No. 48!

Arizona statehood was delayed two days by train delays and superstition

After Arizona voters in late 1911 approved an amendment removing a contentious judicial-recall provision from the proposed state Constitution, speculation quickly spread that Arizona would achieve statehood in 1912 on Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12.

But several factors intervened to result in Arizona becoming a Valentine's Day state instead.

The official counting of the results from the Dec. 12, 1911, election (See "A Progressive Sweep!" Dec. 8, 2011) was slower than anticipated, and the tabulation wasn't finished until early February 1912.

The Tucson Citizen reported on Sunday, Feb. 4, that the election returns were being taken to President William Howard Taft by a courier riding a Southern Pacific Railroad train, the fastest way eastward.

"Schedules have been carefully studied," the newspaper stated, and the canvass was expected to be in Taft's hands by Wednesday morning, Feb. 7.

Before the courier departed Phoenix, outgoing territorial Gov. Richard E. Sloan wrote Taft asking for Arizona to become a state on Feb. 12. "It (is) appropriate that our territory," Sloan suggested, "having begun its life through the act of President Lincoln (in 1863), should terminate on his birthday."

But Marcus A. Smith strongly disagreed. The Tucson attorney, who was to be a United States senator once Arizona achieved statehood, told Taft of the Feb. 12 proposal: "Mr. President, we do not want this. ... Our natural desire (is) to have our own birthday as a state unobscured by any national holiday."

But Taft sided with Sloan and many others from Arizona who expressed a desire for Feb. 12 statehood. The only problem was that the president was going to New York on that day as part of his daunting re-election campaign, so he would need to sign the proclamation very early in the morning.

Unfortunately for those planning on Feb. 12, the courier's train was delayed before it reached Houston, and the courier later missed connections in both New Orleans and Montgomery, Ala. He didn't arrive in Washington until almost midnight on Feb. 7, and because of conflicts with Taft's busy schedule, wasn't able to present the election returns to the president until Feb. 10.

Despite that delay, the Arizona Daily Star thought Lincoln's birthday was still possible as the statehood day. But the newspaper hedged its bets, running a Feb. 10 headline that proclaimed of Arizona—"The Best of the 48 (States)—Born ?? 1912."

By Feb. 11, the Star and everyone in Arizona knew statehood wouldn't come until Valentine's Day. Because of the delay in getting the election returns to Washington, D.C., along with the president's hectic Lincoln's birthday itinerary—and because the 13th was considered unlucky—the proclamation signing was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 14.

In anticipation of the historic occasion, the Star informed its readers that long-sought statehood would be achieved "before a great many people have had breakfast."

Thus it was that at 10 a.m. Eastern time on Feb. 14, 1912, President Taft signed the proclamation making Arizona the nation's 48th state. He did so in front of a number of Arizona officials—as well as reportedly the first movie-camera operators filming a presidential-signing ceremony.

Ignoring the early hour of 8 a.m. in Tucson, the Star implored local residents to heartily celebrate the occasion. "The blowing of whistles and ringing of bells would carry the news throughout the city," the Star declared, "that President Taft had affixed his signature to the statehood bill."

Up in Phoenix, not only was statehood going to be celebrated with a huge parade, but George W.P. Hunt would also be sworn in as the state's first governor.

There was a problem, though, with the reviewing stand Hunt was to occupy to watch the parade: Nonunion laborers had built it, something the pro-union governor didn't appreciate. After 20 union members quickly built another stand, Hunt stood on that one instead.

In Tucson, after the morning noise-making to mark Arizona becoming the 48th state, things settled down until a 4 p.m. celebration at the university.

Following a parade of military cadets, UA president Dr. Arthur H. Wilde introduced several speakers. One of them, new state Sen. John T. Hughes, told those in attendance: "The future of Arizona from a material standpoint is assured. It will be one of the wealthiest and most-prosperous commonwealths in the union."

Hughes also predicted the residents of Arizona would also be extremely well-off. "It will be inhabited by the happiest, prosperous and most-contented citizenship of any commonwealth in the union," he forecast.

While acknowledging that statehood wouldn't be all "beer and skittles," the Star was exuberant in its estimation of what Arizona's new status would bring. But the newspaper also pointed out the reality of Arizona changing from a territory to a state.

"Our future is now in our own hands," the Star editorialized. "What we build will be our own. We are in full possession of our inheritance."

What the newest state would do with that inheritance, both immediately as well as over the next century, was looked forward to with confidence on Valentine's Day in 1912.