On Oct. 31, 1864 — 150 years ago — President Lincoln declared, “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states,” and Nevada became the 36th of these United States.
Equal footing? Nevada did not get so much as a toehold.
To this date 85 percent of the land betwixt the borders of the “state” of Nevada are completely controlled by Parliament on the Potomac, which by most definitions would make Nevada more of a colony than a sovereign state. Of all the states, Nevada has the greatest portion of land controlled by the federal bureaucracy.
As if to underscore Nevada’s tenuous standing in regard to its fellow states, the state Constitution, inked in the waning days of the bloody Civil War, contains what can only be described as an unconditional refutation of the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson wrote in 1776 to justify the separation of the American colonies from the despotic rule of England, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …”
In the Paramount Allegiance Clause, the Nevada Constitution uses similar language but then eviscerates and denies its meaning.
“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it,” the document reads, pointedly and obviously omitting the key word “abolish.” “But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”
Though such wording was common in Reconstruction Era state constitutions, only three still retain them.
It’s not like the states haven’t challenged Washington’s hegemony.
In fact the Western states petitioned Washington over its refusal to turn over federal land to the states. “It is of pressing moment that the public lands should become the property of their citizens, with the least delay compatible with the national interest. …” the petition states.
It agues, “When these States stipulated not to tax the lands of the United States until they were sold, they rested upon the implied engagement of Congress to cause them to be sold, within a reasonable time.”
Actually the petition was successful. It was issued in 1828 by the “Western states” of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Today, the federal government controls only 4 percent of the lands in those “Western” states, while it controls 50 percent of the current Western states.
In a 1996 constitutional amendment, Nevada voters asked that federal land be turned over to the state. Congress has simply ignored “the Right of the People to alter” their government for 18 years.
As if to timely illustrate Washington’s total control of land within the state boundaries, Nevada’s senior senator, Harry Reid, recently drafted a bill that would remove from most productive uses more than 800,000 acres of land in the Garden and Coal valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties.
Whether it passes is entirely up to Congress, in which Nevada has only six out of 535 votes. Nevada’s governor, its lawmakers, the local county commissioners, the residents have no vote, no adequate representation.
Local officials have opposed the withdrawal of the land, just as the officials and residents of Lyon County opposed the 48,000-acre Wovoka Wildnerness designation that Harry Reid insisted on as a condition for allowing Yerington to buy at market value 12,500 acres of federal land for commercial use — a bill that has passed the House but is languishing in Reid’s Senate.
Happy, sesquicentennial, Nevada, though not of “statehood.”
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/. Awarded first place by Nevada Press Association in 2014 for community columns and for editorials.