Founding of the Utah People’s Party

19th-century tensions between members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and opponents of the church in Utah led to the creation of two political parties in 1870, the People’s Party and the Liberal Party. The founding of these parties was controversial in that members of the Church flooded their opponents’ meeting in order to form their own party. 

In 1870, tension between the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and non-members living in Utah was high. Church members voted as a block, which made it nearly impossible for non-members of the church to find a voice in government through traditional democratic means. 

The foundation of what some called the New Movement, or the Godbeites aggravated the tensions. The Godbeites were former members of the LDS Church, newfound spiritualists, and reformists. They were a unique splinter group within the Church who wanted to reform the Church rather than destroy it, as many of its enemies hoped to do. The Godbeites preached education and reform to Utah’s LDS and non-LDS residents as well as to the federal officials in the state. 

The Godbeites gained little traction against the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which maintained a large majority of the population in Utah, but it did capture the attention of non-members who sought to create a coalition to counter church political dominance. Godbeites joined non-member businessmen, miners, and others unaffiliated with the Church, bound by little other than their goal of disrupting the dominance of the Church of Jesus Christ in political matters. 

On the evening of February 10, 1870, the Godbeites and their partners gathered at the Walker Dry Goods Store on the corner of 3rd South and Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Godbeites and their new allies intended to form a new political party—one for the “People” as they advertised it. Church members caught word. Editors of the Deseret News and other church leaders organized a protest. Many members showed up at the meeting and managed to get in the doors before anyone else. They occupied all the seats, elected their own candidates, and formed a new party, calling themselves the “People’s Party” as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Godbeites earlier advertisements. 

After their peaceful protest, the Saints left and the non-members organized the “Liberal Party.” One member of the new party remarked that the move by LDS leaders to flood their meeting was the “cleverest thing.” Luckily, the event did not devolve into violence, but the tension between these two parties would continue for their two decades of existence. Newspapers as far away as Sacramento, California wrote about the tension, predicting incorrectly that conflict between the competing factions spelled “impending doom.”

Images

William Godbe
William Godbe Source:

William Godbe. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. 1923. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WilliamGodbe.jpg

Liberals in Deseret News
Liberals in Deseret News Source:

Liberals in Deseret News, Microfilm. Wikimedia Commons. 1891. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liberals_in_Deseret_News.jpg

Brigham Young
Brigham Young Source:

Carter, Charles W. Brigham Young, Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. 1866-1877. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brigham_Young_by_Charles_William_Carter.jpg.

Ely and Walker Dry Goods Store Company Advertisement
Ely and Walker Dry Goods Store Company Advertisement Source:

Ely and Walker Dry Goods Store Company Advertisement, Microfilm. Wikimedia Commons. 1911. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ely_and_Walker_Dry_Goods_Company_advertisement.jpg

Location

Metadata

Elle Morgan, Brigham Young University, “Founding of the Utah People’s Party,” Intermountain Histories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/788.