City Cast

The Telegram that Made Nevada a State

Sonja Cho Swanson
Sonja Cho Swanson
Posted on October 30
The first and last pages of the Nevada Constitution.

The first and last pages of the telegraph that made Nevada a state. (Courtesy of the National Archives)

In honor of the official Nevada Day (not “observed,” you heathens) tomorrow, here’s an image from the National Archives of the telegram that made our state a state. By now, you probably know that Nevada Day honors the Silver State’s entry into the Union on October 31st, 1864. What you might not know is that Congress needed the Nevada State Constitution in hand to approve statehood — and President Lincoln had a deadline.

Apparently, several members of Lincoln’s cabinet had advised against letting Nevada into the good old U.S. of A. club, one calling us “superfluous and petty.” But, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln needed Nevada’s three extra electoral votes for reelection, and Election Day, November 8th, 1864, was looming. (Plus, you know, there was all that sweet, sweet mining money we were sending back east, too.)

So off a-statehood-hunting we went, and Nevada Territorial Governor James W. Nye sent several copies of the state constitution by sea via the Panama Canal, as well as overland by stagecoach (a month-long journey). But on October 24th, with our deadline just days away, Nye received a fateful telegram: “The President has not received a copy of your constitution.”

What’s A 19th Century Governor To Do?

Why, turn to that new-fangled telegraph machine, of course! The next day, the area’s two best telegraphers, Mr. Hodge and Mr. Ward, sat down for 12 hours straight to beep-beep and boop-boop out 175 pages of our constitution over the airwaves in Morse Code. As there was no direct telegraph line between Carson City and Washington D.C., the telegram had to be sent via relay, re-tapped out in each of the way station cities: Salt Lake City, then Chicago, then Philadelphia, and finally on to D.C. (Fun fact: These are all City Cast cities!) The message took 2 days to reach Lincoln, and cost $60,000 in today’s dollars. It’s still the longest telegram ever sent.

But the rest, as they say, is history. And that is how a breathless telegram race created the State of Nevada, helped Lincoln win a second term, and end the Civil War.

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