Cleveland's 1896 memo signed same day as Utah statehood fetches over $27K at auction

A copy of a memo President Grover Cleveland sent his staff on Jan. 4, 1896, the same day he signed his proclamation making Utah the 45th state, next to a picture of Cleveland. The document was sold for over $27,000 on Wednesday.

A copy of a memo President Grover Cleveland sent his staff on Jan. 4, 1896, the same day he signed his proclamation making Utah the 45th state, next to a picture of Cleveland. The document was sold for over $27,000 on Wednesday. (RR Auction)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A "significant" inter-office memo President Grover Cleveland sent the same day he signed a proclamation making Utah the 45th state in 1896 fetched $27,188 at an auction Wednesday.

RR Auction, a Boston-based auction house that specializes in auctioning all sorts of artifacts, including historical documents and presidential items, announced the sale on Thursday. The identity of the winning bidder was not disclosed, but it was the most spent within the hundreds of items included in a "Fine Autograph and Artifacts" collection that went up for auction on March 25.

It appears Cleveland sent the memo on an 8-inch by 10-inch page to a member of his cabinet — possibly then-Secretary of State Richard Olney — after signing Proclamation 382, the order admitting Utah as a U.S. state.

It reads: "I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to cause the Seal of the United States to be affixed to my Proclamation admitting the State of Utah into the Union of States; dated this day, and signed by me; and for doing so this shall be his warrant."

The document ends with Cleveland's signature and the date, Jan. 4, 1896.

Lesser-important and mostly forgotten government documents like these have floated around the document-dealing world for the greater part of the past century, Bobby Livingston, RR Auction's executive vice president, explained to This particular document was estimated to land at least $1,000 because of its tie to one of the greatest struggles for statehood among the current U.S. states.

Utah applied for statehood six times between 1849 and 1887; however, Congress denied all six attempts largely because of tensions between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and federal leaders at the time. Cleveland played a monumental role in easing those tensions, starting with his first term.

Historian Edward Leo Lyman noted, in an article for Utah History Encyclopedia, that the president had U.S. Solicitor General George Jenks visit Utah in 1887 and draft statehood language that included a ban on polygamy. That fell through, but efforts rekindled after the church abolished the practice of polygamy in 1890 and Cleveland returned to office in 1893, after he had lost the 1888 election.

Congress ultimately passed the Utah Enabling Act that sped up the process once and for all. Utah leaders drafted a state constitution in 1895 and Cleveland's proclamation on Jan. 4, 1896, sealed the deal.

While Utahns celebrated with bells, whistles, cannons and gunshots upon learning that the proclamation had been signed, Cleveland's memo shows some of what was happening back in the District of Columbia as the country welcomed its 45th state.

Livingston sees it as a "really cool" window into the inter-office dealings tied to one of the more interesting statehood journeys.

"Utah's path to statehood was fraught with obstacles, each overcome with remarkable perseverance," he said. "This signed proclamation is not just a piece of history; it's a symbol of Utah's relentless spirit and commitment to achieving statehood."

Meanwhile, some other presidential items were auctioned off on Wednesday.

A similar memo tied to President Benjamin Harrison's 1889 declaration to usher in Oklahoma's "land rush" landed $2,505 in the auction. A George Washington-signed document for the Potomac Company was sold for $18,089, while a naval document signed by Abraham Lincoln received $13,749 and a letter signed by Barack Obama got $12,501.

Items typed, written or signed by Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Leon Trotsky and Charles Darwin were also included in the collection. Those all received winning bids between $18,000 and $21,500.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for


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