could cast his single vote. Worthington arrived in time to cast his vote on January 31, 1865. The resulting count was 119 yeas, 56 nays, (with 8 abstains). The amendment passed with Worthington’s vote as one of the two that put the number of “yea” votes safely in the majority. Those two votes were precious like gold to Lincoln.

Lincoln now had all the pieces to heal the country and states began ratifying the 13th Amendment to make it into law. Nevada was the 16th state to ratify it on February 16, 1865. The amendment needed 27 of the 36 states to pass and it would get them in December of 1865.

But Lincoln would never get to see it. He was shot by an assassin and died on April 15, 1865, a few days after the surrender at Appomattox, ending the Civil War. The great architect, who drew up the blueprints to abolish slavery, would never witness the nation he helped to build. His dream was made possible by many factors, however — one of them being a very long and expensive telegram from Nevada.

Ainissa Ramirez is a materials scientist and the author of “The Alchemy of Us.” Twitter: @ainissaramirez

Source material can be found at this site.

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