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By Michael Green

 

4/17/2014 -- Sic Transit Gloria Bundy?

 

No doubt you are following with considerable interest the developments involving rural Clark County rancher Cliven Bundy, who hasn't paid his grazing fees in two decades and received considerable support when the Bureau of Land Management tried to remove his cattle.  We aren't here to get into that debate, but it might be helpful to consider an argument that Bundy's supporters have made ... and why it's wrong.

The federal government owns more than 86 percent of the state of Nevada.  One of the claims that some of the Bundy brigade has made--and, to be fair, many others in Nevada have joined in it over the years--is that the fact of federal land ownership is the result of extortion.  Namely, if Nevada wanted statehood in 1864, it had to give up its claim to land within it not already claimed.  Opponents of Bundy and the Sagebrush Rebellion and others who have been critical of federal land ownership have said that the law is the law, other states are in the same boat, and this was part of the federal government's response to southern secession during the Civil War.

Let's consider this from another angle that seems appropriate in this sesquicentennial year of Nevada's statehood:  Nevada did not have to become a state.

Nevadans wrote a constitution in 1863 before Congress passed the requisite enabling act allowing a territory to become a state.  That constitution was defeated, not because Congress hadn't acted, but because of how it taxed mining and an assortment of local political factors.  The following March 21, President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation that enabled Nevada to seek statehood.  A constitutional convention and a vote on the constitution followed, the constitution went to Washington, D.C., Lincoln signed off on it on October 31, 1864, and Nevada became the trick or treat to the nation.

The constitution easily won approval, 10,375-1,284.  That's an obvious margin.  But, equally obviously, not everybody wanted statehood.  One of the great Nevada journalists of the time, William J. Forbes of The Humboldt Register, editorialized against it, "If we have a State Government we'll have more fat-headed officers to support," among other things.

The point is this:  When Nevadans decided to seek statehood, they accepted some terms.  Nevadans could have declined statehood and remained a territory.  No one in Nevada was forced to do anything.

 

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