Parley P. Christensen

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Parley Christensen
Parley Parker Christensen circa 1920.jpg
Member of the Los Angeles City Council
from the 9th district
In office
Preceded byWinfred J. Sanborn
Succeeded byEdward R. Roybal
In office
Preceded byGeorge W. C. Baker
Succeeded byHoward E. Dorsey
Personal details
Parley Parker Christensen

(1869-07-19)July 19, 1869
Weston, Idaho, U.S.
DiedFebruary 10, 1954(1954-02-10) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican (Before 1912)
Progressive (1912–1919)
Labor (1919–1920)
Farmer-Labor (1920–1924)
Progressive (1924–1934)
Independent (1934–1937)
Democratic (1937–1954)
EducationUniversity of Utah (BA)
Cornell University (LLB)

Parley Parker Christensen (July 19, 1869 – February 10, 1954) was an American politician and nominee of the Farmer–Labor Party for President of the United States in 1920. He was member of the Utah House of Representatives and of the Los Angeles, California, City Council. He was also a city attorney and a county attorney in Utah and the chairman of the Illinois Progressive Party.


Parley Parker Christensen was born on July 19, 1869, in Weston, Idaho, the son of Peter and Sophia M. Christensen, both of Denmark. He moved to Newton, Utah, when he was a child.[1][2][3]

Mr. Christensen as a boy pioneered with his parents in Idaho and Utah[,] where his father drove wagons of freight from the railway terminus in Utah up cross country into Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas. This background gave Mr. Christensen an insight into the struggle of those who labor and those who wrest their living from the soil.[2]

He graduated from the University of Utah Normal School in 1890,[4] then was a teacher and principal in Murray and Grantsville in that state. From 1892 to 1895 he was school superintendent in Toole County. He then graduated from the University of Deseret in 1890 and earned a bachelor of laws degree from Cornell University law school in 1897, and returned to practice law in Salt Lake City.[5][1][2][6]

After 1920 Christensen traveled in Europe and Russia, and met with Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin;[1] he wrote that he was impressed by Lenin's approachability and his command of the English language.[7]

He was also an early active Esperantist, and in 1920-22 travelled around the world using the language. He was the vice president of the Esperantista Asocio de Norda Ameriko 1931-32, and taught Esperanto in Los Angeles and Pasadena.[8]

In 1923 he was living in Chicago, and in 1926 he moved to California, where he became a Los Angeles City Council member in 1935.

Christensen was known for being very large, over six feet four inches and weighing 287 pounds. He was notable for wearing an array of all-white linen suits.[9] He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He was a Unitarian. In 1937 he was a registered Democrat.[2][6]

He later moved to 1140 North California Street in Burbank. Christensen died in Los Angeles on February 10, 1954, at the age of 84, after "an illness of some months," leaving two sisters, Elenora Lamimam and Esther Conholm. Cremation and inurnment were at Chapel of the Pines.[1][2][6]

Political life[edit]


In the late 1890s Christensen was city attorney of Grantsville, where he became active in Republican politics. In 1895 he was secretary of the Utah State Constitutional Convention, which opened in 1895, until he was elected Salt Lake County Attorney in 1900, "one of the youngest people to ever hold that office."[1]

Between 1900 and 1904 Christensen was a Republican state officer, including party chairman. In 1902 he was defeated for renomination as county attorney but was elected again to that office in 1904. Christensen unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Congress in 1906, 1908 and 1910, against incumbent Joseph Howell.[1]

In 1906 he was cited to appear before a district court judge to show why he had not approved the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of Joseph F. Smith, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "on a charge of sustaining unlawful relations with one of his five wives."[10]

It was commonly understood that there would be no prosecution of the Mormon president, by direction of the city attorney. Christensen charged that the filing of the complaint was an attempt on the part of the anti-Mormons to embarrass him in his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Congressman. Christensen was defeated in yesterday's convention by Congressman Howell.[10]

He was a member of the Utah House of Representatives from 1910 to 1912.[6] In the latter year, Christensen joined Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party and ran as the Progressive candidate for the Utah House of Representatives. He lost, but two years later he was elected to that office as a Progressive; he served one term, "supporting a number of reforms."[1]

Between 1915 and 1920 Christensen became "increasingly involved with various left-wing and labor groups" in Utah. He helped organize the Utah Labor Party in 1919; "defended several radicals incarcerated at Fort Douglas, Utah, charged with opposition to American involvement in World War I."[1] He was president of the Popular Government League, organized in 1916, which argued for adopting the initiative and referendum in Utah.[11][12]

Presidential campaign[edit]

In June 1920 Christensen was a delegate to the Chicago joint conventions of the Labor Party of the United States and the progressive Committee of Forty-Eight, whose leaders hoped to merge and to nominate a presidential ticket. The Farmer-Labor Party was the result, with Christensen chosen as presidential nominee. Christensen campaigned for nationalization of railroads and utilities, an eight-hour working day, a federal Department of Education, and an end to the Espionage and Sedition Acts.[13] In the election he received 265,411 votes in nineteen states.[1] Christensen did best in Washington State and in South Dakota, where he came close to out-polling the Democratic candidate, James M. Cox.[14][15]


He remained in Chicago after the convention and became chairman of the Illinois Progressive Party and its unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senator in 1926.[1]

Los Angeles[edit]

In the early 1930s Christensen moved to California, where he joined with the End Poverty in California crusade of Upton Sinclair, with the Utopian Society and with "other leftist groups in the state."[1]


See also List of Los Angeles municipal election returns, 1935–1949

Christensen had the endorsement of the End Poverty in California movement when he ran for Los Angeles City Council District 9 seat in 1935 and took it away from George W.C. Baker, the incumbent. He held it for two years, but did not run for reelection in 1937. Two years later, though, he was sent back to the council, and he held the post until 1949, when he was defeated by Ed Roybal, the first Latino to be elected councilman since the 19th century. In the first part of his terms, the 9th District covered the core of Downtown Los Angeles, but later it was shifted eastward to encompass an area with a heavy Hispanic population.


1936: Christensen and Councilman James M. Hyde were able to block the allocation of $2,000 to deliver to Berlin, Germany, the flag that had flown over the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. The two council members "assailed Hitler and Nazism and said their constituents did not want the city to spend public money" to send the Games flag to Germany.[16]

1937: Christensen's vehement objection to including El Sereno, along Huntington Drive, within his district under a new City Council redistricting plan was overruled by the rest of the City Council. He said didn't have any objection to the region, only to the fact that the district lines were the same as Congressional boundaries in that area, and he believed the separate political jurisdictions should be "kept distinct."[17]

1943: He accused Council Member G. Vernon Bennett of having used a city automobile for an "unauthorized and illegal" trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1937 and on his return, "presenting the city with a bill for gasoline and oil." Bennett denied the charge.[18]

1943: Christensen unsuccessfully opposed granting a permit to Seaboard Oil Company for slant oil drilling under Elysian Park from a site near Riverside Drive.[19][20]

1943: He also fought for a December 1943 resolution honoring Bill of Rights Week that would put the council on record as opposed to discrimination "against minority groups" and encouraging broadest "racial" unity. Other members of the council objected to those two terms, and, after a two-hour debate, they were eventually deleted and the motion was adopted, 10-5, in opposition to any form of discrimination and in favor of general unity and tolerance.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k John R. Sillito, "Parley P. Christensen," Utah History Encyclopedia
  2. ^ a b c d e Florence H. Goddard, Los Angeles Public Library Reference File (from a questionnaire returned by Christensen), May 24, 1937
  3. ^ The Los Angeles Public Library file states he was born in 1873.
  4. ^ Sillito writes that Christensen graduated from the University of Deseret, the original name of the University of Utah.
  5. ^ Living History: Parley Christensen was Utah's first presidential candidate
  6. ^ a b c d "Death Takes Ex-Councilman Christensen, 84," February 11, 1954, page 26
  7. ^ "Lenine Thinks U.S. War With Japan Likely," San Francisco Chronicle," December 1, 1921, page 5
  8. ^ Enciklopedio de Esperanto, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 8, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) (esperanto)
  9. ^ Linton Weeks, "The 5 Most Unusual Nominees for President," NPR, June 5, 2011
  10. ^ a b "Fails to Cause Smith's Arrest," San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 1906, page 13
  11. ^ Thomas Walker,
  12. ^ Initiative and Referendum Institute: Utah Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Gallagher, Tom; The Primary Route; p. 54 ISBN 0991669517
  14. ^ Scammon, Richard M. (compiler); America at the Polls: A Handbook of Presidential Election Statistics 1920-1964ISBN 0405077114
  15. ^ David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections; 1920 Presidential Election Statistics
  16. ^ "Funds Are Refused to Deliver Flag," New York Times, July 14, 1936
  17. ^ "Council Acts to Revise Own Districts in City," Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1937, page A-2
  18. ^ "Bennett Trip Under Attack," Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1943, page A-1
  19. ^ "Final Oil Hearing Set," Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1943, page 1
  20. ^ "Elysian Park Oil Drilling Gets City Council Approval," Los Angeles Times, October 30, 1943, page 1
  21. ^ "Council Avoids Controversy on Bill of Rights," Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1943, page A-16

External links[edit]

Party political offices
New political party Farmer-Labor nominee for President of the United States
Succeeded by
Duncan McDonald
Political offices
Preceded by
George W. C. Baker
Member of the Los Angeles City Council
from the 9th district

Succeeded by
Howard E. Dorsey
Preceded by
Winfred J. Sanborn
Member of the Los Angeles City Council
from the 9th district

Succeeded by
Edward R. Roybal