People's Party (Utah)

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People's Party flyer for the 1876 Salt Lake City municipal election

The People's Party was a political party in Utah Territory during the late 19th century. It was backed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and its newspaper, the Deseret News. It opposed Utah's Liberal Party.

Beginnings[edit]

Daniel H. Wells was among the first officials to be elected under the People's Party

The People's Party emerged in 1870 in response to the non-Mormon Liberal Party. In fact, the initial slate of candidates for the 1870 Salt Lake City election was approved on February 9 by Latter-day Saints who had swarmed into the first meeting of Liberals in order to hijack and disrupt it. Daniel H. Wells, the incumbent mayor, easily won the first contested Salt Lake election 2301 to 321.

Previously, political candidates ran without party affiliation, and LDS candidates usually found themselves unopposed. With organized opposition to LDS candidates, the LDS leaders found having their own party expedient. Historian Ronald W. Walker states that the party's name was selected to combat the notion that Brigham Young, himself not an elected official since 1857, was a tyrant. The People's Party, as the name intentionally suggested, claimed to speak for the Latter-day Saints, vast majority of citizens, in Utah Territory.

History of success[edit]

With only a handful of defeats, the party was supported by an overwhelming majority in most elections. Championing the cause of Women's suffrage, with the vote extended to women in the territory 1870, helped the party emphasize its strength. Most non-Mormons in the territory were men, often miners, so the People's Party gained a distinct advantage.

Throughout its history, People's Party candidates never lost a statewide election. Local elections were lost to the Liberals under dubious circumstances, such as with the "Tooele Republic", and after harsh anti-polygamy legislation disqualified many LDS voters in the 1880s before the 1890 Manifesto halted further LDS plural marriages.

Dissolution[edit]

The party disbanded in June 1891 prior to elections for territorial legislature. Members joined the two national parties, with LDS leaders striving to direct equal numbers toward each party. With LDS Democrats and Republicans competing against Liberal candidates, the Deseret News characterized Liberals as a "bastard party". One political ad asked rhetorically "what is he who votes for a bastard ticket?" Nonetheless, Liberals captured one third of seats in the territorial legislature.

Impetus for dissolving the party came from members of the national parties who believed the territory should follow national political lines before obtaining statehood. The LDS Church could not favor either national party because the LDS majority in the state would make the preferred party into a new de facto People's Party. Two years later Liberals, also eager for statehood, followed suit, and Utah became the 45th state in the Union on January 4, 1896.

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